With the home sales market cooling faster than Lake Michigan in December, savvy sellers are realizing that home staging could mean the difference between receiving your asking price and not getting offers at all.
If your home is on the market and you haven’t had any bites, or if you’re preparing to sell in the near future, you may need to take proactive measures to ensure success.
Home staging offers buyers a way to maximize the potential of the home, and several recent studies show that homes that are staged sell more quickly than those that are not.
Why Stage Your Home
Several years ago sellers could place their home on the market and within days obtain a viewing, if not an offer. Today homes in Chicago and all over the country have reached a selling slow down, with Illinois showing a 14.2 percent drop in home sales from 2006.
Yet some recent findings suggest that staging a home results in a decrease in the time that a home remains on the market and an increase in the selling price. Home staging involves rearranging, adding or removing furniture, personal items and clutter and fixing up a home so that it is attractive for potential buyers.
Janet Davidsen of Details in Design, Inc. says, “Home staging allows the potential buyer to visualize how they will live in the new home, and it helps the seller to sell the property faster because it looks better and functions better when it is professionally staged.” In addition, Julie Brown of Baird & Warner says that homes with small living spaces or oddly shaped rooms generally show better when staged. Oftentimes a potential buyer cannot visualize the living space of cramped quarters or rooms with odd angles, so adding some finishing touches to the area gives them a great visual with which to work. This dining room, staged by Brown, shows how furniture placement and a few decorative touches can vastly change the look and feel of a room.
Hiring a Professional Stager
Begin seeking a stager as soon as you know that you are going to place the home on the market, or at least three months prior to doing so. Start by setting up a consultation, says Davidsen. While many people may claim to know how to stage a home, someone who has studied interior design, is a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) or who has completed seminars or training in home staging often has the most knowledge of home staging.
The cost of staging a home can vary widely depending upon your home’s size, location and furniture and accessories that are already available for use. Brown once spent $10,000 hiring a professional stager and finding accessories to stage an empty 3,000 square foot home, but she says, “I know some stagers who charge $350 to $500 to work within what you have.”
Fees for the staging professional can begin as low as $90 per hour and rise up to several hundred dollars per room, but this does not always include the cost of the accessories. Joyce Kocinski of Design in Balance says that the investment can vary from between $1,000 and $2,000 depending upon the work needed and the age of the home.
This is within the $2,000 budget that Monica Pedersen, host and designer of HGTV’s hit show Designed to Sell, uses. “I might spend $400-$800 for a new (bathroom) vanity, prefab countertops, new faucets and lighting. But if you . . . hire someone to install it is usually double that, or at least a third more.”
Tips for Staging
Clear the clutter! Every stager interviewed recommended eliminating knick-knacks, paperwork and other personal clutter from the eye’s view. While you may love your duck collection, chances are the potential buyer is not a huge mallard fan. By removing these from view, you are opening up the space and allowing the potential buyer to see what he may do with the home should the house become his.
Kocinski adds, “Keep the floor space clean and open to show off the square footage of the home.” This means removing clothing items from the floor and storing them in shelves and closets and eliminating extra furniture that simply takes up room without adding to the ambiance.
Pedersen adds that clearing closet space is also important because, “We are always looking for good storage space. The less clothes you have in your closet the bigger your closet will look, and people really look inside the closets.”
When staging, consider colors closely. Avoid bright or eccentric shades and never put up wallpaper if your intent is to sell. Stick with neutrals on the walls to attract the majority of buyers, as color schemes have changed over the past few years and richer shades are no longer the most popular choice for walls. Remember that the key to staging is to allow the buyer to envision what the space might become; that may be difficult if you paint the living room wall bubble gum pink.
A few family photos in the bedroom is not a problem, but an entire wall devoted to your family lineage may be a little too much for the potential buyer to digest. Says Davidsen, “Depersonalize the space by removing large amounts of family photos because the home buyer needs to visualize living in your space.” Art work, such as sea and landscapes, are fine.
Consider furniture placement, particularly in small rooms or those that are oddly angled. Says Brown, “If a person can’t visualize a bed being in (the bedroom) then they will not buy the house.”
Finally, remember that small touches can make a huge difference. “Warm accents like bathrooms with towels . . . warm it up enough, ” says Brown. Pedersen cautions against the use of candles, as they can create a potential fire hazard while putting a lot of stress on the realtor, who must make sure they are all blown out before exiting the home. Plus she adds, “Some scents are too overpowering,” which can turn off a potential buyer.
Room by Room
Think home staging begins on the inside? Think again. “Home staging should start with curb appeal, ” says Kocinski, and Pedersen agrees, stating that, ” Curb appeal is really everything (because it is the) first thing people see when realtor drives up.” Unfortunately, many homeowners overlook the details, such as a working doorbell, a freshly painted front door, a clean doormat and plants that add to the aesthetics of the front of the home, particularly in the winter months.
Before planting in the spring, Pedersen suggests thinking about how those flowers will look in the winter months if you are planning to sell your home. “A few strong evergreens have a lot more impact through the season as you are selling your home than flowers.” Right now, these types of shrubs are on sale, and you can continue to plant them until the ground is frozen.
For a great outside view Kocinski recommends removing branches on trees that fall below the roof line, ensuring that shrubs do not block windows or walkways and weeding all flower beds. In addition, use dark mulch, which will give a deep richness to a possible stark winter landscape.
As you may well know, kitchens sell homes, so Brown suggests removing all appliances, such as toaster ovens and coffeepots, from the countertops, especially if the counters are new or in excellent condition. Davidsen agrees and says that the seller should, “Take everything, and I mean everything, off the countertops so they look spacious.”
Paint rooms in a neutral color and remove any themes if at all possible. In addition, keep the rooms acceptable for both genders by replacing bed linens and decorations as needed. “For example, no floral drapes or floral comforters. The key is to have colors and patterns that are attractive to both sexes,” says Kocinski.
Also, keep bedrooms as sterile as possible with clean fresh linens and neutral colors. Think hotel room. “The bedroom is a very personal room and you . . .don’t want to feel like you are moving into a bedroom that people have been sleeping in,” says Pedersen.
Bathrooms may be the easiest space to stage, as they are generally the smallest rooms in the home. Purchase new towels. Don’t use them; instead, keep these on hand for when the realtor calls. Again, remove all clutter from the countertops and the medicine cabinet. An accent, such as a live plant or a basket filled with washcloths, can add that extra small touch needed to warm up the room.
Home staging really boils down to both decluttering and depersonalizing, so that anyone can walk inside the front door and imagine the home as their own. Says Pedersen, “It is about a feeling. You want to move into a house that you perceive as a feeling and a space that you want to live in.”
◊ November 2007