Picture Perfect

Take a hard look at home staging in today’s soft market

Kate Webb and Lisa Kadane, Canwest News Service: Calgary Herald
Saturday, November 08, 2008

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare once wisely mused, and that timeless maxim applies especially when it comes to homes for sale. It applies even more so today, as sellers grapple with the new reality of what has become a soft real estate market seemingly overnight. “Now, we’re moving into a time when no time is a good time to sell your house,” says Bev Clark of Re/Max First in Calgary.    Around the city, as of the end of October, average sale prices for condos and single-family homes had dropped since their respective peaks in May and July of 2007, from $332,237 to $289,148 for condos, and from $505,920 to $449,100 for single-family homes. At the same time, there were slightly more active listings in total in October compared to October 2007. It adds up to more home sellers competing for fewer real estate dollars. To still get top dollar, and avoid sitting for sale for months on end, you have to make your home stand out.”Do we need to stage a home? I would say that a goodly number of homes need to be staged,” says Clark.”I think you need to take advantage of everything you can. In this market it’s extremely important. It’s a buyers’ market now.”

According to the U.S. National Association of Realtors, homeowners who spend the extra time and money to stage their home — essentially, to make it look like something out of a magazine — typically sell their homes for seven to 11 per cent more than non-staged homes, and in half the time.

For the uninitiated, the prospect of undertaking such painstaking prep work can seem daunting and expensive. But the first thing anxious deed-holders should remember is that it’s worth it.

“Staging is always important, but especially when the market is tougher,” says Karyn Elliott, owner of Crazy House in Calgary. Yes, it takes work to stage a house properly, but some of the main tasks require nothing more than elbow grease. These include cleaning a house properly, de-cluttering it by removing the magazines and knick-knacks that accumulate over time, and getting rid of personal items such as family photographs — buyers are looking for a place they can personalize themselves.

“It has to look harmonious, organized, clean, so (it) doesn’t raise any red flags,” says Elliott.If potential buyers see some of your lights are burnt out, or one of your toilets seems to run all the time, or the bottoms of your messy pantry drawers are covered with a fine layer of flour, well, they’re going to start to wonder if maybe there’s a hole in the roof too, says Elliott.

Indeed, one of the basic mistakes motivated sellers make is not taking the time to do the little, irksome home repairs they’ve never bothered with — but which might really bother some prospective buyers.

Paint if it’s needed. Install new faucets that are stylish and don’t leak. Remove the kitchen’s sunshine ceiling and replace it with some modern pendant lights. Think about ditching the brass hardware in favour of knobs and pulls in brushed nickel. Rip out the bathroom’s worn linoleum and update it with tiles.

Many people are hesitant to take on these small reno projects when selling, arguing buyers would be better served doing it themselves, according to their own tastes. Hogwash, says Elliott. Buyers love it when you do things for them. Besides, “You’ve got to spend some money to make money.” Perhaps most important, says Elliott, is making sure your property stands out on the website, since most properties are sold off the Net. If buyers don’t like how it looks in the listing, they won’t come see it in person.”It’s got to look good in the pictures. That’s why staging is so important — visually, it has to look good on the Internet. “You’ve got to get the first three buyers to say, ‘I do.’ ”

Six tricks for staging success

1. Remove anything personal: Just as you wouldn’t show pictures of your ex on a first date, put personal mementos away. This will help engage the buyer emotionally.

2. Set the mood: If you want a buyer to fall in love with your home set the scene with soft lighting, fresh flowers on the table and turn your gas fireplace on.

3. Clear the clutter: There’s nothing worse than walking into a home for sale and seeing stacks of magazines piled on the coffee table, or toys and clothes strewn on the floor.

4. Clean like you mean it: Go to town on items that might have been overlooked, such as windows, light fixtures, cabinets and closets. Consider hiring a professional to steam clean carpets and upholstery.

5. Go back to basics and neutralize: Say goodbye to the hunter green or peach carpet that was the rage when you bought in the 1980s. Same goes for the aqua feature wall.

6. Repair anything that is torn, worn or broken: If buyers see torn screens, stained sinks, tarnished taps or broken light fixtures, they will look elsewhere for a similar house without those problems.

Tips courtesy, Karyn Elliott, Crazy House Home Staging

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