Improve prospective buyers' first impressions with these home staging tips
Fifteen seconds isn't a long time. But it's long enough to cost you.
Those first crucial moments inside the door are all it takes for a prospective buyer to decide your home doesn't have what it takes to be a contender, experts say. With the real estate market about to enter its most critical -- and potentially frenzied -- seasons in years, smart sellers will make sure their house is tucked up and touched up, inside and out, real estate professionals say.
"Regardless of the market, it's important," said Theresa Minichiello, an accredited home stager and owner of Stage Right! Home Staging in Hockessin. "In a cold market like this ... it will get your house off the market faster."
Local Realtors suspect that the federal tax credit for new home buyers will prompt shopping activity well in advance of the usual spring market pickup, meaning that sellers are better off preparing now than later.
"I think that come January, we're going to see unusual activity, because people are going to be more anxious to get in ... before the end of April," when contracts must be signed to qualify for the tax credit, Minichiello said.
Joe Pluscht, general sales manager for Patterson-Schwartz & Associates real estate, expects to see year-over-year increases in sales beginning next month through April. Activity through the first quarter is expected to the highest of the year, he said.
"The stars have really aligned for the buyer," he said.
Psychology of sales
While some "home staging" tricks are subtle enough to demand the eye of a professional, homeowners can pull off some magic of their own, so long as they're willing to put aside a few creature comforts and perhaps a bit of their pride.
The strategy is part psychology, part salesmanship. The goal is to give buyers the chance to imagine a house as their own, not someone else's, making it crucial to "depersonalize" and declutter as much as possible.
Pack up a third to two-thirds of your belongings, starting with the most personal. That means getting rid of the family photos, the knicknacks and the magazines, the ephemera perpetually plastered to the refrigerator door. Pare down furnishings to a few well-chosen pieces. Clear most of the items that have accumulated on shelves, counters and tables. Make sure cabinets and closets aren't so stuffed that a potential buyer gets the impression that space is scarce.
Think in terms of a nice hotel room -- uncluttered and clean; attractive but completely depersonalized.
"They may clean up a few things and think it's clutter free," said Christine Bissette, co-owner of Tribeca Design Studio in Dover. "We would remove a lot more."
Homeowners sometimes balk at temporarily giving up cherished items -- big televisions, countertop gadgets. "More so than anything else, it's the husband's chair," Minichiello said. "I actually had one client where they would move the chair in and out of the property for showings and open houses."
Of course, it's counterproductive to clean the clutter without also cleaning the house, so a thorough spit-shine is an essential step -- one that home stagers say is ignored by a surprising number of sellers. Get down [and up] far enough to scrub the areas that are typically easy to ignore -- window sills, walls, ceilings, baseboards, tops of fans and cabinets, in between appliances and around toilet bases. Get between things -- re-caulk the tiling and bleach that stained grout.
Fresh paint conceals years of abuse, so long as it's a warm, relatively neutral shade, says Barb Schwarz, a professional home stager and author of "Staging to Sell: The Secret to Selling Homes in a Down Market." And don't be too frugal with the brand -- quality paint goes on easier and ends up looking far classier.
Play up best assets
With clutter reduced, arranging can begin. Identify the room's focal points -- like hardwood floors, fireplaces and picture windows -- and place the furniture to highlight them. Schwarz recommends balancing soft and hard furniture. For example, if you have a sofa and two upholstered chairs, offset them with a wood coffee table and two side tables.
Less is always more when decorating. Add plants or flowers to tabletops to infuse color and nature. And stick to the rule of three: No more than a trio of items on a surface and vary their heights. For instance, group a tall lamp with a medium-sized plant and a book on an end table.
Pull back curtains to allow light to flood the room. Place lamps in shadowy areas and make sure the furniture doesn't block traffic flow.
And don't forget odors. If you can smell it, you can't sell it, Schwarz says.