Trending paint colors as you prep for sale

The four hues that move homes

It’s no surprise that light tones are often the best choice for marketing and selling luxury properties. They let a home speak for itself, and provide buyers with a blank canvas on which to imagine an ideal space. But if you have sellers who have used unconventional colors in their property, knowing how to sell them on a color change becomes integral to a sale.

It’s no surprise that light tones are often the best choice for marketing and selling luxury properties. They let a home speak for itself, and provide buyers with a blank canvas on which to imagine an ideal space. But if you have sellers who have used unconventional colors in their property — or buyers who have trouble committing to a house that’s not painted to their tastes — knowing how to sell them on a color change becomes integral to a sale.

Agents need to be on top of the color trends in order to best advise their clients. Here are the top tones that are helping to close deals — as well as tips on how and when more energetic colors can enter the picture.

1. Cool white

luxury kitchen

Island Sotheby’s International Realty

Morgan Hollenbeck

Some trends are recurrent, and white remains one of these for homes on the market. “I lean toward recommending white or very light-colored walls to my sellers because neutral colors won’t divert a buyer’s eyes from a home’s features,” says Morgan Hollenbeck, Sales Associate with Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty in Rhode Island.

When design professionals create pristine, immaculate interior spaces, they often use white paints that contain subtle undertones of cool gray, giving them more depth and ambience.

“Benjamin Moore Distant Gray is used by gallerists and works well with an art collection,” says Mara Flash Blum, Senior Global Real Estate Advisor with Sotheby’s International Realty. The name is deceptive, because the color appears, for all intents and purposes, like a true white — but again, it’s those gray tones that give it a distinct character. “One of my favorite whites is American White, which also has a hint of gray. I had a small apartment painted this color, and it resonated well with buyers and sold quickly.”

Mara Flash Blum

Along with being great for art collectors, these pure, cold whites are well suited to an industrial aesthetic, and Flash Blum notes that China White and Calm are two of her other favorites when selling loft apartments in NYC — though they can work in any space.

“Before recommending a color scheme, I take into consideration the floor color, the color of the tiles in the bathroom, the color of the kitchen cabinets, and the amount of light coming into the apartment, then I sample several potential white choices before I have my sellers commit,” she says. “Lighting and light bulbs play a huge part in how your paint color looks on the wall.”

2. Off-white

luxury sitting room

Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty

Stephanie Malcolm

“I’m seeing more warm whites in the luxury market,” says Stephanie Malcolm, Design Consultant and Realtor with Island Sotheby’s International Realty in Hawaii. “Most luxury homes are showcasing neutral tones that embrace each room, with a compatible white trim for baseboards and window casings. Whiter trim on crown moldings and windows enhance the tropical views.”

This shows that multiple variants of white can achieve different effects throughout the home: warm off-whites set the mood, while cool, classic whites highlight visual elements. “The perennial challenge is finding the perfect elegant neutral that will showcase the architectural features that make each property unique,” says Noelle Queen, Sales Associate with the Dreyfus Group, Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty. “I particularly like Dove Wing, which is a warm off-white that pairs well with the true whites that are often used for trim.”

Noelle Queen

Finding the right tone can be a recurring challenge — Benjamin Moore’s Off-White Color Collection alone features 152 different options — but when whites are paired properly, it can facilitate a much smoother sale.

“In a recent estate sale listing, I wanted to highlight the home’s high cove ceilings and crown molding,” says Flash Blum. “I painted all the molding White Dove, I had all the living room, dining room, and foyer walls painted Pale Oak. The ceilings were all painted in Benjamin Moore White, and the master bedroom had green tiling in the ensuite, so I used Cotton Balls, another soothing white color that works with green hues.”

3. Organic neutrals

luxury sitting room

Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty

Bringing color into your listings requires a light hand: select soft hues that emphasize the comforts of the home. “There is an overall shift away from the primarily cool color palette that has dominated the last decade, and we’re experiencing a move toward warmer, organic tones that reflect the colors we see in nature,” says Queen, whose clients mostly live and work on the West Coast.

These colors use undertones of warm gray to create a slightly sunnier tint. “Neutral warm gray tones are trending in our market,” says Malcolm. “Passive Gray from Sherwin-Williams is my current pick to give a room the full body of a neutral yet approachable color. This color moves well with the different times of day, the light changes the hue slightly room by room which gives the house a touch of personality.”

White infused with warmer tones can complement raw or naturalistic surfaces really well. “For example, I found that Benjamin Moore Atrium White has a bit of pink in it and it works well with exposed brick walls,” says Flash Blum.

4. Tinted blues and greens

luxury living room

Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty

“Rhode Island’s luxury market is all about ocean and water views, and blues, whites, and grays are popular — with the occasional pop of navy,” says Hollenbeck. “A few popular shades include Simply White, Balboa Mist, and Hale Navy from Benjamin Moore, as well as Sea Salt by Sherwin-Williams and Wimborne White by Farrow and Ball.”

Airy, neutral blues and greens can also create a more vibrant visual touchpoint for buyers, since a monochromatic palette can make homes less memorable. “Particularly in homes with many bedrooms, you want to distinguish one bedroom from another,” says Flash Blum. “If all the rooms are white, it makes it more difficult to remember what is special about that particular room.”

To do this, she notes that soothing colors like Benjamin Moore White Satin, which infuses a soft blue tone, is one of her favorite paint options; so are Quiet Moments and Gray Owl, both of which contain hints of green. “The use of color, especially on cabinetry, is coming back,” says Queen. “The industrial look is being replaced with finishes that make a home feel more like a sanctuary.”

Be considerate with color

It may be tempting to bring in color to differentiate a listing, but don’t overdo it. “I like to remind sellers that buyers will look at their house for the first time online, most likely on a phone screen, where strong colors appear even more commanding,” says Hollenbeck. “Any color that is very dark or overly bright can definitely be a turn-off. It distracts buyers, as it’s the only thing they see and can prevent buyers from envisioning their own furniture and items in a home.”

Queen agrees. “Time and time again, we see that clients have a difficult time envisioning a space if there is too much color or pattern. A color palette that feels very personal can make it challenging for a buyer to picture making the home their own.”

Neutrals are an agent’s best friend — whether they’re true whites, off-whites, organic tones, or tinted hues. Help your clients embrace these colors as they prepare for their next sale; painting walls is one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to attract new buyers to a listing, and it makes a clear impact on first impressions.

About Sotheby’s International Realty

Sotheby’s International Realty was founded in 1976 as a real estate service for discerning clients of Sotheby’s auction house. Today, the company’s global footprint spans 990 offices located in 72 countries and territories worldwide, including 43 company-owned brokerage offices in key metropolitan and resort markets. In February 2004, Realogy entered into a long-term strategic alliance with Sotheby’s, the operator of the auction house. The agreement provided for the licensing of the Sotheby’s International Realty name and the development of a franchise system. The franchise system is comprised of an affiliate network, where each office is independently owned and operated. Sotheby’s International Realty supports its affiliates and agents with a host of operational, marketing, recruiting, educational and business development resources. Affiliates and agents also benefit from an association with the venerable Sotheby’s auction house, established in 1744. For more information, visit

The affiliate network is operated by Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC, and the company owned brokerages are operated by Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc. Both entities are subsidiaries of Realogy Holdings Corp. (NYSE: RLGY) a global leader in real estate franchising and provider of real estate brokerage, relocation and settlement services. Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC and Sotheby’s International Realty Inc., both fully support the principles of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Opportunity Act.