Photo by Cynthya Porter
Katie Robertson shows that staging a home with accessories doesn't have to be expensive. One of the candlesticks cost $180 and one cost $15, but both can have a big influence on the decor of a room if placed well.
“The way you live in a home is not the way you sell your home.” Those words of wisdom from home staging expert Katie Robertson could go far in today’s housing market where owners are sometimes waiting much longer than they want to sell their property and move on. “Staging and preparing your home will cost less than your first price reduction,” she said matter-of-factly.
Tricks of home staging are often more simple than people realize, Robertson said, and little things can mean a lot when it comes to putting a home above the pack to potential buyers.
Experts like Robertson, who is also a realtor for Coldwell Banker, are carving out a niche staging homes in a market where slower than normal sales can mean more houses available and more competition in what many agree has been a buyer’s market. Statistics back up the importance of staging, with at least one study suggesting a professionally staged home sells in 35 days or less 95% of the time, while comparable non-staged homes on the market spend an average of closer to 175 days there.
But the good news is people don’t need to be professionals to stage a home as long as they follow a few pieces of well learned advice.
The most important thing a homeowner needs to do, and perhaps the most difficult task, Robertson said, is to declutter a home to the greatest extent humanly possible.
The “family lived-in” look will not make buyers picture raising their own family there, it will make the space look smaller and less attractive to most who tour it. “Most of the things that make it familylike have to go,” Robertson said. If not a garage sale, storage for all the extra items sitting around the home is essential, even if it means going without some creature comforts a family has become accustomed to for a while, said Robertson.
And closets are the worst place to store those items away in, as buyers want to see ample space when they open the closet doors, not piles of toys, shoes and extra blankets bulging from inside. Robertson advises families to rent a storage space outside the home and put away everything they can possibly live without. For the day-to-day essentials like toys, home office clutter or extra appliances, tidy looking storage bins should be kept readily accessible to stash items in before potential buyers are expected.
A lot of people have more furniture in any given room than they should, Robertson said, and even if it means going without a comfy spot to plop down or set items, she often advises clients to remove pieces of furniture while the home is for sale.
The second key element, Robertson said, is to clean a house until it sparkles from top to bottom. Windows inside and out, shower doors, the basement, everything has to look as clean as it ever did. Bathrooms and kitchens should be scrubbed and polished, as the slightest sign of use will immediately turn most buyers off. Any squeaking doors or hardware in disrepair in the home should be fixed, she said, as the last thing buyers want to do is start creating a mental list of the things they will have to do to the home if they buy it.
Home exteriors should not be ignored in the cleaning process, with tidy lawns, clean screens and neat sidewalks an important tool to making a potential buyer want to walk inside.
Those two tips may sound like common sense, but homeowners often grow accustomed to their home’s “lived-in” appearance and don’t realize what a detriment it represents when trying to make the home attractive to a stranger.
Beyond the basics of cleaning and decluttering, Robertson has a few secrets she uses in staging a home that bring enormous bang for the buck to sellers, small investments that virtually always return themselves to sellers in the form of quicker sales for better prices.
Paint is about the cheapest facelift a room can get, but sellers need to be careful when choosing a color palette. Neutral colors are best, Robertson said, but that doesn’t mean making a room look stark or sterile. “When stagers talk about neutral colors they don’t mean white or beige,” she said, “they mean a color that will go with a lot of colors.” Soft taupes and mossy greens are good, as are warm honey tones and creamy tans. Against such backdrops, virtually any color furniture and accessory will blend in to create a room that looks inviting and coordinated.
While people don’t necessarily need to go out and buy new furniture to stage their house, a slip cover, new lamp or coordinating table vase can make the difference in a room that needs a little something. Mirrors are a great tool too, Robertson said, as they reflect light and create the illusion of space while allowing buyers to see themselves, literally, in the new home.
Light is always better no matter what part of the home a buyer is looking at, and the addition of lamps or higher watt bulbs coupled with opened shades go far in creating a spacious feel in a room, Robertson added.
Just rearranging furniture can often completely transform a space in a way that maximizes the best things a home has going for it, said Robertson. “Every home has wonderful things,” she said. “You pick the brightest spots, the best assets, and then work to highlight them.”
When trying to update rooms, wallpaper or specialty painting techniques typically only serve to date the space and reduce the number of people who will find it attractive, Robertson said. “You have to make sure what you’re doing is classic and long-lasting,” she explained. Your kids might love the tropical fish mural in their bedroom, but a new buyer might not have kids and would only look at it as something that needs to be painted over. The truth of the matter, said Robertson, is that while people can enjoy infusing a home with personality and bold statements of style, that personality needs to be toned down considerably so potential buyers can envision their own personalities inside the space. If not, a few lucky sellers might find buyers with the same taste, and the rest will languish on the market until they broaden the home’s appeal to more people.
While accessories can be important accents in a room, the figurine collection, kids’ toy corner or piles of magazines or papers immediately ratchet down the appeal of a space. People are looking for a blank canvas, so to speak, when they walk into a home, the more personalized items a home displays the less able they are to do so. If homeowners can’t live without their array of family pictures, Robertson said, they should at least be confined to one small area of the home rather than scattered throughout.
For her clients, Robertson specializes in consulting, doing projects with, and doing projects for, depending on what the client’s needs are. She charges $25 an hour, though staging fees across the industry can cost upwards of $60 per hour.
Often, she said, part of her task involves adding key pieces of style to rooms, whether that means digging through the family’s stash in the garage or at a boutique shop. The expense involved in staging with such accessories, Robertson said, depends on the buyer’s budget, as many great looks can be achieved very inexpensively with a little paint and ingenuity. “People might have a piece of art but it’s in the wrong place,” Robertson said. “Move it and you can do magic. Magic doesn’t always cost money.”
If a homeowner has the ability to invest more in staging and preparing a home, the first places Robertson advises them to look are the kitchen and bathroom. Those areas can make or break the sale of a home, and a new countertop, updated vanity or modern handles and faucets can make all the difference between a home that screams old and a home that screams sold.
Robertson also cautions clients that the best way to sell a home with pets, frankly, is to temporarily get rid of the pets. The second best alternative, she said, is to kennel the animals during home showings and eliminate all signs that they exist, including toys, litter pans, and most importantly, smells.
Smell is something many homeowners grow accustomed to, whether it is from pets or cooking or a favorite perfume. But to potential buyers, any smell at all can be enough to turn them off from a potential sale. Robertson said the best fragrances are natural ones like vanilla, cinnamon, or baking scents like cookies or apple pie.
When it comes to preparing a home for sale, sometimes even a few repairs or updates pay substantial dividends in the time and price range a house sells in. “A lot of people are in a position where they can’t afford to do much with their home, but sometimes they can’t afford not to,” Robertson said. And when it comes to staging, the rule of thumb is always less is more. “Everyone has to remember that tastes differ. The more natural and calm you can keep it the wider its appeal will be,” Robertson emphasized, but homeowners shouldn’t stop at the right color palette. “I’m convinced if you want to compete you have to stage your home and don’t put it on the market until you do.”