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Home Staging Tips, Part 1

I am not a professional home stager and I don’t even play one on Facebook. But my own home was staged, selling in record time for full price in a down market, and my background in real estate and marketing gives me a bit of insight into what it takes to stage a home.

Let’s be honest. It wasn’t that many years ago when people didn’t stage, style, enhance, or fluff their homes.  If sellers were so inclined, they might have cleaned the bathroom and mowed the yard before putting a sign out front. But in 1972, Barb Schwarz coined the term "home staging" and raised the bar for home sellers everywhere.

In the past decade, real estate staging really has taken center stage, and savvy sellers understand the integral role it plays in marketing their home. The well-staged home has an advantage over the competition, often commanding a higher selling price, occasionally garnering multiple offers, and almost always enjoying less time on the market compared to similar un-staged homes.

Many people mistakenly assume staging is decorating or interior design, but staging is not about drawing attention to decor. Instead, it’s about de-personalizing decor and using furniture groupings and strategic placement of minimal decor to draw attention to a house’s best features, so buyers can envision themselves living there.

Home staging is more about marketing than about decorating; it’s the art and business of styling a home to appeal to the most potential buyers. In a word, it’s advertising.

This month, we’ll talk about the preliminaries of getting any home ready for to put on the market: Clean. Paint. De-clutter. Next month, we’ll talk about the process of de-personalization, as well as furniture placement, accessorizing, and engaging the senses.

Repair, update, paint.

  • Think improvements, not renovation. Professional stagers rarely recommend major renovations; instead they try to do the most with the home’s existing features. However, if appliances are hopelessly out of date, it may be worthwhile to upgrade. Likewise, consider new cabinets or at least cabinet fronts in kitchens and baths if other homes in your market have been upgraded. The goal is to be competitive with other homes in your price range. 
  • First impressions are everything. Curb appeal means exactly what it says: if your home doesn’t appeal to people from the street, they’ll keep driving and never set foot inside. Give your landscaping the critical eye, making sure it at least measures up to other homes in the neighborhood. Driveways and concrete should be in good repair. Grass should be green and weed-free. Plant flowers or add potted plants for color, and place new welcome mats at every door.
  • Make sure the front porch is spotless, the front door is freshly painted or stained, and light fixtures are sparkling and bug-free. When you see your house from the street, notice whether your eye is drawn to the front door and whether there’s a clear path to get there. Check that locks work and hinges are not squeaky. WD-40 is your new best friend.
  • Sellers generally spend the most time fixing up kitchens and bathrooms but tend to neglect the entry way. The entry way may not sell the house, but people generally develop first impressions in the first 30 seconds of walking into a home, which will color a prospective buyer’s perceptions of the rest of the house.
  • Be sure to take care of even minor cosmetic repairs. Cracks in sidewalks, scuffed woodwork, and chipped lighting fixtures may seem minor, but they’ll remind a buyer there is work to do when they move it. Plus, a torn screen door or loose wiring tend to make buyers assume larger items might not have been well maintained either.
  • Paint. Or, perhaps I should say Paint! The single best investment you can make when selling your home is a new coat of paint, outside if there is any chipping or peeling, and inside no matter what. Inside paint should be neutral but not white. Consider tans, golds, and yellows for a warm and inviting look. Soft greens and blues in bedroom areas invite relaxation and the right shades can be used as neutrals. Steer clear of bold, bright, and dark colors; the goal is to appeal to as many people as possible. Ask at the paint store if you’re unsure whether a color is in style.
  • Smaller rooms appear larger when the ceiling is painted the same color; limiting the number of paint colors throughout the house and using monochromatic color schemes are classy and can make rooms seem larger. Once you’ve painted, you can add a pop of color with large accent pillows.

There is no such thing as too clean.

  • Your real estate agent will tell you to clean, but what does that mean exactly? Most people have different standards of cleanliness, as anyone with a 10-year-old boy or who has lived in a college dorm can attest. Clean in real estate terms means spotless. Yes, it’s hard to keep a staged home in spotless condition, but no one is asking you to live this way forever. The cleaner you can keep it, the less time it will be on the market, and the sooner you can stop keeping it that way.
  • People don’t want to see scuffed woodwork, dirt on the baseboards or in corners, or dust on top of draperies. It’s often worth hiring a professional cleaning company to deep clean. For a couple hundred dollars, they’ll get all of the details you might have overlooked, including the top of the refrigerator.
  • Consider replacing carpet if it’s over five years old or especially worn. If you’re not replacing it, carpet should be deep cleaned.
  • Stainless steel and sinks should be spotless. If you can’t get rid of the gunk on the shower and faucet heads, replace them — all fixtures should be sparkling.
  • Clean all windows inside and out, including window tracks. Remove screens from all windows, wash them, and store them in the basement until after the home sells. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes!
  • If you have babies, make sure you have a diaper genie tucked away in the closet and change it often. Tuck away the high chair for showings, and make sure toys and stuffed animals are stowed away; buyers will see them as clutter.
  • If you have actual pets (not the stuffed variety from the previous bullet), consider having them stay with a friend while your house is on the market. If you don’t think your home has a pet smell, any brutally honest buyer will set you straight.

De-clutter, and then de-clutter some more.

  • The goal here is for your home to look like a model home, or like a home ready for an Architectural Digest photo shoot.
  • Once you’ve cleaned and painted, you get to de-clutter. Yes, I said get. In fact, this can be the most refreshing part of getting ready to sell, because most of us have accumulated more stuff than we really meant to. You might even get a head start on this before or during the cleaning and painting stage (or, if you’re like me, it’s simply an on-going project that needs to be taken to the next level). Best of all, it’s free; the only thing it costs you is your time. You have to do it anyway when you move, so go ahead — get a head start right now.
  • Pack up and get rid of everything you won’t have an immediate need for while your house is on the market. Don’t just move stuff to the basement: sell it, donate it, or move it into storage. We found portable storage, like PODS, worked best for us; a POD is delivered right to your home, you load it with stuff over the course of a few days, and then it gets picked up and held for you in a temperature-controlled warehouse until you move to your new location.
  • Even storage areas should be clean and well-organized. Box up and store cleaners, extra towels, clothing and anything you don’t use weekly. Make sure closets, drawers, and pantries are neatly organized with lots of open space; the goal is for buyers to feel there is more than enough storage. And yes, people will look under the kitchen sink — put down new lining paper and get rid of everything stored there. You want to make this look like a house that cleans itself.

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