Sellers who have balked at their agents' suggestions to "stage" their homes and make them more attractive to would-be buyers should listen to Ruvell Martin, an ex-NFL football player and now a real estate agent in Charlotte, South Carolina.
Martin and his wife, Michelle, sold an investment property on the very same day it was staged. They had three offers, each above the couple's asking price.
The Martins bought the property with the intention of flipping it soon after renovations were complete. But the empty house sat on the market for more than 60 days, and nothing. The most common feedback from visitors was that the bedrooms were too small.
They were going round and round about lowering their asking price when Joan Inglis, a real estate agent who also owns professional staging company Carolina Spaces, suggested they try to bring the place back to life before taking that step.
The Martins agreed, and Inglis furnished several key rooms in the house. In the aforementioned bedrooms, she added king and queen beds, nightstands, dressers and chairs to show they were plenty large. Inglis brought in the furniture on a Saturday morning, and by that evening, the sellers had a contract. The deal closed 30 days later.
"We went from no offers to three," says Martin, an agent with Costello Real Estate. "It was a real good experience and now I recommend it to my clients."
He says he was "a little skeptical" of claims about how quickly staged houses usually sell. But now, he's sold himself. "Furnishing the house gave visitors a place to sit down and relax, so they could spend more time in it," he says.
The Martins' experience with staging is now backed by new research from the National Association of Realtors, which found that sellers who opt to help potential buyers visualize themselves in their homes sell at higher prices than the competition.
Staging is the art of putting your home's best foot forward. It goes beyond freshening the paint, decluttering and throwing open the curtains for daytime showings (or turning on all the lights for nighttime ones). Done right -- usually by a professional stager or sometimes a savvy agent -- the process allows you to emphasize your home's best features and minimize its worst. It might involve furnishing a house or condo you've already moved out of so that it's not sitting empty, or removing furniture in a property that's still occupied to make the place look more spacious.
Sometimes, the house needs to be updated with new flooring, countertops, light fixtures and landscaping that will make it more appealing to today's buyers. Or perhaps all that's needed is to rearrange your furniture or supplement it with additional pieces.
According to NAR's findings, 37 percent of sellers' agents surveyed said staging raises the value of the property by 1 to 5 percent. But nearly a quarter -- 22 percent -- put the gain somewhere in the 6-10 percent range. And 12 percent said the dollar value of a staged home jumps from 11 to 20 percent.
The percentages concerning higher sales prices were somewhat lower among agents who represent buyers. Whatever the increase, though, just 4 percent of the respondents believe staging has no impact whatsoever on the home's ultimate selling price.
Other key findings: Almost half the agents -- 46 percent -- said buyers who see a house online are more likely to visit it if it is staged. And 28 percent said buyers are more likely to overlook a staged property's faults.
The survey did not say whether staged properties sold any faster, but anecdotes like Martin's abound. Ann Waters, an accredited stager who owns Naples Home Staging in Southwest Florida, says a $4.5 million condo she staged sold within two days after she worked her magic. Ditto for a $200,000 house.
According to Accredited Home Staging, which teaches staging courses, 95 percent of staged houses sell in 11 days or less (on average), compared to 90 days for non-staged properties. AHS also says professionally staged houses sell for 17 percent more than other places.
The median cost of home staging, according to the NAR survey, is $675. Generally, 4 in 10 sellers pay stagers before the house officially goes on the market. But 10 percent are allowed to pay after the house is sold, and 3 percent of the agents' realty firms pay for the service, leaving no cost for the seller.
Inglis says to plan on spending 1 to 3 percent of the home's list price on professional staging -- at least $3,500 for a $350,000 property, for example. If you want to do the work yourself, a consulation can be much cheaper: Inglis' rates start at $250 for such a meeting, depending on the size of the property.
Waters' fees vary with the clients' needs. If the house is empty, she charges anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000. The rate is lower if the home only needs a few key furniture replacements or edits. For each new client, she compiles a detailed report on how to use their existing furnishings to appeal to the most buyers. The clients are then free to implement her recommendations as they see fit.
Inglis, on the other hand, maintains that the job is best left to professionals.
"It is rare for owners with an emotional attachment to their home to complete their own staging project without professional assistance," she says. "You want a professional stager, not someone who watches HGTV for ideas."