Q: Our fireplace surround is outdated brick. Should we replace it before selling?
A: “Most people like the idea of a fireplace, even if they barely use it,” said Sandra Smith, a real estate salesperson at Compass, in New York. So “a fireplace brings value to a property.”
But whether it’s worth spending the time and money to update the surround on your fireplace depends on a number of factors, she said. If your whole home is in need of renovation, changing the surround is unlikely to make much of a difference in buyers’ eyes.
And if the fireplace is nonfunctional, “you should take that into account in determining how much you want to invest,” Smith said, because some buyers may prefer to use the space for something else, like built-in bookshelves.
However, if the rest of your home is in good shape and has an up-to-date look, and you have a working fireplace, an outdated surround needs attention.
“The mantel serves as a center-point of the home, and you usually design a room around it,” said Joan Enger, owner of J. Patryce Design, in Hoboken, New Jersey. “So it has to be right.”
If it isn’t right, there are a number of ways to tackle the problem. The least expensive involves painting the existing surround.
You could use any neutral-colored paint, but one of Enger’s favorite techniques is to “whitewash the brick with a combination of paint and water, which gives the brick a nice patina,” and has a translucent finish.
If that doesn’t produce a satisfying result, or you want a more dramatic transformation, you could hire a woodworker to build a custom surround with a painted finish.
Enger recommended using a “clean and simple” design that would appeal to both modern and traditional tastes.
“Most people today don’t want anything too fussy,” she said.
It’s also important to be aware of how the original surround was built. Many surrounds are made from brick veneer that is just stuck onto the wall, Enger said, and they can be removed relatively easily and replaced. But if the brick is an integral part of the wall, a cover-up job may be required.
If you’re aiming for all-out luxury, you might consider installing a custom stone surround. Enger built a clean-lined limestone mantel for a spec house in Hoboken, N.J., that she and her husband sold last May, she said, and it became one of the home’s most talked-about selling features.
“It was something that everyone, realtors, potential buyers and friends, loved,” she said. Just be aware, she added, that “it’s definitely more pricey than wood or paint.”