Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Staging Tips for a Quality Sale

The house was a bland, 1980s McMansion in the suburbs with nothing special to make it stand out. Even so, its owners, both senior-level financial consultants in their early 60s, wanted to sell quickly to take job offers overseas. Hence, they accepted their real estate agent’s advice and hired a home stager to make their place show-worthy.

“A professional stager can hand-over-fist get sellers more money than they could get for an unstaged home,” says Stacy Berman, the seasoned real estate agent who represented the couple.

Berman, who’s been selling property since 2002, says talented stagers can give a nondescript, older home “that wow factor” -- making it more appealing to younger buyers.

In the case of the financial consultants’ home, all the rooms had been painted in a hodgepodge of different colors, including one bedroom in purple. Wall-to-wall carpet was hiding handsome hardwood floors. And the entire property was crammed with excess furniture.

The whole staging process -- painting, ripping up the carpet, etc. -- was completed in a few weeks for a couple of thousand dollars. Once done, the property sold quickly and for $50,000 over list. Indeed, it fetched the highest price ever recorded for a house in the couple’s neighborhood.

Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” says savvy sellers realize that even in hot markets where demand is very strong, sellers are very picky.

Of course, not all sellers can afford the services of a professional stager beyond a single one- or two-hour consultation. Here are a few tactics for sellers to keep their presale expenses under control:

-- Grasp the power of a paint brush in your hand.

Davis says home sellers can recoup at least three dollars for every dollar spent on paint and supplies for an interior redo. What’s more, a freshly painted property will change hands more quickly than one without such a cosmetic uplift.

Obviously, you can always hire a painting firm to do the work. But Davis contends that most homeowners can become competent painters with a little effort.

Davis recommends that novice painters seek out guidance from a local home center store or paint company retailer. Also, the websites of major paint companies can be helpful.

-- Donate excess belongings to charity.

“Decluttering is absolutely vital because buyers can’t picture themselves living in a crowded house, and most will automatically reject such a place,” Davis says.

But the reality is that many homeowners have great difficulty ridding themselves of items they no longer use. For such sellers, the clearing-out process is easier if they’re assured their surplus items will be put to good use.

Besides giving your extra belongings to charities, you can find willing recipients through The Freecycle Network (freecycle.org), a service for those seeking to “gift” items to others in the same area. (Membership is free and it also allows you to pick up items from others who live nearby.)

-- Place large pieces of furniture in a neighbor’s garage or a storage unit.

“If you’re still living in the house you’re selling, make sure you take away as much furniture as possible so people can see how large your rooms are. Big furniture distorts the look and scale of any house,” Davis says.

To make a dining room seem larger, he suggests that sellers remove china cabinets, along with extra leaves from the dining room table. Also, eliminate all but four dining room chairs.

In the living room, a few basics are sufficient for home showings: one sofa, one loveseat, a couple of end tables and lighting. Ideally, you’ll also remove a television with an exceptionally large screen -- at least temporarily.

“One of those huge TVs can really overwhelm a living room or den. The same goes for a giant bedroom suite that can dwarf your master bedroom,” Davis says.

Keeping furniture to a minimum makes it easier for would-be buyers to picture how their own furnishings would look in your space.

-- Ask your listing agent to conduct open houses for other local agents.

Davis believes traditional open houses offer few advantages for sellers.

“Honestly, the big winners from most classic open houses are the agents who hold them. That’s because they often pick up new clients during open houses,” he says.

A real estate broker since 1984, Davis recalls just two cases in which he found a buyer for a property through a traditional open house.

“Usually it’s just curiosity seekers and unqualified buyers who come through the average public open house,” he says.

Davis says a better way for your agent to promote your property is through special events designed solely for real estate pros, not the general public. Such “brokers' opens” can be very helpful in spreading the word about your property.

“The more agents who troop through your property, the better. If your home shows beautifully, they’ll spread the word and bring in their own home-buying clients,” he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)