At just 450 square feet, the tiny condo was barely big enough for its 30-year-old owner. She'd originally picked the place for its proximity to tony shops, restaurants and a light-rail station. But as soon as she could afford a bigger unit in the same neighborhood, she called a real estate agent and put the petite condo up for sale.
The condo was very reasonably priced, but after it languished on the market for four months without a single offer, the young woman rented it out for six months. Then once that lease ran out, she again vowed to sell the unit.
On her second try, the woman's listing agent contacted a company called Synergy Staging, one of a growing number of firms that specialize in making properties more appealing to buyers.
"A well-staged property doesn't reflect personal taste, which lets buyers picture themselves living there. That way the sellers can cast the largest possible net to attract the largest number of buyers," says David Peterson, Synergy's co-owner.
Peterson recalls how the condo looked when his firm was first called in for the makeover. It seemed disjointed, with paint tones ranging from sky blue to teal, on its several walls. Its only furniture: a fraying sofa and a plain bed.
To give the diminutive condo a polished look, Synergy gave the owner a color consultation, recommending a deep off-white paint tone that tied the entire space together. The firm also lent her a few pieces of quality furniture that were artfully arranged.
Once the staging was done, Peterson says the condo had an entirely different look. Best of all, it sold in just one day for $14,000 more than the owner's previous asking price.
The art of staging, which can include anything from mere furniture rearrangement to the full transformation of a home's interior, is often associated with large or expensive properties. But Peterson says small-sized homes can benefit as well.
"Some people think you should sell a very small place with no furniture at all. But vacant rooms can actually seem smaller than well-designed rooms with the right furnishings," he says.
Here are a few pointers for homeowners seeking to sell an undersized property:
-- Realize that starter homes are in big demand now.
To be sure, most Americans still favor spacious properties. But many purchasers, including first-time buyers, must scale back their housing ambitions due to income limits.
Meanwhile, he says "small looks beautiful" to an increasing number of baby boomers as they approach retirement age.
"While some boomers are actually upsizing to accommodate visits from their grown kids and grandkids, many others are downsizing to save money for their elder years," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and the author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."
-- Look into adding a second bathroom if your place has just one.
Homebuyers are often highly resistant to the purchase of a property with just one bathroom. They want a second bathroom, if only for use by their guests.
Because of this strong preference, Davis says a single-bathroom property can be tough to sell. He suggests that sellers consider adding a second bathroom before they put their property on the market, assuming they can do so for a modest price.
Before committing to such a project, make sure you ask a contractor about the cost and feasibility, Davis says. Construction inside the home is usually your best bet. Add-ons outside are often impractical.
"If possible, your best option could be to convert a large closet into a full bathroom, or at least a half bath," he says.
-- Plan your decor to make your small property seem larger.
When the stagers from Synergy first visited the previously mentioned condo, they noticed the unusual melange of paint colors on the several walls. Once all the walls were repainted in a neutral tone, the owner was surprised how much larger the place looked.
"The same is true of flooring. You don't want different types of hardwood flooring in your place because that's jarring," Peterson says.
-- Don't make the mistake of selling your small home completely vacant.
No matter the size of a property you're selling, you'll want to clear out clutter and extra furnishings to convey the impression of openness and space
"Crowded and cluttered in any house is a major issue. It's especially important to store away anything that's personal -- like unusual art," Peterson says.
But Peterson cautions against extremes.
"If you take away too much furniture and the home is totally empty, people can't get a sense of room size. For example, if you remove your bed from the master bedroom, people will think their bed is too large for the space," he says.
When they're helping stage a vacant house, Peterson and his business partner, Nik Murrow, bring in enough furnishings to give the feeling of how a room would work if the buyers actually lived there.
-- Add in designer touches to give your small home luster.
Because there's less to see, those visiting a small home can spend more time examining the interior. That means more attention to details.
Given such an intense focus, sellers of small places will want to ensure that little flaws are corrected. Also, they need to accessorize their place with attractive details.
"It doesn't cost a lot to upscale a small house. For example, you could repaint your kitchen cabinets pure white and add brushed nickel hardware or replace your dining room lighting fixture with a fresh one," Peterson says.
-- Highlight the advantages of a small, older home.
Due to the high cost of land, most new tract homes -- no matter the price level -- are now built on undersized lots. Yet many homebuyers, especially those with young children, want enough land for a swing set, a garden or a backyard patio.
"It's also a big positive for buyers if your small house has enough land to expand in the future," Davis says.
He says the yearning for land can often be satisfied with the purchase of a small, older home on a big lot. Alternatively, a small older home or condo will often sell well if located in a lively urban neighborhood, which is especially alluring to young singles and newly married couples.
"At the end of the day, location and price tend to trump all the other factors," Davis says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)