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 The General Truth: Cottage cheese ceilings are from yesteryear, so they tend to make a home feel more outdated.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 The Whole Enchilada: I’ve found when a home has popcorn ceiling texture, it often has other outdated features.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 My sense is buyers tend to see the entire package of a home as outdated, so they become willing to pay a certain price for “the whole enchilada” so to speak.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.  🙂

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

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