Staging Your Home for Sale – The Magic Move to Sell it Quicker

I was hanging out with a few people at a wedding recently and the conversation turned to
today’s real estate market.

One of my friends, John, from a town near San Jose, CA told a fascinating, yet familiar,
story. I thought I would share it with all of you.

John and his wife, Liz, decided to sell their home. They bought the house in 2004, saw it
increase in value, and this summer decided to sell it. They interviewed four different
agents to sell their home and finally decided on the one who agreed to sell their home for
what they wanted to sell it for.

They believed the home was worth $625,000. The first three agents who came in to
interview for the listing told them the house would never sell at that price and that they
should consider listing it below $600,000. They all felt $589,000-$599,000 was the
“magic” number.

John is a commercial real estate broker. He knew that his asking price was high but he
was in no hurry to sell. He also didn’t like the fact these three agents weren’t offering
any “solutions” they were only discussing the “problems” he would face at the higher
price.

These agents told John and Liz about the current market conditions for their area. If
their home sold, it would likely take up to 120 days. There was a 55% chance that the
home wouldn’t sell at all during these four months. Based on what they wanted for their
home, they needed to be prepared for this. The agents told them they needed to consider
lowering the price.

John and Liz talked very seriously about lowering their price. Then they met a fourth
agent named Lynette.

Lynette came in and presented her case. It really wasn’t much different than the rest.
She also told them about days on the market and the chances of selling their home. She
also suggested they may be priced a bit high but then she offered an option.

“Let’s stage your home using a professional home staging company,” Lynette suggested.
“This is going to cost you about $4000. We will list the home at the $625,000 you want
but to offset some of this expense, when I sell your home, I will split this expense with
you.”

Whereas real estate professionals, like Lynette, are highly skilled in marketing, selling
and closing your home, home stagers are designers. They are artists who prepare your
home for resale.

Home stagers work with the “flow” of your home. They will remove and re-arrange
furniture. They will eliminate clutter. They may even add pictures, bedspreads, paint,
art, rugs and other items to make it more appealing. They may even assist in enhancing
curb-appeal.

Their goal is to make an incredible first impression on potential homebuyers the moment
they pull in front of your home.

Lynette explained that although the d├ęcor of the house was very nice and contemporary,
the home was cluttered because of their three young boys and busy lifestyle. The home
didn’t feel as large as it was because it was packed with too many items to display it
properly. The home was “too personal,” she told them. They had picture of the boys
all over the house from birth to last year’s soccer playoffs.

She told them that they needed to compete with new home builders who are offering
buyers the most incredible purchase incentives. She said that when you walk into the
model homes of the builder you are “blown away.”

“THAT is your competition,” Lynette said. “You need to blow away the people who
walk into your home too.” She also explained that the last few clients who hired her
home staging company sold their home in less than 60 days and didn’t discount their
asking price.

John and Liz were not crazy about spending $4000, and certainly not thrilled about taking
down pictures of their beloved family, but they were encouraged by Lynette’s creative
idea. At the end of the day, what they really cared about was selling this home, so they
did it.

John said the home staging company came in and made the house seem like a “hotel.”
“They took out way more things than they put in, but it did look better, like a nice bed
and breakfast hotel,” he said. “It almost made me want to stay there,” he joked.
It worked. Their house sold in three weeks….at the $625,000 list price. Lynette did an
amazing job from start to finish!!

Just this month, I sold my very own investment house that was staged in 11 days. There
were three like models listed in the subdivision at the same time. Mine was the highest
priced. My incredibly talented real estate agent did an amazing job too but I truly
believe staging was a real key as well. I did take a small loss on this home. However a
sale in 11 days is no small accomplishment in today’s market.

Experts say that if you are hiring a professional staging company, plan on spending
between $2000-$5000 based on the size and condition of the home. If you just want
consultation, plan on $100 or so per hour.

Experts, like StagedHomes.com, say that a staged home sells in half the time as a similar
home that is not staged and that a staged home sells for 7-10% higher.

Coldwell Banker tracked nearly 3,000 properties, ranging in price from $229,000 to $4.8
million, in eight major U.S. cities.

During this time, they determined the average home was on the market for nearly 31
days, the typical staged home sold in less than 14 days.

The average home sold for 1.6% over the seller’s asking price. The staged homes, in the
Coldwell Banker study, over the same time, went for a 6.3% more.

This means, if the average home price is $300,000, you can expect the average staged
home to sell for $318,000-$330,000. Obviously, this makes the $2000-$5000 investment
a no-brainer.

Inventory is at an all-time high in many areas. The National Association of Realtors
recently reported the biggest drop in home prices since the trade group began compiling
price data in 1968. Many experts are now saying housing prices will continue to decline
though 2007.

So do you take your home off the market until 2008, and hope it gets better, with the
possibility it gets even worse, or do you separate yourself from the competition and do
what it takes to give your home the very best chance it has to sell today?

We are in a slower real estate market, however the people who are most committed to selling their
home will likely still be successful. When you are selling real estate it’s no different
than selling any other product. You have to market to find a capable buyer and then you
have to impress him.

Your real estate professional will market the property to bring the buyers but the product
and how it’s displayed will determine if it sells and at what price. This is where the
professional home stager comes in.

OK, so you want to give Home Staging a try? Here’s how.

There are many websites out there. Just type “professional home staging” into your
favorite search engine like Google, Yahoo!, or MSN and you can start looking for the one
that best fits you.

If you want to try doing it yourself, take these tips from professional home stagers like
StagedHomes.com and others:

HOW TO “STAGE” YOUR HOME YOURSELF

MAKE AN AWESOME FIRST IMPRESSION
Look at your house like you will look at the homes you want to buy next.
Prospective buyers make up their minds about your house even before they get out
of the car.

This is your chance to WOW them. Clean up the yard; rake the leaves and sweep
driveways and porches.

Get out the rags and cleanser and spend 30 minutes scouring your front door,
porch, railings and steps.

Make sure all of all your trash cans, recycling cans, other bins, discarded wood
scraps, extra building materials, etc., are in the garage.

Check gutters for roof moss and dry rot. Make sure they are swept and cleaned.
Look at all plants. Prune your bushes and trees. Keep plants from blocking
windows.

Weed and then mulch all planting areas. Keep lawn freshly cut and fertilized.

Remove dead plants or shrubs.

Clear patios or decks of all small items such as small planters, flower pots, charcoal,
barbecues, and toys. Box them away and store them.

Check the paint condition of the house, especially the front door and trim.

UNCLUTTER YOUR HOUSE
Empty your closets to a minimum, clear out the cupboards, and get rid of the small
appliances. Take books off the shelves, get rid of all of the magazines, the CDs,
video games, and DVDs, and lose the kid’s toys. Minimize it all.

Rent a storage unit or box what you want to keep and toss the rest.

Now is the time to say goodbye to your house and your stuff and transition. Your
life may be a bit uncomfortable during this time but you are now in the business of
selling your home.

GET RID OF THAT FURNITURE
An easy way to “unclutter” and create a much greater sense of space is to get rid of
some furniture.

Consider moving your sofa, extra chairs, and end tables into storage so you can
make the home feel like it is larger and has much more space.

If your furniture is old, you may want to pack it away and rent a few more
contemporary pieces.

The goal is to sell your home, not display your old furniture.

MAKE YOUR HOME “THEIR” HOME
The goal here is to get the potential buyer to imagine that he is living in your house.
If he feels like an intruder during his tour, your chances of selling the house are less.
That means put away anything connected to your family or personal interests. Like
trophies, family vacation photos, and personal mementos. Box it all away!

Clear refrigerator fronts of all messages, magnets, pictures, reminders, etc.

Stagers say the bathroom is a crucial place to pay close attention too. Shampoo
bottles in the shower and toothbrushes near the sink make it very hard for the
buyer to picture himself there. Box it away during the day and bring it out at night
for your use.

Keep the towels to minimum as well. Think “neat hotel bathroom” on the day you
checked in.

MAKE THAT HOUSE AS CLEAN AS POSSIBLE
If your house is clean, the buyer tends to believe everything else is great with the
house as well. This means clean everything! The mirrors, walls, floors, carpets,
drapes, bathrooms, kitchen, and even door handles, light fixtures and pantry
cupboards.

If you hate cleaning, bring in a professional maid service regularly while your home
is listed and get someone in to do the windows, driveway and walkways. Remember,
it costs money to make money.

HIRE A PROFESSIONAL HANDYMAN
As I mentioned, I recently sold an investment property of mine that was staged in 11
days. I staged it myself by following all of the items listed here.

The day before my agent officially placed my home in MLS and started contacting
all of his previous clients, I called a handyman to come out and fix a few things.
I had a missing face plate for a light switch. I had some mold around one of the
toilets. One of the sinks had a broken drain valve. The door leading out to the
garage was dinged up a bit and needed a coat of paint. This was less than $100
worth of work. Many sellers would simply have ignored these items, offered the
buyer a blanket repair credit, and said “get it fixed yourself when you move in.”

Because of my research on this topic, I knew better and made an appointment to get
the handyman out to fix it. He was busy so he committed to come in a week.
However, my home went on the market the next day.

Two days later, five days before the handyman came; the eventual buyer of my
home toured my house. He came back a week later, after the handyman had been
there, and bought it. When I finally met the buyer at the final walk-through, I
asked him whey he didn’t make the offer the first time through.

He told me the missing face plate on the light switch and the dinged up garage door
really bugged him. When he came back and it was fixed, he was impressed and
knew I cared about the home.

A $3 item from Home Depot and a simple coat of cheap grade white paint almost
cost me the sale of my home.

Don’t wait! Fix those minor problems today!

COLOR UP THAT HOUSE WITH PAINT AND CARE
A fresh coat of paint in key areas of your home really makes a big difference. If
your home feels “special” like you care, that will translate to buyers. Experts say
flowers in the entry or near the front door make your home feel more special, warm
and inviting.

FACE IT, YOUR HOUSE STINKS…MAKE IT SMELL BETTER
Stagers say that people don’t realize it but many of their homes simply stink. They
stink from pets or just everyday family use. The easiest way to overcome this is to
keep your windows open for 10 minutes a day.

This strategy works better than deodorizers, says Barb Schwarz, president of
StagedHomes.com, since a lot of people have allergies to artificial room fresheners.
The oldest trick of all? Leave chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. The smell
helps buyers bond with your home.

MAKE YOUR HOME BRIGHTER AND MORE ALIVE
When things are lighter they feel more vibrant and alive. Dark is depressing. You
don’t want the buyer feeling depressed walking through your home.

Staging experts say clean windows let in as much as 30% more light than dirty ones.
Get them cleaned.

Clean the shades on your light fixtures and add floor lamps if an area seems dim.
Get rid of those energy-saving 60-watt bulbs and go with higher wattage lights for
maximum illumination.

When it comes time to show your home, make sure all the lights are on.

GET HOMEY AND CREATIVE
Flowers, plants, candles, expressive art are all items that are not overly personal
that give a good vibe to the buyer walking through your home. Show these off or go
buy some to add that touch.

You want your home to feel like a model home you see at a new house tract or,
better yet, a comfortable hotel lobby.

For real estate agents, in my opinion, this is a great tool to separate yourself from your
competition in trying to get a listing and sell the home. I think it’s a good idea to take a
few home staging classes or have a professional home stager as part of your team as an
option to present sellers.

StagedHomes.com offers two-day home staging workshops for real estate agents.

For homeowners with a lot of equity, I think hiring a professional stager is a tremendous
idea as well.

If you don’t have as much room financially and the costs of hiring a professional stager
seem preventative, you may want to try the “do-it-yourself” ideas listed above first.

If those still don’t work, but you notice the feedback is more positive, you may want to
then consider hiring a home staging professional.

From all indications, and I can tell you first-hand, the price of staging your home is small
compared to the benefits you can realize.