Potential homebuyers typically will take just 15 seconds to decide if they want to buy your home.
So if they're looking at your wedding pictures on the wall instead of the cherry built-in bookcases, you might have already lost them.
Worse still, perhaps they're distracted -- even turned off -- by the ultramodern décor, the lingering scent of smoke or the antlers hanging in the den. In 15 seconds, they're too busy judging you, the homeowner, to notice the stone fireplace, the screened porch or the gourmet kitchen.
In today's highly competitive real estate market, homeowners can't afford to make those kinds of mistakes. That's why more real estate agents and some homeowners lately are turning to professional home stagers to set a home apart.
"When it's a buyer's market, your house must be perfect," said Karen Reynolds, owner of the home staging company Champagne Staging in Wake Forest.
"Buyers have so many choices. You want your house to stand out. And a staged home will stand out."
According to a study by Stagedhomes.com, a group that promotes and teaches home staging techniques, 93 percent of homes staged last year by an accredited home stager sold in less than one month. And nonstaged homes stay on the market five times as long as staged homes, the group's Web site says.
Reynolds, who started staging several years ago for her own investment properties, said that for the 25 homes she staged and sold last year, the average time the homes were on the market was 18 days. And that includes a few that were listed for 120 days or more without a nibble before she staged them.
"What staging does is highlight the positives of the house and help detract from the negatives," Reynolds said. "It gives an implied lifestyle so the buyer can see how they can live in the house."
Julie Keelan, a real estate agent in the Wake Forest-Rolesville office of Allen Tate Realtors, recently sold three homes staged by Reynolds. Keelan is so sold on the concept that she offers a two-hour staging consultation to homeowners who list with her as part of the listing package.
"After I saw what she did, I became a believer," Keelan said. "A lot of sellers have a personal attachment to their property. When they're in selling mode, they have to detach."
Get help early
C. Reneé Hill, owner of the Raleigh interior designer firm Interiors by Reneé, said her business is now about 30 percent home staging, with demand from real estate agents driving the surge.
"The sad part is that some people don't want to pay the money for the staging," Hill said. "They need to invest now and get the price they want as opposed to having your house sit on the market."
The biggest mistake people make is that they wait until the last minute or until their home has been on the market for more than six months before they look into home staging, she said. Hill said it is best to at least talk to a stager before putting a home on the market to get a list of what needs to be done on the inside and outside of the home.
In the long run, it is a low-cost investment, especially considering the alternative might be letting the home sit on the market for months or reducing the asking price to get the home sold.
Home staging prices vary, of course, depending on the size of the house.
Consultations start about $125. Reynolds said that in two hours, for about $250, she can get a lot done in a 4,000-square-foot house, especially if the homeowner is willing to help out and bring a few friends to get the job done more quickly.
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