(Courtesy Amy Fontinelle) When real estate agents talk about staging your home, they're referring to a method of decorating your home that is designed to showcase its best assets, impress buyers, and sell it quickly for the highest possible price. Because not all sellers stage their homes–especially homes in lower price ranges–you'll be at an advantage if you elect to take the extra step of staging your property. Why Home Staging Is Important Although staging is optional, it shouldn't be. When you're dealing with such a significant financial transaction as selling as home, you don't want to settle for a lower selling price or a longer marketing period than you have to. Relative to the amount of time and money involved, staging may be one of the most lucrative projects you ever undertake. Potential buyers aren't just looking for a structure to inhabit– they're also looking for a way to fulfill their dreams and improve their lifestyles. Staging can create a more emotional purchase for the buyer, which ultimately can generate more money for the seller. KEY TAKEAWAYS Staging your home refers to a method of decorating your home that is designed to showcase its best assets, impress buyers, and sell it quickly for the highest possible price. Relative to the amount of time and money involved, staging may be one of the most lucrative projects you ever undertake. The living room, kitchen, bathrooms, the master bedroom, and outdoor living space, such as a back patio, are important when you are staging your home. Cleaning or replacing your appliances so they look new, decluttering, removing any personal items such as photos or monogrammed towels, and removing odors are some recommended steps when staging your home. Home staging is also beneficial because potential buyers don't want to see work that needs to be done upon moving into the home. For every problem they see, they'll deduct its cost from their offering price. If they see too many problems, they may pass on buying the home completely. How To Stage Your Home While there are plenty of room-specific staging tips, if you're on a limited budget, it's best to focus on big-picture improvements and on the areas that will make the biggest difference in your home's selling price. The exterior and the entryway are an important point of focus because they can heavily impact a buyer's first impression. The living room, kitchen, all bathrooms, the master bedroom, and outdoor living space, such as a back patio, are also important. The following techniques can and should be employed in as many rooms of the house as you can afford and have time for. Clean In the kitchen, many potential buyers are looking for new appliances that come with the home. If you can't purchase new appliances, make sure the ones you have are spotless. No one wants to see splattered spaghetti sauce, films of grease, or piles of crumbs in their potential new home. Likewise, make sure your bathroom sparkles, from the corners of the tub, to the sink drain, to that spot behind the toilet you don't think anyone can see. Your goal should be to make everything look new. Declutter There are two major problems with clutter. One is that it distracts buyers from your home's features. The other is that it makes it seem like the home doesn't have enough storage space. Put away all knickknacks. However, keep in mind that buyers will be interested in your closet space, so tossing everything into the closet to hide it away may not be the best strategy. Depersonalize Buyers need to be able to envision themselves in your home, so remove all the family photos, items with family members' names on them, and refrigerator art. In addition, put away all the toys and anything else that is highly personal or evocative of the home's current inhabitants. Remove Odors Pets, kids, what you ate for dinner last night, a moist bathroom, and many other conditions can make your home smell. You are probably immune to your home's aromas, so you'll need to ask a friend or neighbor to help you out with this one. Inexpensive tricks for ridding a home of odors and giving it an inviting aroma include baking cinnamon-coated apples or slice-and-bake cookies in the oven – or burning vanilla-scented candles. It's also a good idea to grind half a lemon in the garbage disposal to remove sink odors. While you could use a spray to deodorize your home, it might give it a cheap, institutional smell. If you're a smoker and you normally smoke indoors, start limiting your smoking to outside the home and take extra steps to deodorize indoors. Finally, don't forget to take out the trash. Define Rooms Make sure that each room has a single, defined purpose. And make sure that every space within each room has a purpose. This will help buyers see how to maximize the home's square footage. If you have a finished attic, make it into an office. A finished basement can become an entertainment room, and a junk room can be transformed into a guest bedroom. Even if the buyer doesn't want to use the room for the same purpose, the important thing is for them to see that every inch of the home is usable space. This includes alcoves, window seats, corners, breakfast nooks, etc.. Wallpaper and Paint It is unlikely that a potential buyer will like your wallpaper. Your best bet is to tear it down and paint the walls instead. It's best not to paint over the wallpaper because it may look shabby and send a signal to the buyer about potential work they may have to do later. Potential buyers will likely feel the same way about custom paint colors. You may love your orange bathroom, but people's tastes in colors are very specific and highly personal. While you might think that white walls would be ideal because they create a blank slate that allows buyers to envision their own décor and gives them an easy starting point, it's actually better to paint your home with warm, neutral colors. Flooring No one wants to live with dirty, stained carpet, especially when someone else was the one who dirtied it. Linoleum is passé and looks cheap. Although pricey, hardwood floors add value and elegance to a home. They are also low-maintenance, provide great long-term value and are perfect for buyers with allergies. In other words, they appeal to almost everyone, and if not, they're easily carpeted over by the buyer and preserved for the next owner. Common areas like the living room, dining room, and kitchen should be your main focus if you are going to add hardwood floors. Ideally, you should upgrade the bathrooms, too. They have relatively little floor area and therefore won't be too expensive. In kitchens and bathrooms, go with ceramic tile or stone if you can afford it. If not, use high-quality vinyl tiles that mimic these more expensive materials. Lighting Take advantage of your home's natural light. Open all curtains and blinds when showing your home. Add supplemental lighting where necessary. Outdated or broken light fixtures can be cheaply and easily replaced. If you think your existing fixtures are fine, make sure to dust them and clean off any grime. Furniture Make sure furniture is the right size for the room, and don't clutter a room with too much of it. Furniture that's too big will make a room look small, while too little or too small furniture can make a space feel cold. Don't use cheap furniture, either. You don't have to pay a lot of money to switch out your existing furniture. (You may even be able to rent the furniture you stage your home with). Either way, make sure the furniture looks nice, new, expensive and inviting. You'll also want to arrange the furniture in a way that makes each room feel spacious and homey. In the living room, for example, seating should be set up in a way that creates a gathering area around a fireplace. Walls and Ceilings Cracks in the walls or ceiling are red flags to buyers because they may indicate foundation problems. If your home does have foundation problems, you will need to either fix them or alert potential buyers to them; fixing any foundation problems would be better in terms of getting the home sold. If the foundation only looks bad but has been deemed sound by an inspector, repair the cracks so you don't scare off buyers for no good reason. Exterior Your home's exterior will be the potential buyer's first impression. It may even determine their interest in viewing the inside. Make sure your lawn, hedges, trees, and other plants are well-maintained, and neatly pruned and eliminate any weeds. To brighten windows, wash them well, and consider adding flower boxes to brighten them up further. If you can, power wash your home's exterior–it can make it look almost freshly painted but with less effort and expense. Make sure the sidewalk leading up to the house is clear and clean, and purchase new doormats for the front and back doors. If you have a pool, showcase it by making sure it's crystal clear. Creating some sort of outdoor living space in the backyard, such as a deck or patio with outdoor furniture, is another way to use the exterior of your home to its greatest advantage. Final Touches Just before any open house or showing, make sure that your staging efforts have the maximum impact with a few last-minute touches that will make the home seem warm and inviting. These include putting fresh flowers in vases, letting fresh air into the house for at least ten minutes beforehand so it isn't stuffy, and putting new, plush, nicely folded towels in the bathrooms. The Bottom Line Even if you have plenty of cash, don't put too much money into the staging process. You want to emphasize the home's best features, but keep in mind that what sells the home and what will make the home usable for the buyer are not necessarily the same thing. Overall, to get the most bang for your buck, your home staging efforts should be designed to appeal to the widest possible range of buyers. The more people willing to submit purchase offers for your home, the higher the selling price will be.
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