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Bathroom Tiles Color = Sales Killer?

Market Ready

Q. The tile in my bathroom is in good shape, but it’s brightly colored and may not appeal to everyone. Should I replace it before selling?

A. Although real estate agents and designers often recommend decorating with neutral colors to make a home more appealing to a buyer, it may not make sense to replace your tile if it’s in good condition, since the cost could be difficult to recoup.

“What it boils down to is that the apartment has to be at least clean, including the bathroom,” said Phyllis Pezenik, vice president and managing director for brokerage services at DJK Residential, in New York. Brightly colored tile “probably won’t be in many people’s taste,” she said, but “if the apartment is in good shape and everything is clean and neat, it shows that you’ve maintained it.”

Instead of retiling the bathroom, Ms. Pezenik suggested offsetting the bright tile with a very plain shower curtain and towels. And “if there’s any paint above the tiles, use a very neutral color” there, she added, “like an off-white or a very pale gray.”

DeeDee Gundberg, product development portfolio director at the tile and stone company Ann Sacks, also recommended keeping the tile. “I’ve seen turquoise and black tiles in a bathroom that were just fantastic,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Not for everyone, but the overall look was beautiful and therefore I don’t think would deter a buyer.”

In an extreme case, though, if the tile is an eyesore in an otherwise tastefully renovated home, it might be worth the investment to replace it with something neutral, said Mimi Fong, owner of the interior design firm Luminosus Designs, and a member of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. “It could be the difference between getting an offer or not,” she said.

Ms. Fong recommended installing large-format ceramic tiles (12-by-24-inch or 4-by-20-inch) for a contemporary look. “Definitely don’t use 4-by-4 tiles,” she said. “That would immediately date your bathroom. It will look like a 1970s or 1980s leftover.”

In terms of color, “you can never go wrong with the classics,” she said.

“Creams, beiges and whites paired with beautiful hardware will sell a bathroom,” she added. Or tiles that mimic the look of natural stone: with that option, she said, “you can get a very good look for little money, and they’ll be much easier to maintain” than real stone.

Her favorite sources include Ann Sacks, Nemo Tile and Walker Zanger.

A more basic option, Ms. Gundberg said, would be to use 3-by-6-inch or 6-by-6-inch tile that could be installed with staggered joints for a traditional look, or in a straight grid for a more modern look.

If you decide to leave the existing tile in place, there’s always the chance you’ll get lucky and find a buyer who likes it, Ms. Pezenik noted: “You might get that one person who says, ‘Wow, I’ve been looking for that tile my whole life.’ ”