When it comes to selling a home, as in life, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s because home buyers aren’t just making rational investment decisions. They’re looking for the living room where their child will take their first steps, the dining room where they’ll host family dinners, the front porch where they’ll pose turned-out teens before they dash off to prom.
People don’t just buy a house. They fall in love with a home.
As a home seller, a little staging can go a long way toward creating that sought-after appeal. In fact, four in five buyers find it easier to visualize a staged property as a future home, according to the National Association of Realtors 2015 Profile of Home Staging. (This is the most recent year for which data are available.)
Unfortunately, hiring a professional stager can be costly. Fortunately, you can stage your home yourself, and the most effective staging techniques are also the least expensive. Before you sell your house, here are the steps you need to take.
Your beloved photos and displayed family heirlooms may remind you of cherished memories, but they most likely hinder a buyer’s ability to see your home’s true potential. Even the most organized clutter can leave a shopper with the impression that a house is overwhelming, even dirty. A sparsely decorated home, in contrast, allows house hunters to see how they and their family could build their own memories within the space.
“Everything that crowds each room makes it feel smaller,” says Kathryn Bishop, a Valley Village, California-based realtor with Keller Williams. “You want your rooms to feel big. Make certain that groups of people can walk easily from room to room.” To achieve that “big house” effect, even in a smaller space, Bishop suggests scaling down on furniture. Move small tables, unused lamps, ottomans, bookcases, and extra chairs into storage. Pack up your family photos and heirlooms, too. In their place, leave one small piece of décor within each room, for example a flower arrangement, a small piece of art, or a decorative bowl. That can leave rooms feeling spacious, yet decorated.
Within the kitchen, counters should be cleared. That means storing the toaster, blender, coffee maker, and even the dish drainer. The cabinets and pantry should be well-ordered, too. “Buyers will open doors and cabinets to peer inside. The sparser and tidier they are, the better,” says Bishop. That’s because shelves filled with big box groceries can leave a buyer with the impression that there won’t be enough space for their own favorite foods.
Even bedroom belongings should be pared down. Reduce closet clutter by removing any clothes you don’t plan to wear for the following few months. Remove any storage boxes, bins, or wicker baskets. Let potential buyers see how many shelves are available to store their own sweaters and how much hanging space is available for button downs. It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating: The more space you clear, the easier it is for potential homebuyers to envision themselves—and their things—inside the home.
Nothing can ruin that special falling-in-love moment like a little dirt, dust, or grime. Those first 10 seconds after a buyer enters a home are the make-or-break moment. It’s in those seconds that buyer either envision their future life in your home… or they don’t.
Forget spot cleaning. When you prep your home to sell, pull out all the stops. Scrub the baseboards, sweep and mop the floor under the refrigerator and dishwasher, dust the ceiling fans. If you’re unable—or unwilling—to get at those hard-to-reach spaces, hire a professional instead. The average cost for a deep clean ranges between $200 and $400, depending on the size of your home, according to home services website Angie’s List. Even if it’s not yours, a little elbow grease can have a big impact on the impression your home gives to buyers.
Consider how your home smells, too. You may be used to the odor of Fido’s fur or junior’s old soccer cleats, but those aromas can turn buyers away even before they’ve made their way through your front foyer. Hire a pro to clean your carpets and upholstery, particularly if you have pets. Expect to pay around $200 per 1,000 square feet. Stash smelly, old shoes and sports gear in your car during showings.
Make your outside space shine, too. A pro can power wash your walkway, deck, and exterior walls for a few hundred bucks. This change to your home’s appearance can be the factor that inspires a potential buyer to walk through the front door. It helps to also mow the lawn, prune your hedges, and spruce up any mulch beds on a regular basis. Well-groomed shrubs will boost curb appeal—and allow more natural light into your home.
When you’re finished cleaning, banish your cleaning supplies and tools to a well-hidden storage space. A well-cared for home looks easy to maintain, even if it takes you hours every week.
A faulty faucet can give the impression that your home isn’t well cared for, even if you’re meticulous about annual maintenance. Before potential buyers start to visit your home, inspect doors, windows, grout, tile, cabinet pipes, and even light fixtures, and then replace anything that’s damaged or decayed.
Although small repairs can make a large difference while showing a home, there’s little need to initiate a major renovation. “You want to increase the salability of your home, but sellers should also be prepared to pick projects with a dollar-for-dollar return,” says Mike Goldstein, realtor with the Mike McCann Team at Berkshire Hathaway in downtown Philadelphia. Although Goldstein admits its kitchen and bathrooms (and closets!) that sell homes, a minor kitchen remodel—which can include new counter tops, new cabinet fronts, and upgraded appliances—will only recoup about 80 cents on every dollar. Renovate the bathroom and you’re looking at less than 65 cents on the dollar.
In many instances, small upgrades and changes offer sellers the biggest bang for their buck. The front of the home is its focal point that gives buyers their first glimpse of what they’re likely to find inside. A new or freshly painted front door can dramatically change a home’s overall presentation. To create additional curb appeal, clean off your front porch, pot a few healthy plants, and replace an old door lock, mailbox, or house number placard. “The frame around the door almost always needs attention,” says Goldstein. Chipped paint can be removed with a five-dollar wire brush and small, handheld sander. Add a coat of paint and you can change the quality of your front door’s appearance for as little as $100.
Paint is an easy and inexpensive solution inside your home, as well. A fresh coat can freshen drab walls, ceilings, and baseboards. Select a neutral color so potential buyers can envision their own décor in the space. That fun fuchsia you fell head-over-heels for can come off as garish and overwhelming to a potential buyer. Instead, consider dove or light gray. According to a 2016 report by Zillow, homes with this color living room saw a $1,104 boost in sales price.
It’s not just paint that can transform a room. Anything that makes your space appear airy will create an energizing impression on a home buyer. Dust or clean all your windows and treatments—or even remove dark or heavy curtains—and you’ll increase your home’s light exposure. Let that sun shine in. Another trick is to remove low-watt bulbs from your lighting fixtures and replace them with higher wattage bulbs. (Pro tip: Switch to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and you can select a bulb that produces more light. That’s because CFL bulbs use less electricity than do their incandescent cousins, which makes them far less likely to overheat and start a fire.) The brighter your space, the more inviting it will appear.
Then there are those small yet annoying day-to-day chores. Stay on top of them and you can keep your home ready for any last-minute showing requests. “Make the bed every morning, put the laundry away, and keep your space neat,” says Goldstein. Stay vigilant. You never know which lookie-loo will be the one who ultimately falls in love with and buys your home.
How your rooms are arranged can improve your home’s overall appearance to potential buyers. Each room should be organized so it shows off its intended function. A dining room should house a table and chairs; a bedroom should have a bed and two bedside tables.
At the same time, each room should serve just one function. If your office doubles as a playroom for the grand kids, clear out the toys—or your computer desk—during staging. Shared rooms give the impression that a home isn’t large enough for everything a buyer needs.
Even if your furniture is worn, keeping critical pieces onsite can help a buyer envision how their own desks and chairs will look within the space. Still, sparse furnishing is fine, even preferred. The less you have in the room, the larger and more inviting the space will appear.
Sometimes it may be worth renting a few pieces, though, like if you have awkwardly shaped rooms to showcase or you’ve already packed up your house and shipped your stuff elsewhere.
Know When to Hire a Pro
You can rent pieces on your own through a furniture rental company, or you can hire a professional stager to help identify the areas of greatest need within your home—and to pick out which pieces would best suit each space.
Rooms that benefit the most from a professional stager include the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom. That’s because those are the rooms people often spend the most time in, so those are the spaces where buyers will want to envision their new lives.
If you do decide to hire a pro, ask your real estate agent for recommendations. If she’s worked with someone regularly, she’ll know the quality of her work. At the same time, it never hurts to interview a few prospects before bringing someone on board. Ask about formal training, on the job experience, and how often she’s worked within your specific market. Homebuyer desires can change dramatically from one area to the next. You’ll want to hire someone who has her finger on the pulse of what’s hot in your specific neighborhood.
Still, the pros don’t come cheap. The price “is situational,” says Goldstein, but in his area, the cost to rent living room and master bedroom furniture typically costs between $1,500 and $2,000 per month, he says. Most furniture rental companies require a three-month minimum, even if you sell your home within the first week. Then there’s the cost of the stager’s consultation, which can cost several hundred dollars. In all, professional staging services can cost a seller thousands of dollars. “I don’t really recommend it because it’s currently a seller’s market,” says Goldstein, “but, staging helps 1,000 percent in a buyer’s market.”