Home staging isn’t interior design — and it’s not home decorating. It’s when you put your home’s best features forward to create a buyer-friendly environment. If you’re preparing your home for sale, you should realize that once it’s on the market, it’s no longer your home. It’s a product. And selling your home is all about first impressions. Potential buyers usually take about 10 to 15 minutes, tops, to walk through a home and decide whether they like it or not. Observe your home from their point of view to realistically understand what it is they are actually seeing — then make the necessary transformations. All it takes is a game plan, some creativity, a jar of elbow grease, and the strong desire to show off your home in order to sell it quickly for the highest profit.
The Top Four
There are typically four areas of any home that affect a potential buyer’s decision, and these areas should always receive the majority of your attention. This is not to say you should leave the rest of your home as is. But when I am professionally staging a home for market, these areas are always the spaces I concentrate on first and they are usually the most time-consuming.
Foyer or Entry – All rooms directly visible from the main entrance are a priority. This is the potential buyer’s first impression of your home, and it is always number one on my list, no matter what.
Main Living Area – Whether it is a formal living room, family room, or combined space, the main living area is basically the place that people will spend most of their time, entertain guests, etc. This space typically takes the most time to finesse. Furniture arrangement and accessory placement is a priority for this area.
Kitchen – A clean, good-looking, and efficient space is always desirable. The more workspace you can show, and the lighter and brighter you can make it, the more functional and cheery this area will feel.
Master Bedroom – Your goal in the master bedroom is to make it as comfortable, carefree, and relaxing as possible.
But Don’t Forget About…
Feature rooms, such as a family room, loft space, den, study, or sun room are next on my list. While bathrooms are very important, a good cleaning is usually the main factor. Play them up, but don’t go over the top when it comes to accessories. Laundry rooms, pantries, closets, and cupboards should also be maintained. I typically tell my clients to concentrate on main closets, such as those found in the entryway, master bedroom, bathrooms, or a linen closet. People will want to see what kind of space you have, and many will take a look. I usually advise homeowners to eliminate anywhere from half to three- fourths of what is inside for the best presentation, and sometimes, even more. It is important to stage secondary rooms such as a child’s room or spare bedroom as well and make sure they look clean and spacious. Getting rid of the clutter and excess furniture is usually enough to make an impact, though a new arrangement and a few enhancements may be in order.
Any main room or feature room, such as a living room, dining room, or master bedroom should always be set up to play to the function of its original design. That is to say, if you are currently running your home office out of the formal dining room, it needs to be transformed back into a formal dining room. Potential buyers are going to be walking in with certain expectations. If a formal dining room is part of your home’s design, you need to show that to the buyer. That’s what you are selling, and that is what they came to see. Otherwise, you will be giving the impression that the house is simply out of space and needed to be modified to be functional. If you have turned an extra bedroom into a home office, that’s fine. As long as it’s neat and tidy, and as long as you have other bedrooms to endorse. On that same note, any spare room with no real use should be shown as livable space. The same goes for completely empty rooms: the more functionality you can show, the better. Transforming the room into usable square-footage is always the better option and very easy to accomplish. Bed frames are cheap, and an air mattress can take the place of the real thing in a pinch. Combined with a chair or a couple of extra furnishings and accessories from other rooms you have already staged and you can easily show-off a useful space. Buyers don’t want to have to imagine it; they want to see it.
Remember, the key to successfully staging your own home is looking at it objectively with the potential buyer n mind. View your house as they might view it, and completely remove yourself of emotional attachment. Your house is now a product, and you need to view it as such. Here are some additional tips to help get you started:
1) First, assess your home
Walk through the house like a prospective buyer would. As you go, make a list of features that are your home’s positive selling points or focal points. Most homes have at least one or two elements that would be considered positive features. Next, consider what might be looked at negatively. Negatives aren’t always an actual part of the structure. They are often decorating elements or personal effects. Small cramped space, clutter, worn carpeting, wild wall covering, dated essentials such as lighting fixtures, or a monotonous furniture layout are just a few things that might be considered off-putting. Add them to your list, and keep all these elements in mind. Staging your home is much easer once you understand the positive and negative aspects of the actual house. Knowing these points also helps to give you a clearer understanding of where to start and what you need to accomplish. While you never actually want to hide anything that might be viewed as off-putting, playing up the positive aspects often deters from the negative aspects in the process.
2) Box up clutter
Boxing up superfluous effects is the next step to preparing your home. Getting rid of the muddle will make the rest of your efforts much more efficient. Typically, I have clients make one run through the entire house, boxing up unnecessary adornments or anything that takes up too much space or looks messy.
3) Renew, repair, or replace
Once you’ve boxed up excess, now is the time to take a good look at the basics and decide what you need to renew, repair, or replace. If you expect to receive a decent offer for your home, you need to give the buyer a decent product in return. A thorough cleanup is often enough to create the right image. Repairing any obvious damage is also a given. If something is damaged or worn-out and can be repaired, do not hesitate to have it restored. But if renewing or repairing does not do the trick, it is usually best to replace. As any good investment broker will attest, you have to spend money to make money. The same is certainly true of your house. Be thoughtful about where you invest. If you have been planning to knock out a wall to expand your kitchen, now is not the time. The money spent and time involved would not be recovered if you’re planning on selling your house in a month. However, if your kitchen countertop has been scraped, chiseled, and burned beyond recognition, replacing would be a smart move.
4) Edit and re-arrange furniture
The layout of your furnishings will dramatically affect the way potential buyers will identify with the space, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Begin with the four areas of your house that will most affect a buyer’s decision. Refer to your home assessment list and decide specifically what you need to play-up or what might be seen as a negative. Obviously, there are gong to be pieces for practical reason that will just have to stay where they are. It is the manner in which you work the piece into the space that’s important. Your furniture arrangement should always play to the focal point of the room. For instance, if a fireplace is the selling point of your living room and your set-up currently evolves around the television set, you will need to redirect attention to the fireplace. Start with the obvious. In the living room, a sofa, loveseat, and club chair might be the basic furnishings. Placement of these heftier pieces will determine the rest of the layout. Pulling major furnishings at east eight inches into the room gives the space dimension. The new arrangement will add interest and produce a sense of spaciousness that will be very apparent to potential buyers. Keep your layout open and airy, adding interest through angles, dimension, and height variation. Allow visible wall space behind and between furnishings. You never want the back of major piece to obstruct access into a room. It blocks the entire flow of the space. When it comes to the actual furniture, ratty and worn out pieces will either have to be renovated or removed. A slipcover is also a great quick-fix and a better option than showing unsightly upholstery. Sofa and chair fabrics can also be cleaned. Also – don’t be afraid to flip-fop furnishings between rooms. End tables and side chairs should be arranged after the main furnishings are in place and used only to compliment the grouping just like anything else in the staging process, less is more. Furniture and accent pieces that aren’t absolutely necessary should be removed altogether and stored or used in another area of your home. To ease the strain of moving heavy pieces, invest in a set of Moving Men tm — gliding discs that have a spongy cushion on one side and a smooth, slippery plastic backing on the other.
5) Dress for success
This is exactly the theory of home staging. You are preparing your house for a very important interview. Accessories should always be used in moderation and only placed for a purpose. Just keep repeating to yourself, “Less is more. Less is more. Less is more.” Heftier, more substantial adornments are a better choice than a lot of little knick-knacks. When playing-up a focal point like a fireplace mantle, go for a little drama. Built-in shelving and cupboards are also better enhanced with fewer adornments to show off the space. To bring interest to a colorless room, try using a few bright pops of color with throw pillows, artwork, or plush green plants. To down play strong hues in upholstery, carpeting, or on the walls, opt for neutral enhancements. Artwork should always be placed last. Like any other accessory, use some discretion. Allow for a few spots of completely bare wall to give the prospective buyer’s eye a place to rest and to enhance the illusion of space in a room. Never hang artwork too high: as a general rule, artwork should be hung as part of a furniture grouping and at eye level. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as oversized works of art or displays over taller mantles. Always use adornments sparingly and make sure there is a purpose for their presence. If you are unclear as to how much is enough or how much is too much, err on the conservative side.
Nothing is less appealing to a prospective buyer than a dirty house. So if cleaning is not your bag, hire a professional. Regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire outside help, create a list of all the things that need to be done and make sure it is followed to the letter. Cleaning your house to sell is a more thorough cleaning than the weekly dusting and vacuuming. You need to be certain everything is spotless. Kitchens and bathrooms take priority. You want them to sparkle from top to bottom, and everything, and I mean everything, needs to be dusted. Once your house has experienced a deep cleaning session, it will be much easier to keep it clean while on the market. Just make sure to have that list in hand before getting started so you don’t miss a thing!
7) Prepare to show!
Once your home has been staged, it will be easier to maintain for showings. Avoid cooking certain foods while your house is on the market. Odors from fish, liver, onions, garlic, spicy foods, or anything fried have a tendency to linger in the air. Garbage bins should always be emptied. Throw wet towels and shower mats in the dryer before you leave for work to keep the bathroom looking tidy. And make sure to change the water in a vase full of fresh flowers daily. Children and pets are both a no-no in my opinion for showings. I love them both dearly, but as cute as they might be, they are a distraction. And you absolutely do not want anything taking a potential buyer’s attention from your house. And finally, unless this is a “For-Sale-By-Owner” property, you shouldn’t be there either. Potential buyers will talk more open and candidly to their agent about a property without the owner hanging around. Take the kids and the pets for a drive around the block a few times.
8) Ask for help
If you don’t think you can be objective when it comes to staging your own home, ask a friend who can be candid with you for their opinion. Do not take offense by their judgment. This is not about you, personally. This is all about selling your house. Give your friend a few guidelines to follow. Let them know that you value their opinion, what your goal is, and remind them to be gentle, but honest. There are also professional home stagers out there who are quite proficient in helping you show your home for market. Most can be hired to do either hands-on staging or to consult and help kick your game plan into high gear.
Whichever way you choose to go, remember that when it comes time to sell your home, first impressions count. By showing a buyer what they want to see, you are ultimately creating your own opportunity for success. Staging your home before it goes on the market creates the ultimate win-win situation for all involved.