To sell your house: STAGE IT
How to give your house the best chance of selling in a crowded real estate market
When Randy Humes got the news his work was transferring him back to Canton, Ohio, he knew he needed to sell his Bowling Green home as quickly as possible.
That’s why he was intrigued when his real estate agent, Becky Seaton, suggested the idea of staging—something he’d never heard of before.
Humes and his wife, Meghan, had already cleaned their house from top to bottom and trimmed up all the landscaping outside before Seaton met with them in February. “The house was, we thought, ready to go,” he says.
But right off the bat, Seaton found plenty more changes to recommend, from clearing off kitchen countertops and removing kids’ toys and family photographs, to reducing and repositioning furniture in the bedrooms.
Just moving one dresser from his daughter Payton’s bedroom to another room and storing a rocking chair in the garage transformed the room, making it feel “much more roomy,” Humes says. And the family’s dining room became a true dining room again when Payton’s toys were moved out and a rented table took their place.
The end result: a clean, inviting house that potential buyers and their real estate agents say shows “like a model home,” Seaton says.
“It seemed cutting-edge to me,” Humes says of the staging idea. “Now that I know about it, it just feels like the right way to present your house” to sell.
Clean & Clutter-free
While staging may be a relatively new idea to Kentucky’s real estate market, the practice has been popular on the West Coast for decades. Cable TV shows like Designed to Sell and Sell This House! are helping to spread the concept across the country to homeowners who, like Humes, want to give their homes a competitive advantage when it’s time to post the For Sale sign in the front yard.
The National Association of Realtors reports that the average American home stays on the market for about six weeks, yet nationally staged homes are snatched up in an average of just six days and sell for an average of 7 percent more than nonstaged homes, says Barb Schwarz, CEO and founder of StagedHomes.com, who developed the staging concept more than 30 years ago.
Staging is the opposite of decorating, Schwarz explains, as the goal is to depersonalize and neutralize the décor of your home so that potential homebuyers can visualize their own things in it. Staging professionals swear by the power of the “3 C’s”: clean, clutter-free, and color. That means rethinking overly bold paint colors, removing those hat or doll collections, and, yes, even taking down family photos from the walls.
You want buyers “to be able to put themselves in the house. But that’s kind of hard if they’re seeing all these pictures of your family and your loved ones and your pets. They can’t get past that,” says real estate broker and stager Penny Miller of Elizabethtown.
“The way you’ve lived in your home and the way we market and sell your house are two different things,” Schwarz explains. “You’ve got to let go of the strings of attachment to it as your home.”
A good first step to staging is to “get rid of everything you don’t use on an everyday basis,” suggests professional staging consultant Melanie Ladd of Lexington. “After all, you’re moving, and it’s just prepacking in a way.” Renting a storage unit or simply boxing up unneeded items neatly in the garage is key, staging professionals say.
Keep kitchen and bathroom surfaces clear. Put toasters, coffee makers, even toothbrushes and other toiletries hidden out of sight within cabinets, Ladd advises.
Make sure that closets are organized and not overly full, so that potential buyers don’t come away thinking there’s not enough storage space in your home, suggests Penny Miller.
The goal is to show off your home’s space as much as possible. “Clutter eats equity,” Schwarz says. “Less is more. By having more put away, you have more space to show off.”
The good news is, staging doesn’t have to cost a lot of money—and the investment is always far less than the first price reduction on your home’s list price, which is typically 5 to 10 percent, Schwarz points out.
In fact, some homes can be staged with little more than some elbow grease and a $10 gallon of paint, say husband-and-wife real estate agents and stagers Mark and Bridgett Miller of Elizabethtown.
“It can be something as simple as cleaning the countertops off in your kitchen and taking everything off the refrigerator. Just making sure it’s clean, that’s a big part of it,” Bridgett says. “Outside, sweep the sidewalks off, make sure the driveway’s clean, move all the kids’ toys to the back.” If kitchen or bathroom cabinets are dated, paint them or simply clean them and replace the hardware, she suggests.
Be creative: use sheets as inexpensive draperies or tablecloths where none were before. Utilize outdoor dining tables inside to fill empty space. Arrange furniture to emphasize, rather than block, the best features of every room, including fireplaces and windows, the Millers advise.
Above all, pay attention to details, Mark Miller says. Even something as simple as making sure all the light bulbs in the house are in working order can make a difference. Otherwise, potential buyers may see that one negative and start dwelling on all the negatives in the home. “Don’t give them anything negative to notice,” he says.
Ladd agrees, noting that if visible aspects of the house like carpet or wallpaper are stained and in disrepair, homebuyers may “envision that the whole house probably has many other problems they just can’t see. We want to make sure that it appears as clean and neat as possible…(so that) it doesn’t lead anyone to think, ‘OK, maybe the foundation is going to crumble as soon as we move in.’”
The bottom line is simple: “The better your house looks, the more money you’re going to get for it,” Penny Miller says.
On the Way to “Sold”
Professional stager Rosemary Porter is convinced that staging her own Bardstown home finally helped her go from For Sale to Sold last year.
Porter and her husband had originally offered a decorating allowance, but that hadn’t motivated buyers. “The majority of people want it all done (the house in move-in shape). They don’t want to have to come in and look at the (bare) bones and think, ‘What am I going to do?’ To me, that’s the value of staging,” she says.
After six months with no bites, she took her house off the market to try her own hand at “designing to sell.” After some major decluttering, as well as a $5,000 investment for new carpet, vinyl flooring, and kitchen countertops, once back on the market the home went under contract in five days for $35,000 more than the original, unstaged asking price.
Kristi Amburgey credits staging for getting her Georgetown home sold last summer, even in the midst of a slowing real estate market. Following suggestions from staging professional Melanie Ladd, Amburgey neutralized her paint tones, softening the walls of her dining, kitchen, and living rooms from a dark red to a more subdued taupe. She repaired molding that had been damaged by her dog, pressure-washed her vinyl siding, and cleared out clutter from the garage. In six weeks, her house sold, while others—including the same style home across the street—stayed on the market.
“The end result was well worth all the hard work we put in on the front end,” Amburgey says. If not for staging, “I would have had to drop my price more, or I’d have had to linger on the market, which I couldn’t afford to do.”
As daunting as all the uncertainties of the real estate market can be—Will my house sell? How long will it take? Will I get enough money for it?—staging offers homeowners a bit of reassuring control over the marketing of their home, says Bowling Green Realtor Becky Seaton.
For the Humes family, staging did its job. “We got it under contract in 28 days, and the average days on the market right now in Bowling Green is 135,” says Seaton.
With staging, “We’re not just depending on luck, or just hoping (that the house will sell). We really have control over some things that are definitely going to help us,” Seaton says, “because you know you can’t change the market. You can’t change where your house is. All you can do is market your property the best that you can. But when you see that you can have control over the feeling that people have when they walk into your house, and how they see your house, it’s really empowering.”
WANT HELP STAGING YOUR HOME?
A listing of accredited staging professionals (ASPs) in Kentucky can be found online at www.StagedHomes.com under “Find an ASP in My Area.” The ASP designation, a registered trademark, can be earned only after completing a training course offered by StagedHomes.com.
TOP 3 STEPS TO STAGING YOUR HOME TO SELL
Barb Schwarz, CEO and founder of StagedHomes.com and author of Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money (2006) and Building a Successful Home Staging Business: Guaranteed Strategies from the Creator of Home Staging (2007), offers these quick first steps to successful staging:
1. Clean. Literally take Q-tips and go around the kitchen, bathroom faucets, and fixtures. Go around the bottom and back of the toilet: buyers see everything. Go along the light switches. Go along the baseboards with the vacuum and the Q-tips. And don’t forget to clean the outside of the house—wipe off spider webs, mud, mold, etc. Consider getting professionals to clean the carpets and windows. Windows that are professionally cleaned look a lot better than what someone with Windex can do on their own. The carpets look totally different because they can get stains out that we can’t with what we can rent at the grocery store.
2. Rent a PODS (Portable On Demand Storage) container unit to store unnecessary clutter. They deliver it, you can pack all your stuff in it, then they come and pick it up and put it in dry, secure storage.
3. Color. Paint is the cheapest investment for the return. Choose neutral colors. Begin right at the front door and get everything painted. If you don’t have the money to paint everything, then focus on the front door and neutralizing the rooms with the boldest colors.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: MORE TIPS FOR STAGING YOUR HOME
For more tips from Barb Schwarz on how to stage your house to sell it, click here: house staging