When a homeowner gets ready to sell, it is widely understood that the property should be displayed to prospective buyers in an attractive manner. Mow that front lawn. Put away the dishes in the kitchen. Have those bathrooms neat and clean. It’s simple common sense.
But increasingly, home sellers are seeking professional help as they get their house ready for the market. More and more, they bring in a “stager” for some savvy advice — and in some cases hire the stager to redecorate things — in hopes of drawing more prospective buyers.
Jamie Madison has been selling homes in Davis for about eight years. “My advice, the moment people think they might be selling — even if it would be a year from now — is to call up a real estate agent and do a walk-through with a stager. Then talk about the things that could be done. This might include things in the garden, it might include fresh paint inside and out. It might include repairs to the home. Or beginning the process of de-cluttering.”
Diana Mahoney runs a business called The Design Partner, and she works as a home stager. “I’m typically hired by the realtor … they offer me as a selling tool. I come in and do a walk through with the homeowner and the realtor. And I talk with the homeowner about what the perspective is from the prospective buyer’s point of view. I emphasize cleanliness and a well-maintained house. I stress that potential buyers notice how the home is cared for.
“The idea is to create a very crisp, tidy presentation as the first impression (of the home),” Mahoney said. “The idea is to come in and really help the homeowner navigate that.” Mahoney typically provides the seller with an itemized checklist of things to do to prepare the home for a photographer (pictures of a home for sale are typically posted on the Internet), followed by a walk through by local realtors, and open houses.
Shana Campbell is another local stager. “How you decorate your home to live, and how you decorate your home to market it, are completely different things. I always tell my clients ‘Remember, you’re selling your house, not your stuff!’ You want to reach out to as many (prospective buyers) as you can.”
Creating that critical first impression can involve taking down some of the family photographs, temporarily storing religious symbols. or removing evidence of a family pet. “I’ve heard that half the people in the world are not ‘animal people,’ ” Campbell pointed out. You want the prospective buyer to imagine their own life in the home that is for sale, rather than thinking about someone else’s dog or cat.
Mahoney and Campbell both stressed one point more than any other — get rid of the clutter. “Clear those horizontal surfaces,” Campbell said. “Clutter can be very distracting” and prevent a prospective buyer from envisioning their life in the home you are trying to sell.
“In the bathrooms, nobody wants to know what kind of toothpaste or hairspray you use, or see your toothbrush,” Campbell said. “But you don’t want everything gone. You want a nice glass jar holding Q-tips, something decorative. And a glass jar with soap. A tray with perfume. And fresh flowers.” And in the kitchen, maybe arrange some lighted candles during the open house — but be sure the candles are non-scented, since some people have allergies.
Mahoney mentioned “fresh towels in the bathrooms, and nice pillows in the bedrooms. Nice house plants.” Mahoney also stressed the importance of “the front door, the entry area. Is there dust on the porch? If they look at the ceiling, will they see cobwebs and things in the corners that didn’t get cleaned? And the landscaping needs to be considered, especially in the front of the house.”
Campbell agreed that it is important to consider what the prospective buyer will think as they pull up for the first time. “You only have one time to make that first impression. People tend to forget about curb appeal. People tend to think it’s all about the furniture inside the house. But you need the hedge trimmed, the lawn mowed.”
Another common recommendation from a stager: Take some of your stuff out of the house, and put it in a storage unit, to make the house feel more spacious. “Think of it as pre-packing,” Mahoney recommended. “If it is summertime, then put away the winter things.” Having less stuff in the closets and cabinets will make those storage areas look better, too.
Cary Arnold, sales manager at Coldwell Banker Doug Arnold Real Estate, said “You might want to do a ‘pre-move,’ boxing up what you don’t use, putting some of your furniture in storage.”
Campbell advises area rugs that cover about two-third of a room’s floor. “They effectively shrink the room to the size of that rug,” she said. “I advise people to take them out.”
Sometimes, a stager is hired to show off a house that is vacant, rather than a home that’s being lived in. Mahoney said this involves bringing enough furniture and decorations “to create a personality in the kitchen, or the family room, or maybe an office. But maybe we won’t do the bedrooms.
Cary Arnold said “If the home is vacant, some kind of staging is recommended. It may only be a focal point in each room, or full staging for executive homes.”
Campbell said she’s decorated some model homes in new home developments. “And when you’re doing a model home, you try to make a family ‘appear’ in that home,” she said. “You’ll create a boy’s bedroom, or a girl’s bedroom.” But everybody knows that a model home’s never been lived in — you’re working on the prospective buyer’s imagination.
“When you’re staging a home that is being lived in, and you see the walls plastered with photos of kids and grandparents, it sort of feels occupied,” Campbell said. You want to depersonalize it a little bit. You want to make the buyer feel like this is a welcoming house where you could move right in.”
Stagers in Davis don’t work exclusively with high-end homes. “The homes I’m working on are usually in the $300,000 to $800,000 range — a lot of them are mid-range homes where people have raised their kids.”
Jamie Madison is a graduate of Davis High and UC Davis; and she lived and worked for a time in the Bay Area, where fully staging a home is pretty common in some communities — especially in Silicon Valley communities like Palo Alto and Los Altos, where ordinary-sized three- and four-bedroom homes typically sell in a week or two, and command prices between $1 million and $2 million. “Staging in that area is very short-term, because houses there sell so quickly,” Madison observed. “The seller moves out for a week, their furniture moves out with them, and the staging furniture moves in.” Many sellers will also make upgrades to the kitchen or the bathrooms just before the house is staged, in hopes of attracting the highest possible offer.
That kind of full home staging is less common in Davis, where homes tend to stay on the market for a month or two, which would increase the cost of renting the staging furniture.
But there remains the question of making more substantial upgrades and improvements in order to make the home more attractive to prospective buyers. Nancy Morrow owns Casa Verde Designs, a local business that carries home improvement products (with a green emphasis) and offers design advice. “If you are within five years of selling, I recommend you go ahead and make the updates now,” Morrow said. “Then you will get to enjoy them — but they will still look nice when you sell the house. There are two reasons you improve a house. You want to do it for yourself, and you want to do it as an investment.”
Jamie Madison noted that “there are a lot of people in Davis whose children have grown up, they are still living in big houses, and they would love to downsize.” And that kind of household is often where home upgrades and staging are considered as the home goes up for sale.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8055.