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Should I paint my exposed brick wall before selling?

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Q. I own a junior one-bedroom in Manhattan that I'd like to put on the market within the next year. The apartment overall is in mint condition and I wouldn't expect whomever lives here next would need to do much (if any) work before they move in.

However, I have one wall that is exposed brick that I'd really like to paint white. I've asked around, and most people say that I shouldn't paint over it, and then they wax poetic about how much they love the look of exposed brick in general.

I, too, am fond of the look. However, my wall is not is the static, neat looking kind that most people think of.

It's messy with mortar caked over the brick in some places, the bricks are different colors in spots and (most significantly) there are several areas and large holes that have been cemented over the years that make the whole wall just look messy.

Would painting the brick negatively affect my resale value when it comes time to put it on the market? In photos, the wall will probably look great, but up close, it's like a hot mess.  What do buyers think when they see exposed brick or when they see it painted?


A.  On balance, our BrickTank experts agree that the best strategy is to avoid painting your exposed brick, while doing your best to clean up--or cover up--its imperfections.

“From what I have seen, buyers prefer exposed brick,” says real estate broker Sarah Smith.

As for the condition of your wall, Smith says, “The holes and different colors of brick can even add to the general appeal. But uniqueness is one thing. Sloppiness is another. Clean up the mortar if possible.”

The small size of your apartment also potentially argues in favor of keeping the exposed brick.

“For a junior one-bedroom, the exposed brick wall could be integral to the personality of the apartment, and therefore an appealing selling point,” says real estate broker Gordon Roberts. “Perhaps try hiding some of the flaws with some good art.”

Real estate broker Shirley Hackel said she recently sold a Village one-bedroom with an original brick wall that was the main selling feature of the unit.  

“It would have looked very tacky as a painted white wall,” says Hackel, noting that even if the whitewash looked as nice as exposed brick, the original brick “has more integrity and thus more value than a whitewash.”

But real estate broker Deanna Kory says there are certain cases where a whitewash can pay off.

“The big advantage is that it makes the apartment feel larger,” she says. “That can outweigh the value added from the ‘charm’ of an exposed brick wall, especially if it looks as messy as you say.  It’s a judgment call and worth bringing in a few appropriate advisors…a stager or two, or an agent who successfully stages.”

We asked architect Ethan Gerard for some advice on how to make your exposed brick look presentable.

“With a little elbow grease, a cold chisel and a hammer, perhaps the mortar work can be made to look presentable,” he suggests. “Odd-colored bricks can be removed and replaced with a brick that matches more precisely, or filled neatly with a concrete patch.”

Messy areas of concrete filling may be able to be partially removed and resurfaced.  

“In a general sense, I think a pattern of brick and infill concrete patches can be perfectly fine looking,” says Gerard.

One final word about painting: “It’s a lot easier to apply paint than take it off, so why not let the next owner decide?” observes Roberts. “My guess is it can’t be all that bad or you would have painted it already.”
 

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