Market Ready: Should I Replace Fake Wood Paneling?

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Q. Some of the walls in our house are covered in fake wood paneling. Should we replace it?

A. In today’€™s market, fake wood paneling is never a redeeming feature, said Robert M. Nelson, an associate real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens in Southampton, N.Y. “€œIf it’€™s those 4-by-8 sheets of hardware-store paneling, definitely remove it,”€ he said.

To be clear, Mr. Nelson said, there are some older homes that have high-quality wood-veneer paneling that isn’€™t faux, and that’€™s not what he’€™s talking about. “€œPrior to the ‘€™60s, there was paneling made with veneer, and that sometimes can be made to look really cool,”€ he said, recalling that he once sold an Upper East Side townhouse that had veneer paneling in the library and dining room. “€œWe did a pickling effect,”€ he said, “€œwhich made it look beautiful”€

But most faux wood paneling is a cheaper, more recent product that doesn’€™t have a top layer of natural wood. And tearing that out, repairing the wall and applying a fresh coat of paint will make the room look so much better and bigger, Mr. Nelson said. “€œIt will generate a higher sales price.”€

Jeff Sherman of Delson or Sherman Architects in Brooklyn agreed that in most cases, fake wood paneling isn’€™t a good thing. “€œNinety percent of the time, I would say rip it out,”€ he said. “€œIt has a strong connotation of 1970s basement rec rooms. And it’€™s so familiar that everyone recognizes it as cheap and fake.”€

For a quick and inexpensive fix, Mr. Sherman recommends covering it with paint. He recently advised some clients to do just that in a house they were renovating in Rockland County, N.Y. “€œIn this case, they liked the texture of it,”€ he said. “€œAnd it would have cost a certain amount of money to recreate the texture in real wood,”€ which wasn’€™t in the budget.

If you decide to paint, he advises using a good primer because the paneling often has a plasticky top layer. Primer “€œtotally disguises it,”€ he said, and you should end up with a look similar to real wood paneling. “€œDepending on how your fake wood paneling was made, a lot of it has a wood-grain texture that will telegraph through the paint. It winds up looking something like beadboard, and can be very nice.”€

Even left unpainted, fake wood paneling can have a campy appeal, Mr. Sherman said, recalling the Calvin Klein ads from the 1990s that used it as a backdrop. But buyers who want that look, he added, are probably few and far between. “€œIn many ways,”€ he said, “€œit’€™s similar to how a pink flamingo appeals to some people.”€

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