Re-Selling a Condo May Take a Dress Rehearsal

February 2006

– by Shelley Williamson

Condo owners looking to sell may have more to do in preparation than coming up with a price and posting a “for sale” sign in the window.

Like preparing for a job interview or studying for an important test, more and more realtors and private owners looking to market their condos are enlisting the expertise of the experts – home stagers – for tips on how to hit home with potential buyers.

“The first two things I work on with condos are space and storage, because condos are traditionally small,” says Karyn Elliott, owner of Crazy House Home Staging (

Elliott, who averages two to four hours in time spent to get her clients’ homes prepped for showcasing to prospective buyers, says the first impression is everything, and often people make the decision to buy or walk away from a property in a few minutes.

Clutter is one thing that can break a sale, so Elliott advises condo owners minimize especially what’s on the floor – whether it’s TV trays, a portable music player, unruly plants or any items impeding a room’s flow. And furniture that’s too big, such as a three-seat sofa where a loveseat would barely fit is a big no-no.

Bookshelves are one area Elliott commonly sees condo owners overdoing it with displays, while fireplace mantles practically heaving from too much on them are another spot that can burn potential buyers. “A fireplace is really a selling feature, so it’s important to put away knickknacks,” she says, adding keeping kitchen counters free is another must.

Also in the doghouse prior to a viewing should be any sign of Fluffy or Fido ever having lived there, such as pet food and toys. And pet owners should attempt to bite back at any present odours, which may indicate a litter box or not-so-housetrained pooch or feline. “It makes people wonder what’s under the carpet,” says Elliott.

On occasion, home stagers face a condo with such sparse décor, things actually need to be added, so relegating belongings from another room may be one way to eliminate the “sterile” air, and make the place seem more inviting to potential next residents.

Generally Elliott works with what a client has, perhaps filling a bowl or vase with colourful granny smith apples, pears, lemons or limes, or dusting off a funky set of martini glasses to convey a message this is place where fun lives.

“You try to employ all five senses and that can include the semblance, at least, of food. It ups the ante so people can feel it’s a lifestyle they could have.”

Also instrumental in setting a mood are scent and sight, so burning fragrant candles, dimming the lights to a pleasant level and cueing some soft jazz or Classical music in the background are quick fixes.

And Elliott’s efforts seem not to be in vain. The veteran home stager says she’s seen clients buy into a home’s ambience even if it was the land they’d been eyeing at first.

“Last week we sold a house in 45 minutes. The realtor ended up raising the price, and in the end the buyer is going to knock the house down. They just fell in love with the bones of the house.”

Another key method of staging, especially condos, which tend to be on the smaller scale, is shelving would-be residents’ storage concerns about closet space, says Elliott. “I always do closets because people need to put their stuff somewhere, and (prospective buyers) want to feel it’s organized and beautiful.”

She credits the surge in home-improvement and resale-related TV programs with a growing interest in her services. While she has aligned herself with realtors for some time, enlisting the help of a trained professional to increase the chances for a home or condo to sell is now even more popular.

“People used to say ‘home stager what’s that?’ but I haven’t heard that comment for two or three years. I think TV shows have taken it up a jump.”

For those looking to “stage” the sale of their own condo or home, Elliott breaks the process down into five main steps: Clean, repair, neutralize, de-clutter and dramatize.

While the first two are basics, the third – neutralizing – is just as paramount and generally entails getting rid of obvious signs to a potential buyer that the home is someone else’s, by keeping personal photos, religious symbols and any personal hygiene items tucked well out of sight.

Dramatizing boils down to showing off a space’s best side, allowing your digs to stand out against competitors and give people a chance to see themselves living there.

Area rugs are one easy way to pull a room together, while spaces lacking artwork or wall hangings can be quickly spruced up by splashing a coat of vibrant paint on walls or jazzing up the front door.

“That’s a trick that designers use – they make sure the colour is just fantastic,” she says, adding for main interior hues it’s still best to stick to neutrals. “We’re painting probably five clients’ homes this week. I really encourage people to do that – it shows they have really taken care of a place,” says Elliott.

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