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Best foot forward

Authored by: Anne Brennan | Special to the Tribune  -  Published in: Chicago Tribune
Created on:

You're selling your house. That means beige walls. Cookies baking. Fluffy white towels in the bath. Home staging—yeah, we get it, right?

Wrong. Realtors say even in today's competitive market, many sellers still don't understand how important it is to make a great first impression with buyers.Sellers have to be proactive, says John Veneris, regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors and broker/owner of realty Exectives/ProTeam in Downers Grove.

"If your Realtor hasn't offered any [home-staging] suggestions, ask," he says.

Ninety-three percent of staged homes in the U.S. sell 31 days or less, according to Barb Schwarz, of International Home Staging, which offers a home-staging accreditation program.

Schwarz' statistics, compiled from brokers who complete a monthly survey from her company, show non-staged houses sell in 161 days or more.

Other housing experts dispute how significant staging is but agree that certain basics should be followed."Staging shouldn't be used to cover up material defects in a house," says Jon Boyd, president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyers Agents. "It shouldn't be so extreme it ends up confusing the buyer."

A 2007 survey by Boyd's association ( www.naeba.org/staging/) found that staging efforts "can make a home seem more appealing to the eye" of buyers. But the report warns that staging "does not add square footage to the home, improve the home's location, improve the quality of the fixtures ... or the neighborhood. In other words, the staging does nothing to the fundamental value of the home."

That despite it being "a smart way for home sellers to present their home to you to get the highest possible price," the report concludes.

"It's all about comparisons," says Schwarz, who is credited with creating the concept of home staging. And misconceptions abound, she added.

"One misconception is that, 'Oh my God, it'll take a truckload of money,' or it's for high-priced homes," she says.

The average consultation, which includes a 50-page plan, costs $350, said Schwarz, with the work averaging $1,600.

In 2006 Dan Brown and his wife were willing to spend $5,000 on staging to sell their Oak Park house, which first went on the market in July 2006 with no bites by the end of that year.

First, the Browns dropped the asking price to $629,000 from $659,000.

"When people went through [the house], they said it looked dated. It looked fine to us," Brown says of their house of 25 years.

Their real estate agent had rearranged the furniture, but "it didn't look a lot better," Brown says.

Later, when he and his wife talked about redecorating, they had trouble prioritizing between new countertops and carpeting.

After realizing $5,000 for staging would be less than the next price reduction, the Browns were sold on the idea of giving staging a try with Sherie Wilks of Life's A Stage in Naperville.

Wilks told the Browns to replace the stair carpet, one of the first things buyers see.

Wilks put up new window treatments, took the breakfast room to a more neutral palette from peach and rearranged furniture, among other changes.

"The wonderful thing is that [stagers] do the shopping," Brown says. Wilks used coupons for home goods stores and discount outlets.

"When finished, it was very striking," he says.

Within two weeks, the Browns had three offers. They sold their house in January for $620,000.

"We were very pleased," says Brown, who ended up hiring Wilks to decorate his new home in Oak Brook as well as his office.

Whether you hire a stager or do it yourself, look at your house with new eyes, Schwarz says. "As homeowners, we stop seeing what's around us."

Sellers don't need to show how they live, but how they would sell, agrees Martha Webb, author of "Dress Your House for Success: 5 Fast, Easy Steps to Selling Your House, Apartment, or Condo for the Highest Possible Price!" and "Finding Home: Buying the House that's Right for You."

"Is it sparkling clean?" she asks.

Article entered in the Staged Homes System: 2008-04-01



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