Now that the seller has chosen you to be his/her agent and the listing contract is signed, it’s time to take some photos and put the listing in MLS. NO!! This may have worked five or ten years ago, but, as we all know, the world has changed. 95% of all buyers start their search for a new home online and in this fast -moving world of Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, and other online media, the visual presentation of your listing can draw crowds of buyers to an open house, or it can let your property stagnate for months- leading to price reductions and unhappy clients.
Whether you are selling empty new construction homes or remodeled flips, or you have a listing for a 40 year old colonial, staging a home is now a necessity and needs to be part of the listing presentation with your seller. The size and devotion of audiences for the many shows on the HGTV and DIY networks have led to a greater level of sophistication and expectation among buyers. As agents, we have a second to catch the interest of potential buyers before they have clicked over to the next house online.
What is staging? Staging quite literally creates a stage or blank canvas of a home onto which the potential buyers can project the stories and scenes of their lives. Staging depersonalizes a home and enables buyers to envision their families living in the home- cooking in the kitchen, playing in the yard, and relaxing in front of the TV. It brings out the best features of a home and downplays the negatives. Professional stagers can be hired for $50-$150/hour plus the cost of furniture rental- if necessary. NAR now offe staging designations and seminars for agents who want to add staging to their arsenal of skills.
The first task of staging is decluttering the home. Your sellers need to clean out closets in order to show off storage space, organize home offices by removing files, piles of papers, and books, and remove the myriad of family photographs on tables and walls. Buyers can easily become distracted by viewing wedding photos of people whom they have never met instead of focusing on your listing’s fabulous features! Rooms need to be viewed with a critical eye and extra furniture needs to removed. This is particularly difficult when your sellers are collectors of figurines, baseball paraphernalia, roosters, or even mounted stuffed animals! No matter how interesting the collection, you want your buyers concentrating on the house- not feeling the Fenway Park vibe or taking a trip through Kenya! Think minimalism or even a vignette from Pottery Barn! Rearrange rooms to make better use of space and float furniture instead of pushing sofas and chairs against the walls will give the illusion of more space. You can create conversation areas in the middle of the room and highlight the area with a colorful area rug.
Curb appeal is essential to get the buyers out of the car and into the house. You don’t want your listing to be the one where the buyer agent later tells you “They just didn’t like the look of the house so we decided to skip it”. Bicycles, toys, cars under repair, and other items need to removed and either stored neatly in the garage or in an offsite self storage unit. Lawns need to be kept mowed and planting beds should be regularly weeded and mulched. Pots of flowers on the patio and colorful annuals can create an inviting entrance. Front porches are the perfect place to have rocking chairs or Adirondack chairs with a small dining table set with a pitcher of lemonade and cookies in the summertime.
The front hall and mudroom area should have storage for boots, coats, and backpacks, and a piece of art or interesting table to draw the eye visually into the house. Mirrors placed on walls across from windows can add more light. Ensure that all of the small repairs that the seller has been meaning to do for years are actually taken care of before the house goes on the market. It is well worth it to pay a handyman $35/hour to replace broken hardware, change burnt out bulbs in chandeliers, and switch out switch plates. An inexpensive way to upgrade an out of date kitchen is to refinish and repaint dark cabinets for a more contemporary look. Chalk paint, though expensive at $89/gallon is a life saver because there is no need to sand and prime furniture- you just paint it with one coat!
For the illusion of more space, walls and drapes can be the same color. Remove all heavy valences and elaborate window treatments because they don’t fit into today’s contemporary decorating styles. Think of removing wall to wall carpet if you know that there is hardwood underneath because carpet is now a turnoff for today’s buyers. Grey has emerged as the new neutral because it picks up blues, silvers, and purples. Matching furniture sets should be broken up for a more modern look. We are seeing dining rooms with arm chairs in a different style than the side chairs for a more casual or boho style. Add pops of color with pillows, art work, and glassware. The cardinal rule of collection exhibiting is that they should be in odd numbers such as 3 vases or 3 different sized statues.
Bathrooms should be totally decluttered. All prescription medicine should be hidden and removed because buyers will open closets and medicine cabinets. Set a scene with plush towels, a terry cloth robe, bath salts, and a few candles, and it might just catch the eye of the romantic buyer! The cardinal rule of bathroom photography is that the toilet lids must be down!
Master bedrooms should be staged as sanctuaries. They should be a calm relaxing place so make sure your sellers repaint the bright red walls or remove the busy wallpaper. Unless the home is an antique, wallpaper is viewed as a huge pain and can be an obstacle to a sale because today’s buyers do not want to buy a house with a lot of work to do. Sellers should remove the wallpaper and paint the walls a soothing cream, beige, off white, light blue, or light green. They should invest in new bed linens to match the walls and view upscale hotel photos for ideas to replicate- even with inexpensive throw pillows, shams, and bed shawls from the local Marshalls or Home Goods.
Lighting is an often overlooked element of staging. Dimmer switches in dining rooms, living rooms, and bedrooms are inexpensive and can change the mood of the room. Most homes do not have enough light- particularly newer homes without ceiling fixtures so add some spotlights for art work and uplighting to brighten corners.
Lastly, don’t forget to have your sellers enliven their rooms with fresh flowers and plants. During the winter, vases of greens and sticks of red berries are festive and inexpensive. Banish all the old fashioned fake flowers because they are just dust collectors and don’t add to the home’s visual appeal. A rose in a bud vase on a bathroom counter or a small vase of tulips in the bedroom sets the stage and helps your buyers to picture themselves enjoying such a pleasant room.
Remember, the final act of the play that you have staged should be an accepted offer!