7 Things About Your House That Could Give Buyers ‘The Ick’

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By Sally Jones

Sep 19, 2023

When selling a home, you want to present it at its best. That first open house can be a lot like a first date. And the comparison with hoping for a love match doesn’t stop there.

So many relationship analogies perfectly capture the home buying and selling experience, from finding The One to “marrying the house, but dating the rate.” Or take “the ick”—that feeling of disgust when you first notice a big turnoff.

In the dating world, you might get the ick if a date chews with their mouth open or is rude to a server. But the ick can be just as much a deal breaker in the real estate world, stopping a potential buyer from falling for your home.

Here are the top seven things that give home shoppers an instant feeling of ickiness. Make sure none of these crops up at your open house.

1. Anything old and outdated

There’s retro cool, and then there’s retro ewww. Be sure you know what’s vintage or just plain ancient in your home.

Ryan Fitzgerald, a real estate professional with Up Homes, got the ick from a time capsule house.

“It was like a trip back to the ’70s,” he says. Homes that date to the age of Aquarius are usually an unholy mix of popcorn ceilings and avocado everything.

While time capsule houses can be fun to look at and get a lot of attention on social media, only a few people would be prepared to move into one.

“The installations were glaringly dated, making it hard to envision it without a complete overhaul,” adds Fitzgerald.

2. Quirky tastes

While outlandishly designed houses can sometimes rocket to the top of the most popular homes lists, they can be tough to sell.

Real estate professionals describe these homes as having a “particular taste” that can give some buyers the ick.

“I once toured a home that was incredibly colorful inside. All the walls and ceilings were painted different colors and patterns, and even the cabinets and interior doors were painted bright colors,” says Nathan Russo, director of operations at Destin Vacation Rentals. “I don’t mind a little color, but I just couldn’t get over how loud it was–and how much work it would take to repaint virtually everything.”

3. Cigarette stench

The stench of stale tobacco smoke is almost universally disdained—and it tops nearly everyone’s list of homebuyer icks.

“After living in a rental for a year with a heavy smoke stink no matter how much we cleaned, I was over it,” says Andy Kalmon, CEO of Benny.

The last time he went house hunting, it was one of his must-avoids.

“There was just a persistent odor I wasn’t confident I’d be able to get out of the carpets,” Kalmon adds.

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4. Carpeting in the bathroom

Many of today’s homebuyers say wall-to-wall carpeting gives them the ick.

“I recently bought a house to flip that had shag carpeting everywhere: on the floors, walls, bed pedestal, and even the sloped ceiling of the primary bedroom,” says Martin Orefice, CEO of Rent To Own Labs. “It was even in the bathroom suite!”

Carpeting in the bathroom appears to be a universal turnoff and a resounding ick factor.

5. Pets and pet odors

While we all love our pets, it doesn’t mean prospective buyers want to see signs (or smell odors) of yours at an open house.

“My wife and I just moved for work and were looking at historic homes in Naperville, IL,” says Jeff Moriarty, marketing director at Supplement Warehouse. “We found it a real turnoff if pets roamed freely in the middle of a showing.”

Oh, and don’t think you can cover up pet smells with air fresheners because that can be another pet peeve.

“We were turned off if there were a lot of candles and diffusers going,” adds Moriarty. “Our concern is what the house really smells like.”

6. Bugs and vermin

The last thing anyone wants to see when they’re touring an open house is signs of bugs or mice. So if this is a problem in a home you’re hoping to sell, have it thoroughly exterminated well in advance of showing it.

Even dead spiders or just spiderwebs can be off-putting. It was for the Moriartys.

“If we saw cobwebs or spiders in the corners of rooms,” says Moriarty, “it tells us that the home isn’t taken care of.”

7. Dolls, clowns, and religious icons

Prospective buyers report that collections of dolls and clowns give them the ick. For others, too many religious icons can be overwhelming.

The last time I went house hunting, I toured a home with crosses in every room. And the living room had a gallery wall full of them. Were neighborhood vampires an issue?

“While faith is important, it’s foundational to remember that not every buyer shares your convictions,” says Eric Bramlett, real estate professional with Bramlett Residential. “You want potential buyers to see themselves in your home, not feel like they’re intruding into someone else’s sacred space. Keep it neutral; make the space a blank slate where others can paint their own future.”

Sally Jones writes about home buying, financing, home renovation, design, and decor. Her work has been published by Realtor.com, Family Handyman, ConsumerAffairs, Reader’s Digest, Brit + Co, and MSN. See her kitchen and bath designs come to life on her blog, Renov8or.