Best color to paint a rental property

Last Updated on July 16, 2017 by Dave Farquhar

What’s the best color to paint a rental property? You have some leeway, of course, but the color you paint it really does make a difference. Both the interior and exterior matter, but it’s more common that the interior needs a paint job.

Most of our houses, it turns out, are about the same exterior color. I took a scrap of vinyl siding from our favorite one to Sherwin Williams, and they sold us five gallons of a color they call Keystone Gray. Keystone Gray is a warm, neutral tan color.

We had a light green house on another street. It may have been the trendiest house on the block in 1968. But 45 years later, it was probably the ugliest. After we painted it Keystone Gray to match that other one, prospects fell all over each other to rent it.

Best color to paint a rental property
This kitchen is painted with a Benjamin Moore color called Bennington Gray. The color contrasts nicely with the white appliances and with the wood cabinets, looks fine with any style of light fixture, and is easy to take care of.

I wouldn’t paint the interior exactly the same color as the exterior, but something within a couple of shades of Keystone Gray is what you want. Benjamin Moore has a color called Bennington Gray that’s a good starting point. The color won’t win any awards, but it looks good with any kind of trim, floor, and furniture. Psychologically, it gives off a feeling of warmth and security. When people walk in, they feel comfortable. The color is also very easy to take care of. If a little bit of dirt gets on it, you probably won’t notice.

It’s never the trendiest color, but it’s timeless. Benjamin Moore says it’s been a popular color for more than 200 years.

The two houses where we deviated from this color are the two that gave us the most trouble. Did the wrong colors attract the wrong people, or did it turn them into the wrong people? I’ll leave that question to a psychologist. But when we paint our interiors like that, the houses rent faster and the tenants stay longer.

White interiors are common, especially on rentals. It’s a no-fuss color and it’s easy to blast a room flat white, not have to worry about masking the ceiling, and be done with it. But the white looks sterile, and dirt shows very readily, so it’s harder to take care of.

When you go to sell a house, I offer the same advice. A neutral tan will turn off fewer buyers than any other color, and it will attract some. I’ve turned sales-proof houses into good rentals just by painting over the wild colors with a neutral color. Painting takes a few hours to do, but the results are worth it.

I’ll part with an aside: Do you need to use expensive Benjamin Moore paint? Not necessarily, and especially if you use tinted primer. Expensive paint usually covers better than cheap paint, but not always. I once bought five gallons of paint at $25 a gallon only to find it needed three coats to cover white, which should be easy. I’ve also paid $12 a gallon for contractor-grade paints that covered in two coats.

I think it makes sense to try several different brands at different price points and compare results. Don’t buy five gallons of anything until you see how it covers. That $25 paint was a complete rip-off. I could have put two coats of Benjamin Moore on for the price, saved a lot of time, and it would have looked better. Or I could have used the $12 paint, it wouldn’t have looked any worse, and I would have saved half the money and still saved a lot of time.

On a related topic, here’s some help if you’re trying to budget your time for painting. And if you run into painted outlet and switch covers while painting, here’s how to clean up switch and outlet covers like new.

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