House takes the Stage
by Stephanie Earls
It had good bones, so you bought it, certain that — with a little cash, and some time — you could make it into your dream home. Fresh paint. New carpet. A gourmet kitchen, and master bath with heated towel rack. But intentions (even really cool ones) do not equal equity. If the time to resell comes before all your renovation plans could be seen to fruition, it’s time to forget about grand dreams. It’s all about getting the biggest return for your short-term effort.
Experts say a few quick, affordable updates and decorating tricks can make the difference between no offers and warring bids. Staging — or preparing the home, both inside and out, to create the biggest impact and best impression — can draw in buyers and up sale prices, often for minimal cost to homeowners. Stagers and real estate agents say the first step when preparing a home for sale is to clean up and clear out. “The most inexpensive things often get the biggest return,” said Terry Little, a real estate agent with RealtyUSA. “People are buying space as much as structure.”
You’re moving out anyway, so you might as well get an early start, said Geri Kissane, who opened Above and Beyond Home Staging in Delmar in early 2006. Like other stagers in the Capital Region, Kissane will do the work for you, or just serve as a consultant with you doing the grunt work. All depends on your budget. “I suggest you get a POD. Put it in your driveway, as you’re packing (inside the house), move it out” to the storage unit, she said. PODs, and storage alternatives like it, are portable units that are packed on site then moved to a facility for longer-term storage.
Remove personal items from all surfaces. Put away refrigerator magnets, and pack up collectibles into boxes that can either be removed from the home or, if they’re pretty enough, artfully stacked. “We’ve seen (huge collections of) Hummels, teacups, salt-and-pepper shakers,” said Sheila Palmer, who runs Homes Staged 2 Sell in Schenectady. “That’s not what you want the buyer to see. You want them to see the walls, the beautiful view.” Beverly Tracy, of Beverly Tracy Home Design in Saratoga Springs, walks through a client’s house sticking Post-its to what needs to go.
If you don’t have a professional stager, consider asking a friend or relative or anyone you feel can be honest with you to walk through and point out items that might be a turn-off to potential buyers. Be prepared to make some emotional decisions, and to face the fact that your (good) taste might not be universal. “It’s like, ‘I know you love your lime green front door, but it’s really got to go,’ said Kissane, adding that staging — and a stager’s job — can be tough on a homeowner’s emotions. “I had to tell one family to stop cooking. They did a lot of Indian cooking. The smell permeated the drapes and the wood. (It’s) just not appealing to everybody. If you smell it, you can’t sell it.” Opt for lemon or vanilla scents, rather than curry or kitty litter.
Tracy cautions against overdoing it with the candles, though, as you could end up with an open house visitor who’s allergic.
Fix any visible problems that might be a red flag for potential buyers — such as stained plaster or drywall that could indicate an old leak or settling or other structural problems. Peel-and-stick vinyl floor tiles can offer a quick, clean and attractive fix for damaged kitchen or bathroom floors. Many styles cost less than a dollar apiece. Add fresh paint, in neutral colors, and focus on first floor rooms and public rooms, like the kitchen, dining room and living room. Clean up the exterior of the home, add potted plants and repair damaged walkways. “Put a fresh coat of paint on the front door — preferably white,” Tracy said.
Stagers recommend not rushing a house onto market before it’s ready. Even a house that’s not in dire need of renovations should be given at least two weeks’ prep time. If you’ve got children, have them pick a few toys to keep with them in their room, and store the rest. “You get the best bang for your buck when the house is listed, because people don’t generally come back again wondering if someone made an improvement,” Tracy added.
On the flip side of clutter-clearing, an empty house can leave potential buyers feeling cold — both physically and emotionally, said Kissane. “There’s the echo factor. It’s cold. And they’ll see every single little scratch and nick and dent. People can’t tell how big the rooms are” without furniture, she said.
Which brings us to a few staging tricks:
“Establish a visual reference point. Even if you have two chairs and an area rug, they’ll say “Oh, it’s furnished and it’s huge,’ Kissane said. A full-sized bed will make a room look larger than a queen. Kissane suggests a chunky bar of nice soap, with a piece of rafia (a decorative brown fiber strip) tied around it, left by the sink. Tie rafia around towels. Turn on every light in the house, and tune radios on each floor to the same classical music station (it will sound nice, and mask traffic or other potentially unflattering noises, Kissane said). “Appeal to all the senses.” she said.
A California staging company, she said, has gone so far as to hire professional actors to portray a “beautiful, happy family” for the benefit of potential buyers during an open house. The message: Buy this house and you could be these beautiful people. “That’s the newest thing out there,” Kissane said, laughing. “I’d have to say we’re not quite there yet.”
For more on home staging, visit the Web site of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals at http://www.iahsp.com/.