DIY: Home staging can mean a quicker sold sign

In real estate sales, maximizing profits often means maximizing the product.

Home buyers generally want to see fresh, clean, updated homes that are move-in ready with plenty of appeal -- from the curb to door and throughout the house.

But this doesn't happen without effort.  As homes age, they can appear drab and worn.  Sellers need to keep a watchful eye and take on projects that add to the value and attract buyers.

"You only have one chance to wow a buyer," said Nancy Jones, owner of Showhomes Triad NC, a franchise of Nashville Showhomes, a home-staging company,   "Even small things have a big impact on the buyer. They tell them that the home was cared for."

Three of the top projects that can make a significant difference are relatively simple, according to Jones.  She recommends painting the interior with neutral tones, renovating hardware to be consistent throughout the house and replacing aging light fixtures, exhaust fans, and smoke alarms.

Trim that has yellowed or hardware that has rusted will make your home appear dated and neglected. Something as simple as switching out old, almond-colored receptacle plates for new, white ones will brighten up the home.

It is estimated that only 10 percent of homebuyers can visualize what a house might look like with updates complete and with their own furnishings inside. The vast majority of buyers won't be able to see through the clutter, dirt, dated items or variety of colors found in many homes.

Decluttering is essential, even to the point of depersonalization.  Remove all unnecessary items and leave well-placed furniture and artwork to shine in a neutral setting.

"In most cases, it doesn't have to be remodeled," said Frances Giaimo, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway in Greensboro.  "Just organize it.  Clean it.  The presentation is what you're going for."

Giaimo finds this makes all the difference, reporting that a staged house may sell within a week of going on the market whereas as an unstaged house may sit for five to six months.  "You will get a higher price by staging your home," Giaimo said.  "Today, buyers want a turn-key situation.  They don't have time or resources for fixer-uppers."

This resonates with Jones who said that staged homes sell 60-percent faster.

Jones recommends that sellers keep their homes occupied if at all possible.  That way there is someone there to maintain the property and it doesn't take on a vacant-home smell.  Plus, there are other benefits. Homeowner's insurance rates are higher on a vacant home.

"Buyers are not wowed by a vacant home.  When we have an empty house, the house seems smaller," said Earla Clark, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Kernersville.  "If you have a homeowner who can't see how furniture will look and fit into a home, having that home staged makes all the difference in the buyer's mind." 

But staging isn't just for the interior of the home.

"Buyers have to be sold on the outside before you can sell them on the inside," said Clark, who advises pressure washing your house, deck, walkways and driveway.  "This makes a huge difference." 

De-cluttering the exterior is also important.  Make sure trashcans are not visible from the street.  Get rid of old patio furniture.  Paint or replace the mailbox.  Remove piles of leaves or wood, and make sure landscaping is trimmed back and neat.

Home staging companies are popping up more and more as the housing market has changed.

"I've been doing this for 28 years, but when the economy started to change I had to rethink my marketing strategy," Giaimo said.  "I employed a team of designers, organizers, painters, plumbers and stagers to market homes so they show their very best."

Showhomes Triad NC offers four home-staging services for both vacant and occupied properties.  Starting with updating, the company guides sellers and realtors through the painting and flooring options to neutralize the home.  Colors that have been enjoyed by one owner may be a turn-off to potential buyers and should be traded out for warm, neutral colors with wide appeal.  Replacement of countertops may also be considered as desirable during an update.

A makeover may be in order to utilize existing furniture and redesign the home using new trends, color choices, fabrics and furniture placement.

For vacant homes, staging means to furnish and strategically place furniture in a manner appropriate to the home, adding artwork and fresh accessories.

Finally, Showhomes is able to match high-end vacant homes with individuals or families who have beautiful furnishings and artwork who are in need of temporary housing.  These people become home-staging managers.  Individuals in ransition such as medical students, residents, fellows, or newcomers who haven't decided what area of town to live in provide win-win services by occupying and maintaining vacant homes for sale.  In some cases, if the home managers don't have their own furniture and artwork, the company will arrange for furniture rental and stage the house accordingly.

"We tailor the work needed to the needs of the home and the homeowner's budget," Jones said.  "Maybe it's as simple as a consultation and picking out colors.

"The company's biggest goal is to help homeowners sell their homes faster and for more money," Jones said.  "If you stage your home from the beginning, you sell it quicker and you don't go through price reductions.  Also, when buyers see a home on the market for more than 30 days, they question what is wrong with it."

Clark points out that in today's market and technology, realtors must first appeal to online viewers.  "The photos must be phenomenal. Staging helps with that."