An appraiser’s view of cottage cheese ceiling texture

They say everything comes back in style, but I’m pretty sure cottage cheese ceiling texture isn’t one of those things. Well, I hope not. This style of texture is also known as popcorn, or more formally as acoustic or stucco ceiling. The house I grew up in had this texture, and a couple of rooms in the first house I bought did too. The other day on Twitter someone asked me how ceiling texture impacts value, and since we had a great conversation, I figured we could deepen the topic here. I’d love to hear your insight in the comments below.

cottage cheese ceiling texture - sacramento appraisal blog - image purchased and used with permission from 123rf dot com

3 things to consider about cottage cheese ceilings and value:

  1. The General Truth: Cottage cheese ceilings are from yesteryear, so they tend to make a home feel more outdated. Ultimately when a home has tired elements, it tends to sell for less or need to spend more time on the market to sell to the right buyer. Okay, that makes sense. But how much does this type of texture impact value? Well, that really depends on the following.
  2. The Whole Enchilada: I’ve found when a home has popcorn ceiling texture, it often has other outdated features. We might also see older wallpaper, an original kitchen and bathrooms, wood wall paneling, steel casement crank windows, etc… Thus the popcorn texture is only one symptom of an antiquated home. My sense is buyers tend to see the entire package of a home as outdated, so they become willing to pay a certain price for “the whole enchilada” so to speak. In other words, buyers don’t often segment one feature like popcorn texture to ask how much it might detract from value, but instead see the property as a whole and thus make one big value adjustment downward. Of course if a home is updated throughout besides popcorn ceiling texture, a buyer might realistically ask how much it is going to cost to remove the texture. The cost of the texture might be a reasonable value deduction, but not always as seen below.
  3. Different Expectations in Neighborhoods: I told a home owner the other day NOT to remove his cottage cheese ceilings for a planned renovation. Yes, install straight-edge granite counters in the kitchen and paint the cabinets. Yes, spruce up the bathrooms. Yes, paint the interior. Yes, lay new carpet. But leave the cottage cheese because all the remodeled comps still have texture on the ceilings. Since buyers were paying the highest prices in the neighborhood despite popcorn ceiling texture, it didn’t make financial sense for the owner to fork out a few thousand dollars to scrape his ceilings (this was in the Sunriver neighborhood in Rancho Cordova). This is a good reminder that it’s easy to bring in our own judgements and perceptions when valuing a home, but ultimately we have to look closely at the market to glean insight. We might be prone to think a home would sell for less because of the dated texture, but in this case it was best to look at other competitive sales in the neighborhood and let those sales set the standard for what we think. At the same time, if all the sales in the neighborhood do not have texture, it’s probably time to start scraping because owners need to eliminate obstacles and excuses for buyers making offers. In a neighborhood where ceiling texture is not common, scraping is a good move because it is a fairly minimal cost, and in my experience owners are often likely to recoup scraping expenses in the resale market because of the increased marketability. But remember, if all the comps already have no popcorn texture, scraping texture simply brings the home up to par with others in the neighborhood.

I hope this interesting and helpful. By the way, if you want to pave the way forward to help bring back popcorn texture, here is a DIY tutorial for you.ย  ๐Ÿ™‚

Questions: What else would you add? What is point #4?

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  1. says

    Hi Ryan, A concern that was not touched on is that in the early days of pop corn ceilings, the texture material may contain asbestos. Later applications did not. A wise Buyer may want to have it tested and then educate themselves on the pros and cons of removing it, if it does contain asbestos.

    • says

      Thank you Wayne. I appreciate you mentioning this point. I was more concerned about the value reaction for my focus here, but this is definitely worth discussion, so thank you for bringing it up. My understanding is asbestos was used in ceiling texture at times prior to 1978, but it was apparently still found in the early 80s too from the reading I’ve done. Part of the removal process involves getting the ceiling wet so it can be scraped and then fall to the ground (thereby not disturbing asbestos and having dust get everywhere in the house. I’d be curious to hear from any onlookers whether they think potential asbestos is a turn-off or if they are more concerned about the outdated look of the texture.

  2. Nathan says

    I’ve noticed this topic on a number of Design Websites including Apartment Therapy. Three opinions really stood out to me:

    1. Was the home built during the time when these types of ceilings were popular? If the home is a Victorian you should remove it.
    2. Are there other updates you could be spending your money on that would make a bigger impact.
    3. Does the popcorn ceiling have glitter. Some retro buffs love glitter ceilings.

    • says

      Thanks Nathan. You are SO RIGHT about removing it for a Victorian (or probably any Craftsman, Bungalow, etc… that was built way before popcorn became the thing). The Sunriver neighborhood I mentioned above was built in the late 1970s / early 1980s, so it is customary for homes to have popcorn texture. I emphatically agree about anything classic though, and my advice about what to do could be different depending on the neighborhood as well as what the market is doing. As we always say, real estate is hyper local, so there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to advice. Thank you for enhancing the post.

  3. says

    Excellent blog Ryan, thank you!

    I actually see the popcorn in some cases as “Vintage” and for some modern remodels vintage is good… like you said, it depends on the other updates in the home.

    I’ve seen modern remodels that left the popcorn and made everything else new and it looks cool and amazing!

    But before i leave those ceilings in my next remodels I will definitely look at the comps for that feature and make my decision then.

    Thanks again Ryan!!!

    • says

      Thanks Bev. While the texture is definitely an older style, it could possibly work in some scenarios as you indicated. I always appreciate your take. Good luck on your current flips. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’ll be curious to hear if any onlookers have thought of texture as an asset. In other words, if you have the choice, would you rather have it as opposed to not have it?

  4. says

    The 1978 house that I live in now had popcorn ceilings when we purchased it. During the inspection period, I took a sample and had it tested for asbestos. We were happy to find none. Although removal of the popcorn involves wetting it, removal of popcorn with asbestos is very expensive and (in our area) requires special procedures for removal, containment, and disposal. These are very expensive. We probably would not have purchased the home or asked for a big discount if there was asbestos in the ceilings that we planned to remove.

    • says

      Interesting. Thanks Gary. Good for you to have it tested. I would be curious to hear if most buyers do that. Good or bad, I know a contractor who just takes it down without testing (I’m not saying that’s a good idea). Do you remember what the cost was for removal without asbestos? And do you know what the cost maybe would have been with asbestos? (even just a percentage difference if you remember).

  5. says

    Thanks for the education, Ryan. Most of my customers will mention their distaste of popcorn ceilings if present, but typically other factors in the home will be the make or break decision on whether they want to purchase or not.

  6. says

    You make a great point regarding the decision NOT to remove the popcorn ceiling based on the other sales in the neighborhood. This is why it is very important to collect and analyze information about the sales that we use in our appraisals, especially those used for pre-listing purposes.

  7. says

    We have popcorn ceilings in our home and room by room we are removing them. Wetting down first and scraping is the best as you stated. Our home was built in 1980 so we had it tested for asbestos. Thankfully none here. When I appraise a home if I see popcorn it automatically dates it in my eyes, however I agree many other items are also out dated. If the home has many renovations to bring it up to date like we have done in our home, to me the popcorn stands out even more and negatively impacts value.

    Even though we are talking a fraction of an inch removing the popcorn it really does make the ceilings look taller and in a home with only 8.0′ ceilings anything that makes ceilings look taller is a plus in my book.

    One other person mentioned the glitter in the popcorn. I was one of those crazy people that liked it BACK IN THE DAY! I have also seen people do a great job of painting them a different color not that boring white and it looked pretty decent.

    Thanks for the post as many Realtors do not even realize that we look at ceiling texture.

    • says

      Thanks Mary. I appreciate you sharing your story. I enjoyed the read. I agree that it does make a home feel dated. I don’t think I’ve ever seen painted popcorn texture (other than white). I’m hoping that happens soon. ๐Ÿ™‚


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