Audra Slinkey / Home Staging Resource
In a market with more sellers competing for fewer buyers, houses "should really be show-ready," says Realtor Liz Lauer - walls painted, outdated wallpaper replaced, leaky faucets fixed, rooms well-staged.
Much as the Food Network has rendered "plating" synonymous with presenting food, HGTV has popularized "staging" to boost a home's appeal and speed its sale at the seller's desired price. Staging has becoming more important, Lauer says, as buyers inspired by TV shows like House Hunters look at more houses before settling on the one closest to their ideal.
Sellers, meanwhile, have grown more receptive to her staging advice. "I used to say a lot of things to sellers, and they'd laugh at me and be like, 'We're not doing that,'" Lauer recalls. Now, they're taking notes - less resistant to neutralizing their home so buyers can better visualize how they and their belongings might fit.
Neutralizing mutes the seller's personality as expressed by their décor, Lauer explains. She remembers some clients in their 60s whose home languished unsold. "They had a huge plate collection on the wall," Lauer remembers, "and they had their crystal and their buffet." After proposing changes that would generate greater appeal among the 25-32 demographic, Lauer sold the property in 60 days.
Neutralizing has its limits, however, especially in older homes bearing scars. Older homes show better furnished, Lauer explains, because their contents distract from "the trimwork that might have been nicked in 1930."
Sellers have greater staging leeway in a hot market, where even white cabinets set against orange walls weren't a problem. In today's market, Lauer would advise painting the walls a neutral color.
Step back from your home and try to view it from the perspective of someone seeing it for the first time.
Homes listed in the low six figures might require little more than de-cluttering, getting rid of chipped and peeling paint, cleaning windows, replacing outdated fixtures and tending to similar tasks that convey a sense the house has been maintained and updated.
At $350,000 or more, says Lauer, staging might mean more extensive costs, though she advises against going too far. "I'm not a huge fan of lots of smells," she says, dismayed by people who light aromatic candles or over-spray scents. "Basically, half the people these days have allergies," she says. "And the first words out of your buyer's mouth is, 'What are they hiding?'"
"What's your budget?" is among the first questions Carolyn Bryant asks sellers about staging. A broker for Restaino & Associates Realtors and manager of its Monroe Street branch, Bryant says staging fundamentals like depersonalizing your home can cost little more than time and effort. "If you have too many personal things and knickknacks and photos and things like that," Bryant explains, "a buyer won't be concentrating on the home - the flow of the home, the bones of the home, how the home can serve their purposes."
The house should, however, be "warm and welcoming," Bryant adds. Bryant's clients jot her suggestions on yellow legal pads: larger lamps here, smaller lamps there, paint this, clean the garage, move that couch from this overfurnished room to complement the décor in that underfurnished space. Kitchen appliances and bathroom fixtures should glisten, Bryant emphasizes. Faucets shouldn't drip.
She tells sellers that not staging a home puts it at risk of languishing longer on the market. "You probably lose the best buyers up front," she says. "You may even lose value."
Bryant advises clients to store most of their belongings in labeled tote boxes in their basement or garage. "It makes it easier on moving day, when all these things are already packed," Bryant explains, "and it makes the house show better."
She sometimes draws on a reserve of her own staging supplies - spanning traditional to contemporary - to add to a client's mix and "make it pop." "If we need to," she adds, "we go shopping."
One home, for example, had an enormous walk-in closet with a window curtained by clothes hanging from a rod. Bryant urged her client to trade the rod for a storage bench. By her next visit, "they had two lovely leather storage benches" for the clothes. The window admitted more light, making the closet appear more organized and spacious.
Depending on the house, the seller's aptitudes and means, the market, and the urgency to sell, Bryant's staging recommendations may also include hiring professional window cleaners, carpet cleaners and house cleaners before putting the house on the market.
The payoff can be dramatic. Bryant recalls one client who invested $3,000, five months and his own sweat equity in the task list she assigned him. The home sold its second day on the market, for about $30,000 more than its projected pre-staging price point.
That's an extreme example, but anything from buying pewter door handles to yanking stale carpets, putting new covers on all your outlets or spending $2,000 to have your floors sanded can contribute toward favorable first impressions. "You only get one chance to make that first impression," Bryant says. In a buyer's market, first impressions are critical.
Staging does run the risk of inducing a mild case of seller's remorse, she notes. Upon staging a room, she has had clients exclaim: "Where were you 10 years ago when I moved in?"