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Clutter, swirly carpets and bold colours: Interiors mistakes to avoid when selling your home

Following a few simple steps can bump up the price and speed of your sale

Bold colours, family photos, bulging cupboards and bad smells – these are just some of the things that can turn a potential buyer right off your home. When it comes to making a sale, neutral, decluttered, deep-cleaned rooms can bump up the price and speed of your sale.

Photo ready

To hook a buyer, you’ve got to get your home’s online profile right first.

“I feel strongly that photographs are the window of your campaign. Your digital campaign is huge,” says Jacqui McCabe, associate director and branch manager of Sherry FitzGerald in Dún Laoghaire.

Your listing is about enticing as many potential buyers over the threshold as possible. “Everyone is swiping across, making decisions about going to view a property or not, so the more inviting your photos are, the more people are going to click on them and make an appointment to view,” she says.


Cluttered rooms and busy patterns will make rooms look smaller. “A really patterned duvet might be fabulous, but in a photo it’s not going to look well. It’s going to dominate,” says McCabe. “What you want to do is open up the space. Use plain white bed linen and dress it up with a throw or cushions.”

Striking features can look great in situ but can photograph completely differently, says Diana Molohan, founder of home staging specialists My Kind of Design. She recalls toning down a trendy splashback in the kitchen of a property she has staged.

“If you looked at the photos, the red splashback was distracting. You were not going to see the height of the ceilings or size of the room,” she says.

Eyes are drawn to balance and symmetry, so dress rooms accordingly. “If you’ve got lockers either side of the bed, have matching lamps,” says McCabe, adding “If you’ve got a divan bed, put a valance over it.”

Time poor

Most house-hunters these days are time poor. The last thing they need is a project.

“Invariably you need two incomes coming in to cover a mortgage, so usually there are two busy workers looking to view a home. If you can eliminate any of the negatives that your property might have, you are already in a better position,” says Molohan.

Removing swirly carpets and giving rooms a lick of paint can make buyers feel any necessary renovation work is not such a big undertaking.

“People don’t want to do work and they are terrified of the numbers they will be quoted to do it. By not doing anything yourself, you are shaving your market in half,” says Molohan.

Houses in walk-in condition sold 10 to 20 per cent above asking prices, according to a 2023 market report from estate agent Owen Reilly. Houses requiring work were more difficult to sell.

By doing some of the clearing out yourself, you are solving a problem for buyers, says McCabe.

“A few years ago, the first thing you’d see when a sale closed, no matter what the condition of the house was a skip outside,” says McCabe. “Those days are gone. People are now at the pin of their collar trying to purchase the home. They want to be able to get in and get on,” she says.

“You are saying to them, there is only one cheque [needed] here. Buy the property and you can live comfortably here for a couple of years.”

Executor sale

An executor sale may mean the house hasn’t been updated or indeed lived in for some time – hello Formica kitchen and avocado bathroom suite.

Where a property is being sold on behalf of the estate, getting agreement from everyone about removing possessions or spending money to spruce things up can be fraught.

“Kitchens and bathrooms can take €10,000 out of a budget immediately,” says Molohan. Instead, just try to make everything else look really good, she advises.

“Scrub the bathroom and make it look as clean and as presentable as possible. I’ve had great success with painting kitchens and painting tiles,” she says.

“Immediately a couple will go in and say, we can live with it; it’s not my style, but it’s clean. If they have to pull out the carpets and change the colour scheme, suddenly they can think they will have to spend. It starts to feel out of their budget and they switch off,” says McCabe.

Independent living aids such as grab rails, stairlifts, adapted bathroom seats and shower chairs are a fact of life, but removing them will enable buyers to better envision living there.

“I had an executor sale where the house was valued at €950,000. We painted it, took up the hall carpets, painted the whole house, painted the kitchen and the banisters and staged it. It made €1.05 million with just a €15,000 investment,” she says.

Picture this

Of course you love your family, that’s why there are photos of their every milestone all over your house. Selling up means it’s time to edit the gallery.

“I have no problem having photos in one place, it says to the buyer ‘this was a happy family home’, but keep it in one place,” Molohan says. “If they are all over the house, suddenly it’s saying ‘this is our house, this is our house’.”

Ireland is a small country and estate agents tell tales galore of house-hunters realising their potential forever home belongs to a former teacher, boss or an ex. That might not be the vibe they are after.

“There’s no need to be too sterile, but you don’t want your family’s story to drown out the whole house. Religious statues are also a big turn-off,” says Molohan.

Home improvement TV shows have raised expectations around interiors, says McCabe.

“People want a showhouse. You are presenting a lifestyle. It may not be your lifestyle, but you are presenting something neutral so that all sorts of people can envision themselves living there,” she says.


An overflowing shoe rack, coats hooked on every door, mounds of toys and bulging wardrobes – that’s the reality of family life. Selling a house, however, is about selling a dream.

Too much stuff tells the buyer the house is too small for you and it will be too small for them too.

Moving is your opportunity for a clear-out – do it before putting your house on the market. Otherwise you are paying for everything to be moved, stored and moved again, says Molohan.

“Pack as though you are going on a six-week holiday and then rent a storage unit for everything else,” she says. Winter coats, bulky sports gear and most of your family’s clothes should go into a rented storage unit until the house is sold.

For sponges, razors, toiletries, weird creams, have a box at the ready to clear all personal items from the bathroom before viewings. Then add some fresh towels.

“You don’t want viewers to feel someone has just got out of the shower, it’s horrific,” says Molohan. Get all of your dirty laundry out of the house too, even if that means picking up your laundry basket and putting it in the boot of the car.”

Complacent sellers may find their home languishes unsold, says McCabe. “I remember, I went to a house and they had just had a new baby and they had all the paraphernalia. I said, you’ve to take this or that out. He was saying, ‘people can see beyond all that’, but the house wasn’t selling and he was asking, ‘why isn’t this moving?’”

Those who aren’t parents of young kids may not find your nappy bin so endearing.


Former rental properties can be particularly unloved. Owner-occupier buyers far outnumber investors these days, even in the apartment market, so these properties need to be presented as inviting homes.

“We staged a two-bed apartment in town. It just got snapped up quicker and people even wanted to buy the furniture because it’s just a no-brainer. They say, ‘this works for me, I want it’,” says Molohan.

If you’re selling a property that is a holiday let, be sure the occupants have actually left. In a former role selling country homes, Molohan recalls a bride and groom who had remained undetected in the bridal suite of a manor venue some days after the wedding.

“I walked in with the viewers behind me. The curtains were closed. I had that sinking feeling that something wasn’t right and then the bed rustled. It still burns in my mind.”

When selling a rental, make sure it’s empty for viewings.

Smell of success

Every house has a smell and some smells can turn a buyer right off. Potty training accidents, dog beds, cigarette smoke, or occupants who loved nothing more than a patchouli incense stick – don’t risk giving buyers the ick.

“You are living in your house all the time, it’s like having smelly teenagers, you get used to those smells, but someone coming in will completely pick up on them,” says McCabe.

At the very least, air the place well in advance of a viewing. A mist of room spray can also work wonders, but don’t overdo it, she says.

Pet peeve

Not everyone is a fan of pets. You can’t remove all signs of your beloved pooch, but make an effort, says Molohan.

“Be very conscious; you don’t smell your own pet, but everyone else will,” she says. “Before you go to market, invest in getting your carpets cleaned. It’s well worth doing because it brings them back up and it gets rid of the pet smells. Dog food bags smell too, get them out.”

Get the dog out of the house and open the windows for a few hours before viewers arrive, she advises.

And don’t forget the garden too. Scoop that poop.