You've seen HGTV. You know that staged homes sell faster and for more money, staging works, but it requires an outlay of money that you may not have. If you can't afford a stager, you can still apply some of the basic principles of staging to help your home sell faster. First thing you'll want to do is to walk through your house room by room with your listing agent. Your agent may not be able to give you the design advice of a stager, but he/she can give you advice about which room colors might cause a problem (e.g., a bright purple dining room) or furniture pieces that should be moved or rearranged. Don't make the mistake of painting the entire interior off-white on the premise that buyers can choose their own colors. Well-chosen wall and trim colors can make the difference in a buyer's decision.
Buyers have very little imagination, that's why staging is big business. Staging is all about creating an illusion of the perfect home for buyers to move into. Think Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, Ralph Lauren, or Martha Stewart Living - soft inviting colors, nothing bright or stark. If you have a friend whose tastes runs along these lines or a decorator friend, ask them for help in choosing colors, arranging your furniture, and picking out accessories (e.g. throw pillows, area rugs, vases or bowls). After you've depersonalized the home, it may look a little stark and the right accessories will add the glamour and sparkle your home needs to stand out.
In a cool market, you need a hot property! Some properties are "hot" by virtue of their location, views, or style. Your property needs to stand out from your competition in order to sell fast in a slow market. We are assuming that you've priced your home properly and the buyer has to decide between your home and a comparable one. Let's look at what makes a difference, so that the buyer puts an offer in on your home instead of the competition...
DO ALL REPAIRS AND MAINTENANCE
No one wants to take on anyone else's problems. Buyers will heavily discount a home that needs repairs or maintenance, if they make an offer at all. Most often, they will just take a pass. Whether the market is hot or cold, the home that is in mint condition will get the most showings and offers.
If you are not sure where to start, get an inspection. You don't have to share the inspection with the buyer, it just gives you the information you need to prioritize your repairs and maintenance. Is there an appliance that isn't working, call the repair man. Everything should be in working order. After you've attended to the repairs and maintenance, the next focus should be decluttering and packing.
DECLUTTER AND DEPERSONALIZE YOUR HOME
You are going to be moving anyways, so pack away the items you don't use on a regular basis as well as all personal items (photographs, diplomas, trophies - buyers want to envision themselves in the home) and any knickknacks or papers (aim for completely clean surfaces on counters, tables and desks). Buy a Brother labeling machine from Staples for $29 and large clear plastic bins from Target and start putting away off season clothing, photograph albums, glassware, and so on. Stack the bins up neatly in a corner of your basement or garage.
No room in your basement or garage? Then it's time to declutter. Start with your garage, basement, attic as you will need to make room for storing the items from the main rooms of your home. You'll need to make three piles in every area/room you clean - one for items to throw out, another for items to sell at a tag sale (or to give to friends/family), and another to be given to charity (leftover items from the tag sale can go to charity as well).
CLEANING FROM TOP TO BOTTOM
Once the home is decluttered and depersonalized you can focus on cleaning it until it sparkles. You may need to hire a service to shampoo the rugs and clean the windows, but make sure the entire house is clean including the garage, attic, and basement. This is a big job, so call on family to help or hire a cleaning service.
PAINTING YOUR ROOMS
Painting the interior is the least expensive home improvement you can make and gives the biggest return on your investment. Make sure it is a quality paint job. Don't paint over wallpaper. Remember to scrape and sand or prime where needed. Wallpaper makes most homes look dated and should be removed, whenever possible.
Lighting provides the next biggest return on your investment. Updated fixtures improve the look of a home, but don't have to cost a lot. Go to Lowes or Home Depot and replace the dated brass coach lights on either side of your front door with dark bronze lights that match the style of your home. Replace the ceiling and bathroom light fixtures, if need be. Replace your florescent light bulbs with incandescent bulbs (not green of me, I know, but you want the warmth and glow of incandescent lights for showings). Place small halogen floor lights in corners behind plants and furniture pointing up to create a sense of drama and adding accent light to the room. Make sure that there are enough lamps in every room so that there are no dark corners. Consider adding inexpensive halogen lights under your kitchen cabinets or even in your cabinets, if you have glass fronts.
Check the hardware on your kitchen cabinets and bathroom cabinets. If it is old and dated looking, consider replacing with brushed nickel or bronze. Target has some inexpensive hardware that looks great. If your kitchen cabinets are old and dark, you might consider painting them off white before you add the new hardware, but be careful about how the hinges will look. You don't want white cabinets, brushed nickel hardware, and dark hinges. You may need a handyman to help you with the replacement of the hinges, if you go this route.
If there is one thing I can't stress enough, it's that your home has got to impress the buyer BEFORE he/she steps out of the car. Your house can look fabulous inside, but if the agent can't get the buyer out of their car and into your home, then you've lost a potential sale. Even if the buyer does enter the home, the first impression of the exterior will linger. Also, don't forget the potential buyers who drive by your home and call from your lawn sign. Curb appeal is important for many reasons.
You can improve the curb appeal of your home with foundation plantings, a well manicured front lawn, painting and repairing fences, walkways, and steps. You can reseal your driveway, paint your trim, shutters, and front door, put flower boxes on windows (be sure to keep the flowers fresh and watered) or hanging flower pots from a front porch. Make sure the lock works easily on the front door and that buyers can enter through the front door. Replace old storm/screen doors with new high quality ones. If you have side lights or porch lights, replace them if they are out of date or rusty.
BEAT THE COMPETITON
If you've seen staged homes, you'll notice that it doesn't look like anyone lives there. The counters are clear of toaster ovens, blenders and dishes. There are no magnets or notes on the refrigerator. The coffee table has no magazines, books or newspapers lying on it, just a decorative bowl or candles. The dining room table does not have a table cloth, you can see the wood and a bowl of fruit and perhaps a table runner is resting on the well polished surface. Furniture is minimal, just enough to indicate the function of areas.
You won't fully achieve this look without a professional stager, but your goal isn't to have the most perfectly staged home, it's to have a home that looks better than your competitors. Attend the Open Houses of your competitors. It's the only way to know how your home compares. If your home isn't the best staged home in your price range, make the changes required. You only get one chance at a first impression with buyers, so make sure that you've done all you can before your home goes on the market. Your staged home will also look fabulous in the photos and photos bring buyers to your home.