Has ‘Resale Value’ Ruined Interior Design?

Do you ever look outside and notice that everything kind of looks the same? Every now and then you’re lucky enough to run across a building with gargoyles or a Victorian home with a shingled turret or a—now relatively short—skyscraper with Art Deco influences, but in general, you find similar gray boxes with similar large windows and maybe a unique, extra-long antenna sticking out of the top of it, depending on where you live.

We see a trend in recent architecture and design that comes from constructing buildings quickly and cheaply, resulting in sterile-looking structures that all blend together, and this trend has bled over into residential properties—on the inside and outside. When it comes to residential developers or certain house flippers, the goal is simple: to make a buck. That’s their job—we can’t blame them! And for some, those types of homes are what they need. However, building or renovating a house for the sole purpose of selling it has put an emphasis on resale value for the average homeowner as well, and this has arguably resulted in the spread of perfectly inoffensive homes lacking character—and often made with poor quality materials—entering the mainstream interior design market.

“Some people want to get into a place right away,” Barry Bordelon, one half of the interior design duo the Brownstone Boys, tells House Beautiful. “It’s like these developers do these quick flips and people are kind of desperate to get into something…. Even though the finishes are horrible and it’s a gray box and it’s not very pretty, you can at least move in right after you close.” Bordelon and his business and life partner Jordan Slocum specialize in restoring historic homes in Brooklyn, and while a lot of their clients view their renovations with the couple as their forever homes, resale value consistently comes up.

But you can be considerate of resale value and still decorate a home in a way that you love—in fact, that might be exactly what makes your home appealing to others, should you wind up needing to sell it. We talked with designers and real estate agents about why the way TV and social media define resale value is actually a myth.

modern interior

NelleG//Getty Images

How Resale Value Changes the Way We View Home

The emphasis on resale value isn’t objectively good or bad—’it is what it is’ and ‘to each their own’ and all that—but the fear of it does seep into every homeowner’s mind at some point or another and has the ability to affect the decisions they make about their own personal space. “I think it probably makes people fall into the same rut with things,” Bordelon says. Before he and Slocum started their business, Bordelon bought, renovated, and sold a few apartments himself in order to “climb the property ladder,” as he puts it, keeping in mind that the homes were soon going to move into someone else’s possession. Even though he was living in them at the time, he saw the apartments as investments rather than homes, and he believes this idea is inadvertently brought upon for many homeowners by the prominence of resale value. “You want to make sure that your house is attractive to potential buyers,” he explains.

However, there’s a different way to view resale value that doesn’t result in a “homogenous white box,” as Bordelon says. Slocum puts it this way: “Interior design can help inspire how a person can live in a home, and sometimes buyers need that interior design to inspire them to think about this.” Spatial awareness and the ability to picture how a space could look don’t come easily to everyone, so viewing a home with character and unique qualities, whether it’s historic or modern, could serve as the inspiration a potential buyer needs to picture themselves in the house. “I think if it’s designed like that, it could actually really benefit the resale value,” Slocum adds.

What Actually Makes a Home Sell

Liz Arenberg, a New Jersey–based real estate associate at Compass who’s experienced in the world of home renovations, says it’s actually important for homes on the market to have a little bit of character. “If every single house looks exactly the same, [clients] are not able to be like, ‘Oh yeah, that one house with the white walls,'” Arenberg says. “But they might’ve seen that one kitchen with the magenta wallpaper and had that cool trim.” Those eye-catching qualities are what potential buyers remember. And while “depersonalization,” as Arenberg calls it, has a place in the real estate market, the homes that look different from every other house on the block make more interesting potential buys. “There’s the buyers that need that blank canvas, and then there’s the buyers that fall in love with a home for its charm,” she adds.

a wooden staircase with a door

Christian Torres

There’s no issue with viewing your home as an investment—it’s a reality of being a homeowner and what most of us have been told to do our whole lives—but reshaping the narrative around resale value into something more personal is one way we can add more character and intrigue into our homes. “You’re kind of a steward of the house while you own it,” says Bordelon. No matter your design decisions, if you’re thinking about resale value at all while decorating your home, you’re adding a third party into your decision-making process, so you might as well make that third party someone you’d like to be the next steward of the house.

“I think that people shouldn’t be as afraid to do things to their house because of resale. Some people are like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to paint my room a color because I might sell it, and someone might not like that color,’ but someone might actually love the color,” says Bordelon. Slocum adds, “It’s going back to that vision, that design inspiring you.”

Whether you’re leaning toward inoffensive gray and beige decor or you’re throwing caution to the wind by adding a bold wallpaper to your living room, it’s still your home and you’re still the one currently living in it. Don’t let resale value dictate how you should decorate—what you love, someone else will love too.

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