10 D's: Tips for staging a house; how decor and diligence can deliver

So you have to put your house on the market. The good news is that interest rates have plummeted, which makes it attractive for those shopping for mortgages. The bad news is buyers aren't breaking down your door. And you've got to compete. We asked the experts how to be a winner in the house-staging department -- and added a few suggestions of our own. Let's call them the 10 D's -- the daily to-do list when you're showing your house.

The overall key, according to Designed to Sell designer Lisa LaPorta, is making buyers feel at home. "When buyers come through and imagine themselves there," LaPorta says, "you can bet an offer isn't far behind." Elizabeth Weintraub, a broker with Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, Calif., says home staging for sale is "about illusions," comparing it to a magician's handiwork.10: Destroy. Rage through your house like a one-woman/one-man clutter exterminator. "Clear out clutter or other personal items that will distract buyers," LaPorta advises. "Paint the walls a neutral tone, and furnish the space to show off how functional it is."

9: Detonate. Got a super-messy teen or a handy hubby with messy hobbies? Time to set off the domestic version of a bomb in those zones to clear out their debris. Go deep and go often. Buyers, Weintraub and LaPorta agree, are particularly put off by a room so messy they cannot tell what it's intended use might be.

8: Deliver. If your listing says the pool is pristine or the landscaping immaculate, live up to your own marketing. This, both stagers say, begins with curb appeal and ends with things as elusive as how your house smells. Everything should be pristine.

7: De-personalize. Those family photos just reinforce that this is your home, when you want them to be dreaming that it's theirs. "Buyers can't see past personal artifacts, and you don't want them to be distracted," Weintraub says. "You want buyers to imagine their own photos on the walls, and they can't do that if yours are there!"

6: De-fur. Nothing puts off a non-pet owner more than evidence of Fido on the sofa cushions or in the corners. LaPorta adds smells to that equation, too: "We all love our pets, but unpleasant pet odors can make a negative first impression," she says. "Be sure to get rid of old carpet that can trap offensive smells."

5: Develop.
That avant garde painting you love may not be to everyone's taste; develop an eye for simplicity. While you're at it, develop a thick skin. Weintraub suggests you pretend this is someone else's house and triage "designer" elements accordingly. Once again, neutral is king.

4: Denude. Anything that can be moved to storage, should be moved to storage. Especially items that don't fit #5. "An overpacked living room is a red flag to buyers that your home lacks storage space," according to LaPorta. "Pack up unnecessary items and furniture, and move items to your garage or a nearby storage facility. Clear the way for a sale by letting buyers see your square footage, not your personal belongings."

3: Drop in. Walk in the front door as if you are a prospective home buyer; make sure the first impression wows. Weintraub offers this checklist:
  • Go outside and open your front door. Stand there. Do you want to go inside? Does the house welcome you?
  • Linger in the doorway of every single room and imagine how your house will look to a buyer.
  • Examine carefully how furniture is arranged and move pieces around until it makes sense.
  • Make sure window coverings hang level.
  • Tune in to the room's statement and its emotional pull. Does it have impact and pizazz?
2: Dodge. You and yours should be long gone before the prospective home-buyer arrives. See item #7 above.

1: Drink. But not too heavily. After all, you have to start all over again tomorrow!
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