Before Staging a Home, Take These Prep Steps

home staging first stepsIn this buyer's market, it's crucial for sellers to do everything they can to improve their home's appearance. Staging a home is one way to attract buyers, says Caroline Farnsworth, a sales agent for Keller Williams Midtown Direct in Maplewood, New Jersey. But before you can even think about staging a home for sale, Farnsworth says, you have to take some important prep steps.

By way of example, she tells the story of a home in Maplewood that should have been an easy sell. The house was well-kept and located in a desirable New York City suburb. And the asking price of $250,000 was on the low end for the upscale neighborhood. When the owners asked about staging the home, Farnsworth had to deliver some bad news: The house wasn't ready for staging. For starters, the kitchen floor was worn and stained. "If people walk in and see something in disrepair, they immediately jump to the conclusion that the entire home is in disrepair," Farnsworth said. "It lowers the value of the home in their mind by $20,000 or $30,000."

Farnsworth recommended that the owners replace the floor before staging and showing the house. "It was a small investment for the owners," she said, but it had the potential to make a big difference in how quickly their house sold.

If you're thinking about staging a home for sale, consider Farnsworth's tips for the most important prep steps.

1. Depersonalize

Anyone staging a home knows the importance of getting rid of the clutter. But that's just the beginning. Along with decluttering, you have to depersonalize your home. Lose the 27 pictures of your baby and replace them with one or two nicely framed photos. Take the kids' artwork off the fridge, stash the shelf of athletic trophies in a box. "You need to make the home look generic," said Farnsworth. "The idea is to appeal to what 85 percent of the population will like." That means your collection of snow globes should go in the deep freeze, at least until you move into your new space.

2. Remove one piece of furniture from each room

When it comes to staging a home, less is more. "Almost across the board, people have too much furniture in their homes," Farnsworth said. It's important that the rooms feel as spacious as possible, because as buyers assess your home, they're trying to determine whether all their furnishings will fit into your space. "If it's crammed in any way, it will look like there isn't room for the buyer's stuff," she said. So go through the house and take a piece--or even two--out of each room. That will make any staging more effective.

3. Bring in a professional cleaning crew

No matter how thoroughly you clean your house, you're bound to overlook things. And those will be the things a potential buyer zeroes in on. Which is why Farnsworth recommends a professional cleaning before staging a home. "You want a home to look new and fresh," she said. "If something's not completely clean, buyers think, if this is dirty, what else isn't maintained?"

4. Invest In cosmetic upgrades

This is one of the most difficult things to determine: How much money do you put into a house that you are going to leave? "It's a fine balance," said Farnsworth, and every situation is different. What you need to figure out is whether skipping a repair or renovation will make buyers think your house is not worth the price. "Kitchens and baths are very important, and it's often worth it to make an investment if something is in poor condition," said Farnsworth.

Sometimes a small improvement can go a long way. Farnsworth had a client whose kitchen was in great shape, except for the countertops. While they were reluctant to put any money into the house, she convinced them that the investment would pay off. "If buyers saw the counters in bad shape, they would think, 'The kitchen is dated. We'll have to renovate, and that will cost $50,000.' If you have one detracting element, and you can give it a facelift, it's generally worth it."

5. Don't neglect the exterior

Sellers staging a home have a tendency to focus on the interior, and that's a mistake. The outside of your home is the first thing that a potential buyer sees, and it sets the tone for the whole house tour. "Curb appeal is so important," said Farnsworth. "If buyers don't get the impression of a well-maintained home outside, they will be less inclined to think it's well-maintained inside." Trim the shrubs, mulch, fix the walkway, make sure the front door looks good. Otherwise, Farnsworth said, "they will take $30,000 off the price of the home before they walk in the door." In fact, it helps to think seasonally about your outdoor area.

The key to staging a home effectively, says Farnsworth, is to concentrate on those aspects of the home that you can improve. "You can't make your backyard bigger, or change the location of your house. But everyone can clean, touch up, and do some landscaping. There is more inventory than buyers right now. You have to be the house that stands out."

Did home staging help you sell your house? Got tips and advice to share? We want to hear from you! Add your comments in the box below.

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