Real NEastate: Can you ask a seller to make cosmetic changes?

Q: So many houses in the Northeast have wood paneling! In my price range, which is kind of low, all the homes I like have wood paneling somewhere, especially in the basement. My real estate agent told me that it is just “cosmetic” and I could paint over it or remove it if I want. But I don’t want to do any work. What does cosmetic mean anyway? And can you ask a seller to fix things that are considered “cosmetic?”

A: Features that don’t serve any specific, functioning purpose in a home are considered “cosmetic.” A feature such as faux wood paneling inside a home usually serves an aesthetic rather than any other useful purpose. It may not be your aesthetic, but at some point in time, someone who owned the house thought wood paneling was elegant. And so did thousands of other homeowners in Philadelphia in the ’50s and ’60s.

Other examples of “cosmetic” would be carpet color or paint color. These can sometimes be undesirable cosmetic features if a home is not updated. And while they don’t affect the function of a home, they could bring down the market value of a home since buyers may likely want to update them and have to spend money to do that. Maybe that’s why you are finding an abundance of them in your price range.

It’s up to you. The buyer always spells out the terms of the offer. Be up front and specific about what you are asking of the seller. If you want the wood paneling replaced with dry wall, then request it in your offer. But be forewarned: that doesn’t mean the seller will agree to do it.

If the worst problem about a home is the wood paneling, it’s not a bad problem to have. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you have to change it immediately. You can budget for the change. But you never know. Maybe faux wood paneling will make a big comeback and it will soon be retro. Maybe it already has.

Stacey McCarthy is a real estate agent with the McCarthy Group of Keller Williams. Her Real NEastate column appears every Wednesday on See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal