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Good wood: When it comes to hardwood floors, there are stains and sheens that can make or break a room

Hardwood floors are hugely popular with homebuyers. No secret. But are the days of cherry woods and dark stains over? This just in: Most homebuyers are seeking lighter and brighter hardwood floors in their new homes. Here, discover everything you need to know about the wood floor finishes that are bringing grade-A style, with extra insights from the agents of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, who always know what’s hot — and what’s not — when it comes to all things home. 

Trending: The big finishes

Hardwood floors can be finished according to your specific needs and aesthetic preferences. Choosing a wood floor finish depends on several factors, such as if the wood is in a high-traffic area or you are looking for a low-maintenance approach. No matter your needs, there is a finish to suit. And best of all, most well-reviewed flooring companies can refinish hardwood floors, transforming them to help revamp a home before a sale, if needed.

1. Oil-based polyurethane 

Color: Thanks to the nourishing oil itself, oil-based polyurethane finishes create an amber shade on most woods. Amber is great for those looking for a lighter shade, since very dark stains are falling somewhat out of favor. If the stain has been overdone, though, oil-based polyurethane finishes can look rather yellow, a trend that has definitely phased out. Wilkerson agrees: ”Especially offensive right now are the red tones and yellow tones of the late ’90s and 2000s.”

Pros: Hallways, kitchen areas and lounges are high-traffic areas, making oil-based finishes a great option, because they provide durability and longevity, thanks to the synthetic resins and plastics they contain. The best modern options have a minimal sheen. Best of all, these finishes are easy to maintain — a highly attractive selling point for homebuyers. “Many buyers currently love a wider plank and a low-sheen, almost matte finish that wears really well. Popular woods tend to be the more transitional ones that work in both modern and traditional environments,” says Matt Wilkerson of the Turtle Creek Office

Cons: Oil-based finishes can take a long time to dry, sometimes a week. The oil may also be flammable in certain situations, which may be a deterrent for some homebuyers. Some people are also shunning oil-based finishes due to their alleged ability to emit certain amounts of chemicals into the home.

Definitely [buyers are looking for] lighter-in-color, neutral colors. Dark, traditional colors are out. Builders are using mostly white oak now, and clients are liking the wider-plank floors. And, I haven’t seen any new construction homes with heavily scraped floors lately.

TURTLE CREEK OFFICE, Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty

2. Water-based finishes

Color: Water-based finishes can look slightly cool, since they don’t create a rich glow like oil-based finishes do. But, while this may have been regarded as a negative attribute 20 years ago, cool and neutral tones are now dominating hardwood flooring trends. Our expert agents agree: “Lighter stains are becoming more popular to complement the light gray, HGTV-type look that modern kitchens and bathrooms often portray,” says David Chicotsky of the Fort Worth office. Wilkerson of the Turtle Creek office adds: “Buyers are drawn to lighter and brighter stains — white oaks, slightly gray washes, medium earthy colors — with low shine and sheen.”

Pros: Ultra-durable with half the VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions of oil-based options, water-based finishes are gaining popularity. Other bonuses are their fast drying times, nonflammable properties and ability to retain the wood’s tones rather than adding a yellow tinge. Water-based finishes also help make hardwood floors resistant to moisture, a handy selling point in many areas of sometimes-humid North Texas. 

Cons: Increased cost may make water-based finishes out of reach for some. Plus, the application can take several coats, compared to oil-based finishes. 

3. Wax finishes

Color: Wax creates a stain on hardwood floors, which will likely change the color of the wood over time. This is great when the wood is on-trend — such as white oak, at the moment — but if the hardwood is a more old-fashioned wood such as cherry, a wax finish won’t be able to lift the color of the wood enough to suit the modern, light-colored trends.

Pros: Wax finishes aren’t new, and they’re a popular option when protecting hardwood floors in high-traffic areas. The wax coating protects against scratching, spills and furniture scrapes, thanks to the wax’s ability to penetrate deep into the wood. Wax finishes also enhance the inherent characteristics of hardwood flooring, making it look almost new after each application. Insider tip: The newer eco-friendly waxes are a more environmentally friendly way to care for wooden floors. 

Cons: Wax finishes aren’t as durable as synthetic options such as polyurethane. Plus, they need to be maintained more regularly. For homebuyers looking for an extra-durable and long-lasting finish, wax may not be the best option. Anyone interested in refinishing a floor needs to know wax can be hard to remove, so it’s much more challenging to transform the floor’s color, if desired, once a hardwood floor has been waxed.

4. Acid-cured finishes

Color: Great at highlighting the innate characteristics of wood initially, acid-cured finishes do become yellow over time.

Pros: Acid-cured finishes, also known as Swedish finishes, use an alcohol-and-acid mix to create a varnished look. They can last 10 years or more when applied well.

Cons: Swedish-finished hardwood floors can contain a high level of VOCs that may be released over time, potentially influencing the air quality of homes. Plus, this finish takes a long time to cure and set, and homeowners must vacate the property during this time because of the fumes.

wood finishes

Trending: Stains vs. finishes and sealers

Hardwood floors are more popular than ever, but they do require good quality products and maintenance to ensure their longevity. Stains are used only to create the color of your floor: They don’t provide protection. Stains can also be changed over a floor’s lifetime, which works well as trends change.

Lighter stains are becoming more popular, to complement the light gray, HGTV-type look that modern kitchens and bathrooms often portray. With that said, original oak floors from the 1950s or before never go out of style, and might be best complemented with a darker stain to show off their rich histories.

FORT WORTH OFFICE, Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty

At the moment, light colors are on-trend. Lisa Besserer of the Turtle Creek office has seen a big change in stain trends in the past few years: “White oak is very hard to get right now and is the most popular — usually with a natural or slight gray stain. Red oak is always an alternative if you can’t get the white oak. Very dark or espresso stains have become less popular due to the amount of dust they can show. “

Wooden floors need to be finished and sealed once stained, to protect from scratches and spills and ensure the wood doesn’t appear dull. Finishes and sealers are the same; they are products that seal the wood to offer protection. Most finishes need to be reapplied every five to 10 years, depending on the type of finish.

Trending: Engineered hardwood floors: A modern alternative?

Engineered wood flooring looks similar to solid wood flooring on the surface, but it is made from a relatively thin layer of hardwood bonded over a substrate of high-quality plywood. Because of this thin top layer, it can usually only be sanded and refinished once over its lifetime, unlike solid wood flooring, which can be sanded and refinished many times.

Jasmine Francis, an agent from the Lakewood office, has noticed this new option is becoming popular, although they’re not completely replacing classic solid hardwood floors. “We are seeing a lot of engineered wood floors, and it is hard to tell they aren’t solid hardwood,” she says. “However, although the technology for engineered wood floors has made them more economical and has improved their appearance and durability, buyers still have a preference for solid hardwood floors.” She points out that solid-wood floors can indicate a higher quality of materials used throughout the home.

Overall, hardwood floors have become the most popular flooring option, but not every color or style will suit. Wider planks of solid, light-colored woods — such as white oak — are consistently winning over homebuyers. (For now!)

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