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Today's buyers are looking for turnkey homes. That is, they want to move right in without having to do a lot of work. Buyers with busy lifestyles pay a premium for listings that are in prime condition. Staging can make the difference between a listing selling or not, the time it takes to sell, and the ultimate sale price.
Sellers who are financially strapped often have a hard time accepting that they'll need to invest in preparing a house for sale even though they may sell for less than they paid. Fix-up costs can mount up; your agent can help you prioritize so that you don't waste money. It's important to keep your goal in mind, which is to sell your house in a difficult market.
Recently, a home in Piedmont, Calif., an affluent city neighboring Oakland, came on the market in "as is" condition. It had been lived in for decades without much upgrading. Although located in a desirable area, the listing was vacant, dark and showed poorly. The sellers refused to do any work to improve its appeal.
After months on the market with no significant interest, the sellers pulled the house off the market and made improvements. The wall-to-wall carpet was pulled up to reveal hardwood floors that were then refinished. Painters lightened the interior and a professional stager was hired to bring in furniture, artwork, house plants and accessories. The listing was put back on the market with a fresh look and sold right away. Â
House HUNTING TIP: Although listings staged by a good decorator show well and often sell quickly, you don't need to spend a lot to put your home into shape for marketing. Most homeowners have too many personal possessions in their home from a sale standpoint. Decluttering is something most sellers need to do.
This can generate uncomfortable emotional responses. One seller, who was cleaning out the family home of 50 years, found a packet of love letters his father sent to his mother. Of course, he had to read all of them, which delayed his fix-up schedule.
Consider hiring someone to help you sort, pack, donate and recycle items that you no longer want. You may be able to take a tax deduction for things you donate. Make sure to get a receipt. Your real estate agent should be able to recommend someone who can help you clear your house of clutter if you are overwhelmed by the project.
Your agent, or stager, may ask you to put away collections of art, personal photos, etc. This can be difficult for most sellers because, for them, it's part of the emotional appeal of their home. Your house won't look like your home after you've removed personal possessions and moved what's left around to display the house to its best advantage.
That's the point of the preparation process. You don't want prospective buyers focusing in on your personal property; you want them to focus on the house. Keep in mind that how you live in your home and how it should look when it goes on the market are not the same.
Some sellers complain that their house looks too stark without all their possessions. Even so, it helps you to detach yourself emotionally from the property. Also, less personal property usually gives homes a more spacious feel. When buyers are looking for the most for their money, bigger is usually better.
To close the deal, a listing should be spotless and inviting. Bring in new house plants to put in strategic locations, like orchids in the bathrooms. In dark spots that need a dash of warmth and color, use bromeliads.
THE CLOSING: If you can't pull this together yourself, or with the help or your agent, hire a good stager for a consultation or a proposal for full or partial staging.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years' experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide."
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