“All the world’s a stage,” William Shakespeare wrote in his comedy “As You Like It.” The Bard was onto something. Relocating his family from Stratford, England, in 1599 across the river to Southwark and again in 1604 to an area north of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, we can assume he understood how to present each residence in its best light for potential buyers, yes?
Fast forward about 415 years and the art of staging a property is now part and parcel in preparing for a sale. “First impressions are everything in selling your home,” Jane Blickenstaff, founder of Blickenstaff & Co. Realtors, tells Central Virginia Home. “Buyers often make quick decisions about a property, so put your best foot forward in the beginning, otherwise they will mark it off their list. Buyers rarely revisit homes that did not make a positive first impression.”
Most realtors now coach home sellers with tested tips and tools to attract the greatest number of potential buyers. In fact, home staging has become such an essential element in real estate marketing that entire firms are now dedicated to sweeping through both new and stale listings with a stable of updated furnishings and décor—such as Shows Great Photography and Staging, founded by Wanda Richards.
After working as a realtor for three decades, a friend asked if Richards would stage her vacant home. She added her own furniture and then—as a trained photographer—also provided images for the newly polished space. It had been on the market for months; following Richards’ “intervention,” a contract was written in less than 30 days. In 2018, her company also photographed 1,400 homes in Central and Southwest Virginia. She stresses that in addition to staging, “Studies have shown that professionally photographed homes sell faster and for more money.”
Central Virginia retailer and interior designer Moyanne Harding, developer of Estates on Commerce, has staging in mind as she readies 21 high-end luxury condos in a warehouse she is rehabbing downtown: “The most important thing in marketing a property is to stage it thoughtfully. That means intentional furniture with a unifying color scheme, in a space that is uncluttered, neat and clean.”
Local realtor Nadine Blakely of RE/MAX 1st Olympic adds, “Staging is not about decorating, but how to make your home appeal to the masses with a neutral, non-personal decor. The way we live in our home on a daily basis may require changes so buyers can imagine the ways they could live in the home.”
Whether hiring an outside firm or staging on your own, it all starts curbside. First impressions matter, Blickenstaff says. “Exterior curb appeal is very important and simple improvements can greatly help.” This includes cleaning windows, pressure washing sidewalks, tidying up landscaping and mulch beds, freshening paint on the front door and adding flower pots at the front entrance. “These are details that say you care about your home and make if feel welcoming.”
Once inside, it’s all about decluttering and cleaning, as in “hotel clean.” Let us count the ways:
1. Declutter everything. Less is more. If necessary, consider a storage locker (or dumpster) to empty rooms. Staging is also depersonalizing. It’s about broad appeal and something everyone will like. “You want buyers to feel like they want to live in your home,” Blickenstaff contends. “So also use selling your home as an opportunity to ditch things that are not useful or beautiful.”
Rearrange or eliminate furniture pieces to create more open space and allow free movement. This makes rooms appear larger; overly furnished areas make spaces seem small.
2. Speaking of moving, since relocating is a big undertaking, it helps to establish four different piles: charity, throw away, for sale and what you want to keep. Keep the expense and effort of moving at the forefront when deciding what is precious enough to hold onto.
3. Painting is one of the least expensive tools to refresh a home and it delivers maximum return. Light neutral colors make the home feel new and then bring in pops of color with pillows.
4. Hire a professional cleaning company to deep clean and steam clean carpets or replace if necessary. Be very (very!) mindful of pet odors.
5. Invite the light. Open blinds and window coverings, leave lamps on and change light bulbs to a brighter wattage. Use cooler daylight bulbs instead of the old-fashioned kind that cast a yellow glow.
6. The biggest bang for the buck in undertaking extensive updates is always the kitchen. Buyers love stainless steel appliances and stone countertops. Or it may be as easy as updating cabinet hardware.
“Once you have finished decluttering, deep cleaning and rearranging, you are ready for professional photos,” Blickenstaff says. “Realtors use these photos in all of their marketing.” She advises to take a few photos yourself and study them closely to determine if the home is ready. “If you’re happy with your pictures, then it’s time for the photographer to come in.”
And there’s more! Here are tips as valuable for listing photos as they are for the home staging:
- Clean out closets.
- Place new white towels in baths and replace shower curtains if they are old or faded.
- Scrub down kitchen appliances.
- Replace old window coverings.
- Organize bookcases. Take out half of what fits.
- Kitchen and bath counters should have minimal items displayed. The coffeemaker can stay, but remove that bulky toaster oven. In the bath, remove…pretty much, everything.
- Take a leaf out of the dining table.
- Make repairs that matter. Fix squeaky doors, paint old wood paneling, repair chipped paint, remove worn carpets. If hardwood floors are in disrepair, at the least place a new area rug over them. Replace shiny brass lights with modern fixtures, such as brushed nickel.
- It’s a big deal, but remove wallpaper. Here’s a factoid: The top two turnoffs for potential buyers are pet smells and wallpaper.
- Put away personal photos, religious items and personal awards. In other words, “Take yourself out of the picture.”
- Mop, dust, vacuum, wash windows and baseboards. A word to the wise: Blickenstaff notes, “Folks will look in your cupboards, under your sinks and in your closets.”
Alongside the staging “do’s,” there are plenty more “do nots” to heed. Foremost, don’t take it personally. You are not selling your home; you are selling a house. To get top dollar, emotionally detach from thinking about those attending an open house as your guests. Don’t be offended by potential buyer feedback and trust in your realtor’s experience to know what works when staging.
“As realtors, we have a fresh set of eyes and we can help guide you through the process before offering your home for sale,” Blickenstaff stresses. “It definitely pays, not only in increasing your sale price, but in days on the market. You can help yourself by helping those buyers that have trouble visualizing.” ✦