Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Staging to Sell

In today's troubled economy, getting your home sold quickly can be a challenge.  One effective strategy for grabbing buyers' attention and making your home stand out is staging, the subject of my most recent segment on Good Morning New Orleans.

What is home staging?
Staging is dressing a house specifically to be shown to prospective buyers.  It is all about realizing your home's potential and then accentuating its assets while downplaying any imperfections or problem areas.  When you are selling, you really want to emphasize the home itself, not what's in it; therefore, stage your space to sell by de-cluttering and creating an attractive, neutral home environment.  Neutralizing and de-cluttering will not only highlight the architectural features of your house - by removing distractions, you will really help a potential buyer to visualize him or herself in the space.  It is important to note that staging is different from decorating!  Decorating your home is personal and reflects your life and style; when you are selling your home, you should think about the buyers' vision, not yours.

Why stage?
When you stage your home to sell, you create a very important first impression of the house for potential buyers.  This first impression is key in setting your home apart from other houses your buyers are viewing - the competition.  Studies have shown that a well-staged home will sell faster, and staging will often help you make more money in the sale.  According to US Housing and Urban Development Reports, staged homes sell on average 17% faster than unstaged homes; The New York Village Voice reports that the average time on the market for a staged home is 13.9 days, versus 30.9 days for an unstaged home.  On average, staged homes sell for 6.32% more than the listed price, while unstaged homes only sell 1.6% over the listed price.  Think about it this way - home staging is important because no seller wants their home to be on the market for an extended period of time or settle for an offer lower than what their house deserves, especially in today's economy!

How do I stage?
Many professional designers like myself offer staging as a service to clients, but there are several tips that you can follow on your own to stage your house to sell!
  • Make necessary repairs.  If it's broken, fix it!  Buyers overestimate the cost of repairs and will often deduct it from their offers.  Buyers will also assume that needed repairs suggest that your house hasn't been well-maintained and that there are likely to be other problems they can't see.  Pay attention to burnt light bulbs, chipped or peeling paint, nail holes in the walls, peeling wallpaper, leaky faucet, cracks in caulk or grout, ease of opening windows and doors, any unfinished home improvement projects, and any designated mechanical areas in your home (make sure to dust off this equipment and paint the walls and floor).  Of all the repairs you should make before putting your home on the market, painting (interior and exterior) is the best place to invest your money, and it is a simple way to make a dramatic change.
  • Clean and re-clean.  Everything in your home should be spotless, organized, and squeaky clean!  Before showing your house, vacuum thoroughly, dust all surfaces (don't forget ceiling fans/curtains/blinds), polish all shiny surfaces (windows, mirrors, appliances, counters, sinks, etc.), wash all walls/light switch plates/door knobs/etc., clean carpets and upholstery, and make sure that your garage is clean and well organized.
  • De-clutter.  Don't distract your buyers with too much "stuff."  Free up space on your walls, tables, counters, and dressers.  Get rid of anything you don't use, clear out 50% of the contents in your closets, remove 50% of items in kitchen drawers and cabinets, and remove 90-95% of personal items from the entire house (this includes family photographs, collectibles, awards, trophies, etc.).  A good idea is to rent a storage unit for anything you won't need for the next 1-2 months, any out-of-season items, and any collections - including DVDs and CDs.  Remember, when staging, less is more.
  • Decorate and accessorize.  Staging is not the time to show off your own taste and style, but it is important for your space to be attractive to buyers.  Make sure rooms have neutral colors, include fresh flowers or live green plants to liven up a room, put out a few well-placed pretty accessories, open draperies, turn on all the lights, and play soft calming music.  Don't forget your patios and decks - these should be treated as rooms with well-arranged furniture.
  • Remove pets.  Send any pets to live with relatives while your house is on the market, and remove all evidence of pets from your home.
  • Be attentive to maintenance.  Keep your house vacuumed and dusted at all times, make sure shiny surfaces have no fingerprints or smudges, clean and put away all dishes and laundry, don't let mail pile up, and remember to do the everyday little things - making beds, putting toilet seats down, cleaning hair from drains, etc.   Buyers will notice!
  • Create curb appeal.  The exterior of the home is the first thing buyers will see, so this is your first chance to make a positive impression.  Start off the buyer's experience with a neat yard, bright flowers, clean pathway, and inviting front door.  Remove clutter, leaves, garbage, and lawn ornaments; create an attractive atmosphere by planting fresh flowers, trimming trees and hedges, and making sure grass is freshly cut.  The outside of your house should show no chipping or peeling paint, your siding and gutters should be power-washed free of debris, and your screens and shutters should be hung straight.  Ensure that walkways are clean and safe for buyers, and make entering your house a positive experience - put out a new doormat, shine up your door hardware, and make sure that your doorbell works and key turns easily in the lock.
Check out these before and after pictures to see what a difference staging can make!
Before:  This living room seemed both bare and cluttered - white walls, too many furniture pieces from different periods, and a significant amount of personal items.

After:  A neutral paint color warms up the space and shows off the architectural lines of the room while also drawing attention to the fireplace and windows.  Coordinating furniture (in a smaller quantity) and a few fresh accessories create an inviting space for buyers.

Before:  The seller's home office had a LOT going on - shelves loaded down with books and knicknacks, a messy desk, and children's toys scattered on the floor.

After:  Simply removing the clutter makes the room look much larger and shows off all the available shelving, so buyers can easily imagine their own items in the space. 

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