Staging your home to sell to a first-time buyer

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Everyone knows the basics of home staging, thanks to an endless stream of HGTV shows, news articles, and websites: de-clutter, clean, take down photos of your children, neutralize wall colors, and eliminate pet odors.

But here's where it can get a little bit complicated: targeting the right market for your house.

Hanging a Norman Rockwell print over the fireplace might resonate well with an elderly couple -- but a Gen Y punk rocker is unlikely to be impressed. To a large extent, your target market depends on your location and the specifics of your property. But in today's market, you might do well to err on the side of courting younger buyers. Consider:
  • In 2009, according to the National Association of Realtors, almost half of all home sales in 2009 -- 47% -- were to first-time buyers. That was an all-time record, up from 41% in 2008.
  • The same survey also found that the median age of first-time buyers was 30.

Weakness in housing will likely continue to increase the percentage of sales taking place among first-time buyers: people who already own homes are having a hard time selling, reducing the number of trade-up buyers in the market.

So what can you do to make your property more attractive to young, first-time home buyers? WalletPOP sought the advice of a number of home staging professionals and real estate agents from all over the country. Here are their tips:
  • A number of stagers suggested looking to the catalogs for companies like Pottery Barn, West Elm, Ikea and even Target for inspiration. "They are not looking to see their nana's loveseat and wingback chair in the living room!", says Jessica Schenkel of Sagan Realtors in Swampscott, MA.
  • For art, consider large abstract pieces, multiple stagers said. Avoid groupings of smaller works: think big, colorful, and graphic. Avoid smalls.
  • Heather Higgins of the Manhattan-based design firm Higgins Design Studio suggests that young buyers are more receptive to "intense, high-energy colors" than older buyers.
  • Young buyers tend to be busy -- they still have student loans to repay! For that reason, you'll want to make sure house is move-in ready and more than just a neutral blank slate. For colors, Tasha Moody of Simply Staged suggets "warmer tans, sage greens, spa blues and buttery yellows rather than sticking with the safer light tan option".
  • Don't even think about country style decorating! Diane Keyes, author of This Sold House, says that you should remove any wallpaper: "Buyers don't want it, have difficulty seeing beyond it and don't have the time or inclination to remove it."
  • Trulia.com consumer ambassador Tara-Nicholle Nelson says that you should focus on outdoor living space too. First-time buyers "love to see staged outdoor areas, as they are often coming from living situations in which they had little to no private outdoor spaces," she says. "Even if your home is a condo with a balcony, stage it with a bistro set, if it makes sense, rather than just leaving it empty."

In her book Home Staging That Works, veteran stager Starr C. Osborne stresses the importance of targeting a specific market segment with your staging choices. According to Osborne, Gen Xers (those born between 1964 and 1981) want "no dining room, because all of their entertaining is casual and elegant." They crave "simple, sleek lines, because they disdain pomp", and modern styling -- think large, abstract paintings and modern furniture. Fine china, large wooden curios to display collectibles, and ornate anything are unlikely to be relatable for members of Gen X: Put your Hummel collection in the basement!
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