Painting to sell a house involves a very different set of considerations and goals than general painting projects.
When selling, the name of the game is speed, savings, and making the home appeal to as wide an audience as possible.
There are countless “how to paint your house to sell” guides out there full of impractical, general painting advice and arbitrary data that can lead you down the wrong path.
This guide is different. We read books, talked to real estate experts, and did extensive research to distill the most important painting principles and tips specifically for home sellers.
Read on to learn the best colors and finishes for both interiors and exteriors, how to make the right choice for different styles of rooms and homes, and practical cost saving tips and tricks.
Should I paint my house before selling?
It’s almost always a good idea to paint before you sell your house, assuming your timeline and budget allow for it.
Painting is relatively cheap and makes a big impact on your ability to attract interest to your home.
Interior and exterior paint jobs are quite different, so they’ll need to be considered separately.
Interior paint jobs are usually cheaper because they’re fairly simple, and you may only have to paint a couple of rooms.
Exterior paint jobs are usually more expensive because of their size and complexity, which often means that doing it yourself is out of the question.
We’ve broken down some of the most common reasons for repainting a house before selling.
Reasons to consider repainting your home’s interior
Reasons to consider repainting your home’s exterior
Obviously, every seller’s situation is different. Sometimes you can avoid painting even if one or more of the above items apply.
For example, in some areas, competition among buyers is so steep that most homes sell within days of being listed — whether they’ve been painted or not.
In cooler markets, where buyers have their pick of the litter, you’ll need to do everything you can to make your home stand out. In these cases, not painting may put you at a competitive disadvantage and make your home harder to sell.
It’s best to consult with an experienced local real estate agent before diving into a major painting project — or assuming that your house is good to list without a fresh coat.
Top agents handle dozens of sales each year, meaning they’re up on the latest trends and know what buyers in your market and price range expect. They’ll be able to tell you what you need to do to sell your house quickly for the best possible price.
» MORE: Find a real estate agent near you.
Best interior paint colors to sell a house in 2020
Home sellers should almost always opt for light and neutral tones like beige, grey, and off-white.
These colors might seem a little boring, but remember the goal:
You’re trying to appeal to the widest possible audience, not your own tastes!
Dark, vibrant, or inconsistent schemes make homes feel smaller, stuffier, and less inviting. They also impede the buyers’ ability to insert themselves — i.e., their belongings and tastes — into the space.
In contrast, light color schemes make your home feel open and spacious — like a “blank canvas” for prospective buyers
Additionally, having fewer complicated design decisions to deal with streamlines the entire process. Fast and easy is the name of the game when you’re selling.
Hottest interior colors in 2020
These are the “hottest” colors right now according to Consumer Reports  but take them with a grain of salt as a home seller.
You might want to take the trendy approach if you already have a modern home, but in most cases, following our tried-and-true advice will be the most efficient approach for selling.
Opt for a simple three-color paint scheme
Most interior paint jobs consist of three major components:
Of course, there are all sorts of cool, design-y ways to approach your interior color scheme. As painful as it is to say, avoid the temptation to be creative!
As a seller, you want to keep your interior as simple as humanly possible. This will save you time and money — AND maximize your home’s appeal.
We recommend employing a simple, three-color scheme because it’s cheap, it’s easy to pull off, and it looks great in just about any room.
Simple three-color scheme for selling a home
Flat beige, off-white, or light gray
Flat “ceiling white”
Semi-gloss bright white
Of course, the above scheme is a suggestion, not a hard-and-fast rule. Always consider the unique characteristics of your home before you choose your scheme or approach.
The specifics of your interior paint job will be influenced by a number of factors, including:
The current wall color
Your timeline for painting
The layout of your rooms
Talk to the experts at your local paint store or reach out to a few local contractors for advice.
These professionals have a ton of practical experience and will likely be able to recommend a specific approach to fit your timeframe and budget.
Best paint colors for walls
Walls make up the largest surface area of any room. Stick with light, neutral tones — think white, beige, gray, etc. — to keep the space feeling open and airy.
We recommend opting for flat or semi-gloss finishes, as they’re typically less expensive than high-gloss paint and do a better job of hiding imperfections in the surfaces of your walls.
High-gloss and eggshell tend to be more durable than flatter finishes, but don’t lose sight of the goal:
You’re painting to sell!
It really only has to look good for a few months — and the buyer may do some repainting after moving in anyhow, to personalize their new home.
Best paint colors for ceilings
Flat-white paint is the go-to choice for ceilings for several reasons:
Makes the ceiling feel higher
Even if you’re thinking the ceilings look “ok,” it probably makes sense to go ahead and repaint them anyhow, along with your walls.
When you paint the walls but not the ceilings, it can make them look tired in contrast, and they’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
Moreover, ceiling paint is cheap, painting ceilings is relatively easy, and doing so gives you a chance to cover any paint marks that may have been left behind when you were rolling your walls.
Best trim colors
When it comes to interior trim, we recommend “semi-gloss white” for almost every situation.
A glossy sheen will “pop” against the backdrop of a matte wall, adding interest to the room without being too pushy or overbearing.
While semi-gloss white is certainly the most conventional and popular choice, there are situations in which it makes sense to stray slightly from the beaten path.
For example, a room with pure white walls might benefit from the slight contrast of an off-white or even grey trim.
Trim also comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from three-inch baseboard to 36-inch chair rail to crown molding.
An extra splash of color may be more appropriate on trim with detailed carvings or routed edges.
Again, semi-gloss white is usually a safe bet, but talk to your agent or painter for more specific advice.
Interior cost considerations
As of December 4, 2020, the average cost of repainting the entire interior of a home with a contractor is $3,000 The average cost drops to about $1,800 if you choose to go the DIY route.
Of course, the total cost of the project will vary considerably based on a number of factors, including the:
Size of the house
Number of rooms that need to be painted
Complexity of the job (only walls vs. walls, ceiling, and trim)
Painting the home yourself might look better on paper, but when you’re selling, it’s usually not the best choice.
When you’re painting a house to sell, the two most important things are speed and quality.
Professional painters are going to get the job done faster and make it look great. As skilled as you think you are, trust us — they’re better.
Believe it or not, there are some cost benefits as well to hiring a pro as well. Painters can help you save on materials via their contractor accounts, which can offset some of the labor costs.
Plus, professionals will do the job right the first time (most DIY paint jobs involve mistakes and purchasing more materials to fix said mistakes).
The simplest way to reduce labor costs is doing some prep work yourself in advance, since most painters charge by the hour.
By moving all of the furniture out of the way, for instance, you save your painters time when they show up to work.
» READ: 2020 Interior Paint Costs
Interior painting tips and tricks for home sellers
Repainting dark rooms with light colors
Dark and/or inconsistent paint schemes can often make rooms — or your entire house — feel stuffy and cramped.
To mask dark colors, lay down one to two coats of primer before applying light paint. This will ensure that the dark color does not bleed through to the top coat.
» We recommend: Kilz Original Interior Primer
Making an old house look modern
Wood grain cabinets, linoleum floors, and other features can make an old house look out of date.
Simple touches like painting dated kitchen cabinets white can transform the appearance of an old house.
» We recommend: Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformations
Getting rid of unpleasant odors
Unpleasant odors such as cigarette smoke can seep into your walls and become a huge turnoff to potential buyers.
There are special paints that you can apply to smelly walls to lock in bad odors before laying down your top coat.
» We recommend: Kilz Restoration Interior Primer
Painting on a tight timeline
You may want to list your house as soon as possible, but you realize that it needs to be painted quickly before listing photos are taken.
Get an all-in-one paint and primer that dries quickly so that you can save time and minimize prep work.
» We recommend: ColorPlace Ultra Interior Paint + Primer
Fixing stained, cracked or peeling paint
With time, paint can get stained by spills or start to crack and peel.
Minor patches can be repaired with spackling, but more extensive repairs will probably require you to hire a handyman who can replace drywall before priming and painting.
» We recommend: Dap DryDex
Best exterior paint colors to sell a house
Slapping a fresh coat of paint on a home’s exterior — particularly if it’s a bit older — is a great way to increase its curb appeal and attract more interest from prospective buyers.
While the general rule of thumb for interiors is “keep it light and neutral,” choosing a primary color for the exterior is largely based on three factors:
Latest color trends in your area
The style of home being sold
Exterior materials and features
Hottest exterior colors in 2020
Consumer Reports’ color picks are a good barometer for general trends and tastes, but the best choice will depend on your home’s style, exterior materials, and features.
What style of home are you selling?
Victorian homes were designed to create a dramatic contrast with bright colors like yellows, reds, oranges, and pinks. While white trim is traditional, contrasting trim colors are acceptable if you want to add some pop.
Mid-century modern houses are about balancing natural and design-y elements. Consider using accents that pop against natural materials, like orange or bright green against a stone or brick facade.
Try to keep things simple and traditional. Good Cape Cod colors include soft white, grays, light blues, or neutral sand tones. Trim is usually white, but you can boost the dynamics by adding shutters with earthy tones like forest green or ocean blue.
Ranch-style homes are best with rich, warm earth tones like brown or beige. Natural materials are usually built into the exterior of a ranch, so creating contrast isn't as much of a concern. You can play up natural tones in brick or stone by complimentary earthy tones like forest green. For a more modern touch, add a bold accent like a bright red front door.
For a bungalow, stick to classic colors like white, gray, or taupe for a timeless look. However, if you want to modernize the exterior, try deep blue, sage green, or yellow. As a general rule, create contrast with trim elements by choosing dark trim for light siding, and vice versa.
Tudor-style houses go best with traditional colors like white, dark brown, and black. With the unique Tudor design, contrasting trim is not the norm. Instead, choose dark, wood-like trim colors, or use dark blues or dark grays for a slightly more modern touch. A bright green accent door can be a great accent that really pops against the stucco or brick of a Tudor house.
Picking an exterior color scheme
Repainting an exterior is almost never as simple as choosing a single color and blasting the whole thing with a spray gun.
You’ll have to choose a scheme that accounts for all of the different design and structural features of the home and ties them together.
Most exterior paint jobs consist of at least three core components:
Accents (doors, shutters, etc.)
Below, we’ve compiled some general considerations and tips for how to approach each component individually, and as a whole.
Siding colors depend on the home’s style and materials
Your siding choice will largely depend on two factors:
Your home’s style
The siding materials
As a general rule, traditional siding materials like wood look best with traditional colors, like white, blue, red, and so on.
More modern siding materials, such as concrete, metal, and vinyl, often pair best with modern tones, like light grays and tans — but you can get even edgier with darker colors like black and gunmetal gray (of course, clean white with black trim is a slick look as well).
Looking for inspiration? Head online to check out other listings in your area that are the same style as your home. This will provide some inspiration and be a good indicator for what’s trending in your area right now.
Use trim to add contrast and interest (or tone it down)
Typically, the goal of painting trim is to emphasize the architectural features of your home’s exterior and create a noticeable contrast with your siding.
The general rule is to pair dark siding with light trim, and vice versa.
Of course, there are some notable exceptions.
For example, a more modern, minimalist home with understated trim elements may be better off with dark trim that only creates a subtle contrast.
Some historic homes — particularly Victorian-style homes — often use bright trim colors to heighten their unique character and make ornate architectural features pop.
Choose accents to suit your tastes and style of home
Choosing the right colors for accents — shutters, doors, etc. — depends on your home’s siding and trim colors, as well as your desired visual effect.
If you’re going for a more traditional, understated look, we recommend either matching your accents to your trim — or, if you really want them to fade to the background, with your siding.
Choose traditional, understated tones, such as grays, whites, and other earth-tones, that add slight contrast and interest without ruffling any feathers.
That said, accents can also be a great opportunity for adding a splash of color to an otherwise muted home.
Blues, reds, and greens can look great — particularly with light siding and natural exteriors like brick, stone, and raw wood.
Should I paint my door a bright, “fun” color?
Opting for a funky, “non-traditional” door color — cherry red, sky blue, lime green, mustard yellow, etc. — is quite trendy these days. It can certainly add interest to your home’s exterior, but it also could turn off some prospective buyers.
Whether an “out-there” front door color is a good idea really depends on your home’s style and target audience. We recommend speaking to your agent before making any unconventional painting choices that could jeopardize your ability to sell quickly and for top dollar.
Cost considerations for exterior paint jobs
Exterior paint jobs tend to be more expensive than interior jobs. A full repaint of a home’s exterior costs $2,922, on average.
The steep cost of exterior painting is because the scale of work is typically larger and more complicated than interior painting.
For these reasons, exterior painting typically requires a professional. Doing it yourself is not recommended.
In some instances, you might be able to get away with repainting just one of the three exterior components — your trim, siding, or accents — or touching up problem areas.
Most of the time, however, if there’s an issue, you’ll want to tackle it all in one go.
Exterior paint tends to fade quickly — due to exposure from the elements — so you’ll likely have a hard time getting the fresh paint to match what’s already there.
Moreover, the prep work makes up a significant chunk of the overall cost of an exterior project. Oftentimes, painting all three exterior components isn’t that much more expensive than doing one — and it makes a big difference in terms of curb appeal.
To find the best value, always get quotes from multiple, highly rated paint contractors in your area.
If you’re planning to paint both your home’s interior and exterior, you may be able to save money and time by hiring the same contractor for both jobs.
Consumer Reports. "Hottest Interior Paint Colors of 2020." Accessed November 30, 2020. Updated June 18, 2020.
HomeAdvisor. "2020 Interior Painting Costs Calculator." Accessed December 04, 2020. Updated October 1, 2020.
Consumer Reports. "Hottest Exterior Paint Colors of 2020." Accessed November 30, 2020. Updated July 03, 2020.
HomeAdvisor. "2020 Cost to Paint a House." Accessed December 04, 2020. Updated October 2, 2020.