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Sale killer?

Your home may not be selling because of its popcorn ceiling

Posted: October 10, 2008 8:19 p.m.
Updated: December 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Because of its puffy texture, spray-on acoustical coating is often called "popcorn" or "cottage cheese".

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So, you’ve heard the market is on the upswing and decided now is the time to sell your home. You’ve painted, carpeted, cleaned, landscaped and spruced-up, and your house is the shining beacon of the block. Folks who pass by and view it swear they hear angels sing.

But there is one thing you forgot to do — get rid of the popcorn.

That’s right, it’s lurking up there on the ceiling, all dusty and graying, just waiting to catch the eye of a prospective buyer, whereupon it will emphatically beam a mental message about how old and out of style your home really is.

No sale.

Depending on who’s opinion you get, spray-on acoustical ceilings, known as “popcorn ceilings” or “cottage cheese ceilings,” rank anywhere from “Oh, no one really cares,” to sale-killer. But even popcorn-haters won’t go so far as to quantify how much your home’s value will increase when you remove your popcorn ceilings. Instead, the common belief is that, all other things being equal, your home, sans popcorn, will be more appealing than your neighbor’s, and thus more likely to sell first.

So, is it really worth removing the popcorn?

Realtor Larry Wims, of Prudential California Realty in Valencia, said that, when he shows homes to prospective buyers familiar with cottage cheese ceilings, most of these buyers comment that they are surprised to still see homes that have not been updated. Buyers unfamiliar with these ceilings have commented “Wow, is that asbestos, and is it dangerous for my family?” or, “How do you remove that stuff and have a smooth ceiling?”

“Removing this stigma is certainly worth considering, especially in our present market,” Wims said.
Acoustical ceiling removal contractor Greg Henderson also felt getting rid of the popcorn made a home more attractive. “If Mrs. Jones buys a $6,000 couch, a $1,000 love seat, a $2,000 coffee table — and has her acoustic removed at the same time, the comments she will get when guests walk in the door will be on the ceiling and not the furniture. It’s a total motif change,” Henderson said.

“It’s probably worth its face value in resale value. It’s a negotiation tool between the buyer and seller these days.”

In older homes, an additional consideration is asbestos. Asbestos was often a component of popcorn ceilings until its production was banned in the U.S. in 1978. However, the ban allowed installers to use up remaining stocks, so houses built as late as 1986 could still have asbestos in their acoustic ceilings. The only way to be sure is to remove a sample and have it tested by a competent laboratory.

Wims said that, since most of the acoustic ceilings have been painted at least one time and since the acoustic coating was probably applied some 20 years or more earlier, there are probably limited, if any, health issues unless you disturb things by removing the coating without the standard precautions.

“Since it is a much easier task to remove (the coating) if the home is vacant, that is a great time to have this project addressed,” Wims said. “If you are purchasing a home, removal and painting ceilings is much easier before than after you move in. Professionals that will complete this project for you will charge much less to update your ceilings while the home is vacant.”

With that in mind, let’s get some professional advice on removing the popcorn.

Professional popcorn puller
Greg Henderson is the owner of Above All Acoustics in Canyon Country and has been working with acoustical ceilings for 31 years, first putting them up and now taking them down. “Acoustic removal has been my bread and butter for the past eight years,” he said.

He explained that the first step is to determine whether or not the acoustical ceiling material contains asbestos. “I test the ceiling for asbestos if it is pre-1980. I take a small scraping down to the lab I work with.”

He added that, if the material tests positive for asbestos, the homeowner has a couple options. First, he can “abate.” That means he hires an asbestos contractor to safely remove the ceiling material. After that, Above All can come in and resurface the ceiling.

The other option is for Above All to “screw-up new drywall, right on top of what’s there — sidestep the whole asbestos issue safely and legally.” He said this is the most common approach. For a 2,000-square-foot home, this latter option can save up to $2,000 when compared to the abatement/resurface procedure.

Henderson said that, if the ceiling material has no asbestos and there are no vaulted ceilings, acoustical ceiling removal and resurfacing will cost about $4,500 for a 2,000-square-foot home. “Depending on the height of the ceiling the price keeps going up,” he added. Before any work begins, Henderson will come out to your home and give you a price quote. “It’s a quote, not an estimate. My quotes are to the nickel,” he said. He noted that wood beams, high ceilings and wall paper add to the cost.

Somebody has to do it
For those who don’t know, the process of removing popcorn basically involves getting it wet and scraping it off. It’s a messy job. “Couches, dining room sets and chairs will go to the garage or patio, wrapped in plastic if they are outside,” Henderson said. What remains (beds, dressers china cabinets) gets covered with plastic — as do the walls. “When we go to work we’re inside a plastic bag, whereby only the ceiling is exposed. It’s as clean when we leave as when we walk in the door.”

Much work remains after the popcorn is removed. “We re-screw the drywall, as necessary — tighten it all up,” Henderson said. “We re-float mud 12 to 14 inches wide over the taped joints (six to eight inches is standard) and we re-coat nails and screws.” All this involves a two-coat process.

“We finalize with texture of the client’s choice (“orange peel” is the most popular) or make a final smooth coat. When our work is complete we’re leaving your ceilings ready to be painted.” Above All will also paint the resurfaced ceiling for an extra charge.

When asked how it felt to be removing popcorn from homes where he installed it years ago, Henderson was philosophical.

“It was a trend and now the trend is to get rid of it. I don’t think it will be like bell bottoms — it ain’t coming back.”

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