The home staging trend can help you to maximize the appeal of your property and get it off the market sooner
We’ve all heard about how to give your house “curb appeal”: Something to make it attractive to those who rely on first impressions. Straighten up the bookcases, pen the dogs in the backyard, keep the porch light burning.
But home staging takes that idea even further. It’s about transforming a house from ordinary into extraordinary.
“Home staging is the process of preparing any house for sale no matter the price or location,” says Jason Maxwell, owner and designer of Equity Enhancers, a home staging company in Dallas. “It makes the home marketable to a larger market segment.”
The concept of home staging has been around since 1972, and it has been common in California. But the idea has been pushing across the United States in recent years, and only recently made major inroads in North Texas.
Simply put, home staging, “allows people to mentally move in to the property,” Maxwell says. “It’s not just about taking down the clutter. It’s about pulling out the key features of a house and allowing the buyer the opportunity to see those without feeling they are imposing on somebody’s home. You want a buyer to walk into the house and feel they can replace the objects with their own.”
You might think that, for that very reason, having to reimagine someone else’s decor would mean that vacant houses sell more quickly than occupied ones. But according to Maxwell, that’s not the case.
“Vacant homes sit on the market longer than owner-occupied homes. When you walk into a vacant, it’s a clean slate and a palette. You don’t know how large your couch is and how much you can fit into it. Vacant homes sit on the market upwards of 90 days; occupied homes are for sale 45 to 60 days,” Maxwell says.
But staged houses often speed up that time. Maxwell says the average length one of his staged residences stays on the market is a little more than three weeks. That’s true of both owner-occupied and vacant properties.
The process of staging occupied houses is more complicated than simply tidying up, yet it is also tied closely to the way the resident lives. Maxwell says his job requires a mix of counseling and coddling.
“We deal a lot with clutter, color and creativity, but compromise is when we say we can’t fix everything based on homeowners’ budgets. Our goal its to maximize your equity, not take away from it,” Maxwell says.
A home staging designer starts by sitting down with the homeowner and explaining the importance of providing a depersonalized, clutter-free environment.
“We encourage people to pack up early and put things in storage. Most people, especially collectors, have so much extra stuff packed away in the garage that they don’t use anymore,” says Maxwell.
Take for example someone who has a collection of Elvis paintings on velvet.
“There are die-hard Elvis fans out there who will love that, but the majority don’t appreciate it. You want people to remember your house, not your collection. If you have lots of collections, they will look more at your collections than the home,” Maxwell says.
A lot of what home staging does requires a shift in attitude as much as a change in furniture.
“When you put your house on the market for sale, it becomes a product. And like a product on your grocer’s shelves, it has features and benefits.” he says.
Maxwell finds that some people are so emotionally involved in their homes that they find it difficult to look on them objectively. His job is to help the homeowner make the hard choices.
“Family photos should always go,” he advises. “Wallpaper is a lot like art it’s very personal. And it has to go.”
Pink couches, grey walls, a bicycle in the living room all are common ways people really live. But they make selling a house more difficult.
Some of the things home staging does:
– Look at things through a different angle. “Angled sofas can maximize traffic flow and make rooms appear larger than they are,” Maxwell says. “Tables on angles create added interest but also open up the floor space.”
– Lose the rug. Area rugs interrupt continuity of a floor. Removing them makes a room feel larger.
– No trash, please. When your house is on the market, potential buyers should never see a trash can. “It reminds people of the downside of home ownership.”
– A clean slate. Keep the countertops clear except for a few decorative items.
– Lighten up. “Keeping things light and bright makes a house sell for more money,” Maxwell says. “You want to make sure that as a buyer’s walking through your home, there’s a series of positive impressions and no negative ones. Having a realtor fumble around trying to find the light switch sends a negative message.”
A lot of staging, Maxwell says, has to do with working with the homeowner. Equity Enhancers rarely redecorates entirely.
“We usually use what the homeowner has to make it as appealing as possible to move into the space. The only time we have a hard time is when furniture is so outdated. Even then we use slipcovers over existing furniture,” says Maxwell.
He strongly suggests that you consult a staging designer earing int he process. Many people elay making a choice, to their detriment.
“You always want to stage your home before it gets on the market,” Maxwell says. “The first two weeks after it goes on the market is when the majority of showings occur. You want to present the house in its best light.” If you wait a month before staging, you’ve already lost many potential buyers who are unlikely to come by again to look it over, he adds.
For a vacant property, Maxwell says, holding costs the amount to maintain a house for a month on the market usually run about 1 percent of the sales price. Equity Enhancers’ initial consultation runs $250 and charges are $75 per hour (work averages four to five hours on a typical 2,000 square foot home). Maxwell believes the cost is more than outweighed by the savings in holding costs and speed of sale and an occasional increase in the sales price.
One property, he says, was on the market for $545,000 for three or four months. Equity Enhancers was then hired, staged the property and suggested re-listing it for $595,000. It sold in three days for $575,000.
“We try to design the house to appeal to the type of person likely to buy it,” Maxwell says, noting that they have worked on properties listed from $80,000 to $2 million.
Equity Enhancers, 2801 FM 544, Suite 104, Wylie. 469-360-9737. Eestaging.com.
QUICK UPDATES BEFORE SELLING
March comes in like a lion but goes out like a lamb. So while it may not seem so right now, warm weather is on the way, and the streets are full of prospective homebuyers.
How do you make sure your property stands out above the rest? Here are a few ways you can update your home to make sure it shines to its full potential and help you receive the largest return on your investment.
Fresh paint. Fresh paint is the most cost-effective and profitable improvement you can make. Even if your home doesn’t need a new coat, painting the interior walls a neutral color and the ceilings white can make rooms look bigger, brighter and cleaner. For around $20, you can give a tired and dingy room a complete makeover.
New flooring. New flooring will increase the market value of your home while shabby floors can nix a sale. Instead of spending money on carpet or hardwood, try laminate instead. The new laminates imitate the look of expensive hardwood, but will never fade, scratch or dent. Brands like Wilsonart Flooring come with a glueless tongue-and-groove installation process, so they install quickly and easily without making a mess. If you decide to install carpet, make sure to choose a neutral color.
New lights. Replace outdated light fixtures. This inexpensive improvement can update old decor that might have discouraged buyers who don’t want to put any effort into a new home. If your existing lighting looks “flat,” consider track lighting, which can give a room a dynamic flair by spotlighting various areas.
Don’t forget the garage. A clean garage will help make a good first impression to a buyer and shows that a house is in move-in condition. If you use your garage for storage, clean it out and rent a storage space. Paint the interior white and sweep the floor. If your garage is unfinished, install wallboard or build storage shelves on the back wall.
Create curb appeal. Attractive front and back yards boost the value of any property. Keep the lawn mowed and trim all shrubs to keep the yard looking clean. Plant some trees if the yard is barren or add new flowers to create color. A local nursery can help you find the right types of plants for your lawn.
With very little effort, you can transform an average house into an above-average property that is sure to get second looks from potential buyers. And when you are out looking for your new house, don’t forget to look for these steps in the properties that you view as well.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 3, 2006.
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