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When Terreeia and I were in Toronto for my Specify Colour with Confidence™ Event in May, we had dinner with a good friend.

We were talking about the extremely hot real estate market in Toronto (and Vancouver). In the last two weeks for example, homes in Toronto are selling for up to a million dollars OVER the asking price with bidding wars everywhere.

Terreeia’s friend had her condo up for sale in Toronto in a prime downtown location. It had been on the market since December and she had not received a single offer.

I asked to see it, so she pulled it up on her phone, laughed and said “It’s probably a good example of ‘what not to do'”.

I flipped through the images and replied, “I can tell you exactly why it’s not selling”.

“The entire place is 90s, the cabinets are a ginger, orange stained wood, the floor tile and unfortunate backsplash are in varying shades of sage green (everyone had a sage green sofa in the 90’s, because that was the neutral of the moment) and the bathrooms are the same. The walls are painted a strong yellow beige which is also dated.

If you want to sell your condo now and not drop your price even more, you need to paint the cabinets white and at the very least, change out the backsplash as well as paint the entire place greige. Also, you have two screaming pink beige love seats which are very bad with the yellow beige walls. I would add white slipcovers to go with the black and white zebra rug you have in the living room.”

There’s a reason why good stagers are worth their weight in gold. Most people don’t want a DIY project, and they can’t visualize how even just a coat of fresh paint can completely transform an interior. Her condo was not even in the tuscan brown trend, it was from the era before that, making it an even harder sell.

Terreeia’s friend was moving to Arizona with her new boyfriend. She was there the following week looking at rentals and she messaged Terreeia saying “Everything down here is BROWN. I was going to keep my furniture before Maria’s assessment, now I’m leaving it in Toronto, but they sure need Maria here, haha”.

What most builders do not understand is that it’s mostly the female who makes the decision on the house. It’s the wife, who turns to her husband and says “Honey, this is the house/kitchen that I want”. A man lives to make his woman happy after all.

Now, lets flip over to the Vancouver market where I recently heard this story. A realtor was driving around with his client and the client said “This is too slow, we need a helicopter. They flew around and saw 11 properties. When they landed, the realtor turned to his client and said “Which one do you want?” The client said “I’ll take them all”.

The couple who bought Katey’s house (below) were living closer to the city in an apartment with two small children. It was the husbands dream to buy a house for his wife and family and they bought it without even seeing it in person. The wife cried tears of joy when she came to visit for the first time after their successful purchase.

Katey had found my blog right before they moved in and AFTER the major renovation had happened, which included the bathroom (below). But she made all the right colour decisions after that.

Katey and her husband had no trouble selling their house.


After Front Door: Behr Ocean, Exterior Cloverdale Sharkskin solid stain in Blueprint




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Katey and her husband’s dream is to live on acreage. They had recently put an offer on a property they had found subject to selling their house and lost it. When they found the next one, they bought it without subjects and then were anxious to sell their house.

They did not need to worry. With the fresh look and feel Katey had created with just two consultations with me, she had multiple offers with realtors knocking on her door making personal pleas on behalf of their clients including letters and photos of their families.

24 hours later, their house was SOLD.


Katey’s handy husband did all the renovations himself.

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Kitchen after

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Dining room after


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Walls BM Classic Grey, all Trim & Cabinets SW Snowbound


This is the bathroom she renovated prior to finding my blog so it’s a little earthier than it would have been otherwise, however the finishes do coordinate which is nice.

The cabinet was existing and it was a wood stain, Katey’s husband did not want it painted so she did it one day when he was at work and when he came home he agreed that it looked better.

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The backyard the new family will enjoy.


This is Katey and her happy husband!

Even in a hot real estate market your house can sit around if the finishes are too personal and trendy. Remember, boring equals timeless. Keep this mantra in your head when you renovate or build your house and you will be much happier in the long run!

If you need help creating a fresh look and feel for your house, use our exterior or interior consultations.

Related posts:

The Best Cream Bathrooms

The Best White Bathrooms

White Kitchen Cabinets for the Most Timeless Kitchen

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  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Katey is a girl after my own heart. Painting a cabinet behind her husband’s back. Ha! At least he admitted she did the right thing.

    • Loribeth says:

      I did the same thing. I painted the upper cabinets white while my husband was away on a trip. He knew I was doing it, but we had agreed I would only paint the uppers. When he came back, he said they looked better, and thought I should paint the lower cabinets too.

  • Dawn says:

    Ha! Everything is brown in Arizona! (Bleh) We do need you!! This is a great article since my husband is a Realtor here in Sedona Arizona and he can just send his high end listing clients to you!! And hopefully work with updating all the brown.

  • Great transformations! I love seeing these successful before and after photos! That’s why I love being a Home stager, seeing the transformation and helping people sell their homes quickly.

  • christie gahan says:

    What happened to the woodstove wall ? Maria: how do you get those ugly black things to blend in? There’s always a cheap brick or tile surround too. I bet you rip it out!

    • Diane says:

      YES! Maria, how do you incorporate a wood stove and its surround into a classic home? I want to rip it out but my husband wants to keep it…as a heat source when the power goes out. (a frequent event in the country)

  • Cindi says:

    In my western resort mountain town, they’ve FINALLY moved away from log and heavy wood finishes. But there’s still a lot of those for sale, plus totally 80’s east coast designs with patterned wallpaper everywhere. But instead, they’ve moved to the already dated “dark urban” look with black and dark brown everywhere! And these homes are millions of dollars. I just keep asking “what were they thinking?”

    Fortunately some people are building modern mountain, which at least have a lot of windows, since the outdoors here is one of the most gorgeous places on earth. My house is the oldest in town, nothng fancy, but I’m grateful it was remodeled before I bought it to a white cottage-style. It’s still a bit dark because it’s surrounded by 80 foot spruce trees, but the white saves it.

  • Elaine Haber says:

    How did Katey paint a bathroom cabinet in a single day? Don’t you have to strip the stain before repainting the wood? (Obviously I’ve never done it myself!)

    • mrsben says:

      With the primers and paints nowadays you shouldn’t really have to strip furniture unless it is damaged. Otherwise and cleaning to get rid of dirt/grease with a solution of T.S.P. following manufacture’s instructions, a coat of a primer (like Zinsser’s Bullseye 1-2-3), the proper tools (in rollers/brushes unless you are very good at spray painting) and your choice of paint is basically all that is required. Hope this helps. -Brenda-
      *Be sure to read the information regarding drying time in between coats for your chosen products. As for a vanity of said size, yes she definitely could have done it one day without any problem … ☺.

  • Lorri says:

    I have realized I despise 95% of the houses on the market no matter what they cost. Nice, huh?

    • Stacy says:

      Lorri, I don’t love our lot so I went to look at open houses in Orange County, CA. Well, it put my house into perspective that’s for sure! 98% of the homes were big and outdated and in the $800k+ range. Yikes. Maybe ours isn’t so bad after all. The few I liked were well over a million. Even those who had remodeled did so in finishes I would never choose. I would rather have a home with good bones and original outdated finishes than the houses that remodel in the tan/brown/beige finishes I see everywhere plus the glass tile and cabinets that don’t match the rest of the house built in the 70s…

  • Sheri says:

    What a great transformation! They must be thrilled.

  • Jane B says:

    If you use chalk paint, no stripping needed. Just cleaning. Which can happen the day fore with so one the wiser. 🙂

    • susan says:

      A little Annie Sloane goes a long way! And so easy to apply, too. I used “French Linen” on our bathroom vanity, and it went from boring brown to beautiful almost over night!

  • Anne says:

    Wow! Maria, thanks for sharing this-that house went from dull and dated to bright and clean! It is a perfect example of all you have been trying to teach us!

  • Lori says:

    This is the same home? The dining room looks like they added a door and removed a return (?) above the window, the kitchen cabinets have been refaced and brought to the ceiling and the family room looks completely reconfigured?

    Either they spend a ton of money renovating just to sell, or this is a different home. Beautiful either way.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes they totally added french doors in the dining room and then the deck. Katey’s husband did all the work himself! Lucky for her 🙂 Maria

  • Mairi says:

    Lovely. What is the colour code of the quartz kitchen counters?

  • Elizabeth Smith says:

    This is all so renovation positive! I have a DREADFUL bathroom that I want to renovate, but also a toddler and senior citizen in the house and oh, the outside-the-home job. How much upheaval is “the works” for one bathroom, toilet, tub, sinks, lights, and floor? Does one schedule contractors around nap time?

    • KA says:

      I do this for a living and would say you’re in for a lot of upheaval. I’m doing my own 2 baths now after doing a 1 bath to two split for a single doctor. I’m staying the nights at my mom’s house, he worked double shifts and took showers at work and neither of us live with anyone.

      Can’t picture any contractor scheduling around naps in my 11 years of doing this renovation work. When we did my parent’s house, we did it with them living in it and did all but replace the original hardwood floors from the day after Memorial Day to the day before the 4th of July. They had a barbecue and frozen foods in advance and we always had 1 bath and one shower for them, but they were both retired.

      Demo is noisy, the tile saw is noisy and the dirt generated just keeps coming. Extended stay elsewhere comes to mind in your situation…my two cents.

      • KA says:

        That should have been 1 toilet and one shower for my parents. Weird spacing on my phone, too. Sorry about that.

    • Kay says:

      Tremendous upheaval. I was working when ours was done, but no toddler. Just cats. We have another bathroom so used that for the five weeks it took–gutted to the studs, and mostly custom. I actually enjoy the renovation process, but you live in a mess for the duration, with plastic strategically placed to keep the dust out of the rest of the house. Not all the work is noisy, but you might want to stay elsewhere while the really noisy part is going on–gutting, sawing, etc.

    • Stacy says:

      I have a 2 and 4 year old and have been doing major renovations to our house over the past 5 years…It’s bad. There’s no way around it, but my kids are so used to it, the little guy can sleep through a copper repipe with the joists being drilled into below his room. Wet saws, hammers, demo. So, so loud and he can sleep through it all. It took us a year to do a guest bath, BUT that’s because we had to redo some work after a bad contractor 🙁 Now, we’re doing our kitchen and waiting for floors. I don’t think I’ll move or take on another remodeling project ever…

  • sandyc says:

    Terreeia’s friend is soooooooooooooooooo right – everything in Arizona is still brown, especially here in my HOA community of homes built in the mid 1980s. The only concession here are a couple of homes where the single women owners had the cabinets painted white and filled the kitchen with stainless while keeping everything else in the house brown. Added to that, in my community everyone installs dark brown floors in homes with eaves that make you feel as if you’ve walked into a tunnel. (I’m not going that route with my new floors). One good is that I am seeing similar standalone homes around the area that getting sophisticated exterior paint jobs and lovely lighter floors throughout (laminate or luxury vinyl plank – very rarely tile), a good share of white kitchens and some warm grey walls – quite appealing. Hope Terreeia’s friend learned well from her quick visit with you. Tell her to visit Apartment Therapy for rental rescue ideas and, she’s right, Maria, we definitely need you in Arizona. P.S. I’m not putting down every designer in Arizona. There are those who do the elite Scottsdale thing but that’s a totally different story and budget.

  • Victoria says:

    Amazing changes Katey made after her consultation with you. Love it all and I would have bought it too with those changes made. Real estate is hot here lately too. Maybe not to the degree of spending over a million for a property, but lots of bidding wars, and several investors buying up properties for when several businesses move here from California.

  • Linda says:

    Really enjoyed your post today. My nephew sold his little house in a ‘hot’ Toronto neighbourhood about 8 months ago, and the realtor said he’d never seen anything like it. They had 59 viewings in less than a week, with multiple offers that kept increasing. They settled for over a million. They both quit their T.O. jobs, moved to a smaller city in Ontario, bought their dream house and retired at 46 yrs. old.

    I’m going to use a couple of the kitchen pics as ‘inspiration’ for my current client, because I told her she needs to update her kitchen because of the site lines from the LR/DR (I’m re-doing these areas). She said ok, but won’t change the granite counters, backsplash or cupboards, which are the same hideous yellow/orange crap ones you described in the Toronto condo. So, I’ve recommended PAINT! WHITE PAINT! Maybe grey lowers, changing out the hardware to black matte, adding and updating pendant lighting and faucets & maybe I can convince her to install an apron-front sink And finally, just finessing with b&w accessories that won’t cost much (Ikea) but, will give her the look she’s after.

  • Karen says:

    Wow, Arizona is taking a hit when there is ugly, man generated brown, ginger wood everywhere! I like the one comment about the single women updating their kitchen to white/light. The biggest problems as a designer(in Phoenix) I run into is men! This isn’t going to change no matter what trend we are in the middle of… Men love wood. We need more women home builders working with designers.

    • mrsben says:

      “We need more women home builders working with designers”. I’m not a designer but I will second that statement as just completed renovations of four bathrooms and had a very reputable General Contractor doing the work and he couldn’t believe I was tearing out my Oak vanities that of which after close to twenty-eight years living with was giving me Oakalitis …. ☺. With no intention to offend those who have them as I am a firm believer in ‘to each their own’ but personally I can’t wait until we get started on demolition of our kitchen that also has them. Oh, did I mention that our street name even has the word ‘Oak’ in it … LOL! -Brenda-

  • Mid America Mom says:

    That update was quite the extreme but in markets like that you can get a nice return even on smaller things! We sold our last home that was in a hot market, quickly. I spent months and thousands of dollars getting the inside and outside ready. If you have some money to spend, a good real estate team, and handy people or DIY – you can make informed decisions and put prices on costs to update and possible returns. Some things were small. Well placed mirrors to get more light or flow into the space. Our one bathroom floor was basically stuck in forest green but we tried to minimize the impact by using other shades of green for the walls and accessories – that were found in a new shower curtain. I wanted to paint the maple kitchen cabinets to white from a warm stain but at that time it was not full on trend in that city and passable. Simple curtains (or none at all) replaced blinds and shades. Painted every wall of course! Upped the curb appeal. Other things too. We got full price and made many multiples of our investment. If anyone reading this is on the fence about spending to sell – it does not hurt to ask questions of your real estate team! Thanks for posting Maria!

  • Kathy says:

    I find men to be the biggest road block to smart design. Whenever I have been asked to help my friends select paint or update the furniture, we always have to run it past their husbands who don’t have a clue…….so frustrating. I’m sorry, but I just can’t handle dated orange oak and gigantic leather recliners.

  • BillP says:

    That is an amazing transformation. Everything inside is so fresh and current. But, ok, I’ll say what others haven’t: the front porch and deck are overpowering and detract from the quaint look of the house. Wouldn’t it look better if stained? A white stain for the railings or gray? Thoughts, Maria?

  • Barb says:

    I am all for white kitchen and baths. Unfortunately I am moving to a town home without a lot of light. Can I still have white cabinets? What neutral color of walls? I think the gray in the article would not work for me. Would a warm color like Delaware Putty be possible with white cabinets? I am just not sure of neutrals for lower light conditions.

  • The majority of buyers today will pay more for a move-in ready home. 9 out of 10 people can not visualize the potential and many are busy and don’t want to experience all the upheaval. The sellers I work with here in Toronto and Greater Toronto Area that spray out their cabinetry, paint and do other cost effective updates that will offer them a high return, and of course stage (with us :)) are the ones that are getting multiple bids far beyond the price point they expected. This is such a great example Maria and thank you for saying stagers are worth our weight in gold! I love this transformation that you consulted on with Katey. It is stunning! You created a dream home for the happy buyers and helped the sellers maximize their equity. Win-Win! Removing the wood stove is worth the time, effort and expense to open up a room. I had sellers do this in a job in Toronto, where the family room was all chopped up, created so much more value! Thank you for all that you have shared and taught stagers like myself! Understanding the undertones has been a game changer. xo

  • Durf says:

    The inside is lovely. However, I think the front porch is out of scale for this tiny house. Somehow the roof looks really flat in the after, not something you’d find in my neck of the woods due to snow loads.

  • Debra says:

    I love stories like this! Great post 🙂

  • mike says:

    Yes… I thought the front porch was an example of what not to do. What do you say, Maria?

  • Kay says:

    Love the changes. We’re thinking of selling because of noisy neighbors, which I really don’t want to do because our small house is so beautiful with all the renovations we’ve done (thank you, Maria!). The prices in this area are very low compared to most places, but reno costs are similar, which means you get way less in return for what you spent. Plus unbelievable real estate and school taxes–often $10,000 or more on a $200,000 house. in some communities your taxes are the same amount as one year’s standard mortgage payments. We are not in the high end market, and the interiors of most houses are appallingly ugly. A lot of them look just like the before pics in this post, and many others are brown, brown, brown. Unpainted wood everywhere, not just kitchen cabs. Dark and depressing–and we are in the northeast, with long cold winters. Finding a house that has been attractively updated and is attractively sited in a good area is incredibly difficult.

  • Mary from Virginia says:

    This post makes me nervous! My husband and I are painting our son’s kitchen. He has selected jalapeño by Sherwin Williams for the cabinets. The floor is a tan beige tile with brown grout. The current trim paint is stark white. We are replacing the countertops with laminate. (don’t hate, tight budget) now I don’t know if we should change wall color and trim color direction because it will make us have to paint refining room as well. I need help!

  • Mary from Virginia says:

    *regfining should be Dining room! Autocorrect was not my friend!

  • mrsben says:

    Personally as diyer’s I feel they did a fabulous job in renovating and congratulations to them on the sale of their house! Re your advice Maria; it is really worth its weight in gold, bar none! -Brenda-

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