Those brass light fixtures send a message to buyers: C-H-E-A-P

Rooms for Improvement

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Editor’s note: Award-winning columnist and freelance writer Mary Umberger offers some home design and staging advice from the experts in "Rooms for Improvement," a new Inman News column. Let us know what you think in the comments section below. Got a strategy for a thorny problem in staging a home for sale, or want to share a problem you’d like the experts to address? Send your questions, tips and photos via email to, with the subject line: "Rooms for Improvement."

Don’t get Steve Somogyi wrong. He doesn’t hate all brass finishes — just the really shiny, yellow-toned stuff that he thinks screams "Cheap!" when homebuyers notice it in light fixtures, switch plates, doorknobs, etc.

That brass tone was fashionable a couple of decades ago, but its day is done and it has to go if it’s in a house you’re trying to sell, according to Somogyi, a real estate agent and interior designer.

In prepping a small house for the market recently, he switched out every single brass light fixture, switch plate, door hinge and knob for ones with an oil-rubbed bronze finish that’s a very dark brown.

Dark-toned fixtures and hardware may work to deformalize a room. Photo/Sea Gull Lighting.

By buying the replacements from a big-box store and a website specializing in closeouts, the homeowner spent $300 to $400 for materials, he estimated, and a contractor/installer made the changes in a day.

In a larger home, such changes might be too complex or expensive to do throughout, but at the very least, sellers should take a hard look at the front-door hardware that greets potential buyers, he said.

Nickel-toned finishes haven’t lost their appeal to homebuyers, designers and real estate agents. Photo/Sea Gull Lighting.

"I spent a lot of the money on the door hardware in that house because I do believe that your buyer knows within a few seconds whether they’re going to buy," Somogyi said. "When you feel an expensive door handle vs. a cheap handle, you can feel the difference.

"I try to sell an emotional experience, that the place has been loved," said Somogyi, an agent for the North Clybourn Group brokerage in Chicago. "That energy comes out."

Although he’s a fan of dark-toned finishes (and certain antique golds), Somogyi said the general homebuying public continues to accept the recently popular satin-nickel tones as being "up to date" — though he suspects an appetite is brewing for the next big color.

"Lighting fixture (and hardware) finishes have certainly trended away from polished brass over the years," said Jody De Vine, director of marketing for Sea Gull Lighting in Riverside, N.J.

We’ve seen more transitional styling and finishes that cross over between traditional and modern. This became quite evident in the use of polished and brushed nickel."

Decorative switch plate image

De Vine said chrome finishes have gained popularity as a "clean" style, and that dark browns and iron-blacks come across as cozy and work well in updating traditional styling. Those browns and blacks also seem to be a popular choice when trying to deformalize some rooms, she said.

Somogyi said not to overlook hardware details because buyers notice them.

"Those switch plates and outlet covers that have crusty paint on them? They only take a minute or two to switch out," he said.

And if you have recessed can-lights in ceilings, take a look at the "surround," or collar, around the openings, he said. "Over time they get to be a yellow-y color that stamps them as being dated, dreary or old. I’ve seen a million of these."

Got a strategy for a thorny problem in staging a home for sale? Or got a problem you’d like the experts to address? Send your questions, tips and photos via email to, with the subject line: "Rooms for Improvement."

Mary Umberger is a Chicago-area freelance writer.

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