- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nine months ago, home sellers in the Washington area were in control of the real estate market, able to field multiple offers from buyers without overly concerning themselves with the condition of their home or its appeal to buyers.

Times have changed. Now that the market has become more balanced between buyers and sellers, real estate agents are again pushing sellers to improve the appearance of their home to make it more attractive to a wider pool of potential buyers.

While television shows devoted to home makeovers and advice given to sellers often focuses on the basic tenet of decluttering the home to make it more appealing, professional home stagers take the process beyond putting away personal collections.

“Staging a home means physically editing the property, both the interior and the exterior, so it psychologically appeals to every buyer,” says Deb Gorham, an accredited staging professional in Northern Virginia and the District, and a Realtor with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. “Staging goes way beyond decluttering and way beyond cleaning.”

Mrs. Gorham says homeowners have biased eyes toward their own homes, so they need the assistance of a staging professional to view the home the way potential buyers will.

“Studies show that it takes 10 seconds to capture the emotion of a buyer,” Mrs. Gorham says. “A stager can look for every objection in the home that might have a negative emotional impact on the buyer.”

Nicci Parrish, a co-owner with Choni Wilcox of Impress Me Home Staging, which stages homes in Maryland and the District, says home sellers who want to sell their property more quickly and for more money should turn to a home stager.

“Home staging gives a property a competitive edge and helps it appeal to a broader audience,” says Ms. Parrish.

An internal study by StagedHomes. com in 2004-2005 shows that staged homes sold in an average of 6.8 days, compared with an average of 32 to 42 days on the market for comparable unstaged homes. The staged homes sold two to three times faster and also sold for an average of $26,000 more than a comparable home, the survey reports.

The study says that the staged homes sold for a minimum of 3 percent more than comparable unstaged homes.

Staging your home for sale requires an investment of time and money by the seller, although the amount of each varies widely according to the condition of the home.

Consumers can hire a home stager to work with them either by the project or by the hour. While fees vary considerably, local home stagers charge about $75 to $150 per hour. While some home staging projects can take just a few hours, others may take several days.

“There’s a huge difference in price between an occupied home that’s in great condition and just needs a little tweaking and a home which is completely cluttered, not very clean and needs a lot of work,” Mrs. Gorham says.

Consumers can also buy “Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money,” by Barb Schwarz, president and CEO of StagedHomes.com, and Mary Seehafer Sears.

Ms. Schwarz is recognized as the innovator of home staging in 1972, a concept she trademarked in 1989. Visit www.stagedhomes.com for more information or to order the book.

Accredited staging professionals can provide “staging for life” services, for homeowners who would like their homes to look more like a model home without the expense of hiring an interior decorator, as well as “staging for sale” services.

While most people assume home staging is primarily meant for homes that are occupied, many home stagers specialize in staging vacant homes on the market.

“To sell your home, a stager will declutter and reorganize everything, with no expectation that people can actually be comfortable living with such extreme neatness,” says Lyric Turner, owner of Red House Staging, a Realtor and an accredited staging professional. “For homes that are vacant, I bring in an inventory of accessories and have the owners rent furniture.”

Staging a vacant home helps differentiate it from other vacant homes and creates an inviting atmosphere that can trigger a positive emotional response from potential buyers, Mrs. Turner says.

“A lot of buyers find it difficult to envision their stuff in an empty home,” Mrs. Turner says. “Sometimes it can be hard to tell if something is an office or a bedroom, or which one is the master bedroom. Putting some furniture and accessories in the room can make it easier to see the potential for the space.”

Mrs. Gorham stages vacant homes to make them less cold and sterile.

“It’s important to show off the function of each room with furniture, and it helps buyers visualize whether their own furniture will fit in a space when they have something to compare it to,” Mrs. Gorham says.

While home staging professionals recommend that home sellers stage the entire home, if time or budget constraints are a problem, they will sometimes stage just one or two rooms. Home stagers recommend that sellers begin with the exterior of the home.

“Impressions are formed at the curb by home buyers, and no one will go inside if the house is unattractive outside,” Ms. Parrish says. “We suggest that people make sure they have a nice welcome mat, have the shrubs neatly manicured, paint the front door and have some flowers either in the yard or in planters near the door. It’s also important to make sure the driveway and the front walk are clean, without leaves on the ground.”

As soon as buyers get past the exterior, the next important place to stage is the entryway and any rooms that are visible from the entrance.

“We provide a detailed, written report when we come in for a home staging consultation, telling the sellers what to remove from the home and what to pack before we even start staging it,” Ms. Parrish says. “We tell the sellers what should be painted and repaired, such as a hole in the wall that needs patching or a leaky faucet that needs to be fixed.”

Home sellers need to do a lot of the work involved in staging a home, regardless of whether they hire a stager or do it themselves. The first and biggest job is going through every room in the house and all the closets to remove as much as possible from the home.

This may be easier for sellers who are downsizing, but for those who want to keep their furniture and their belongings, Ms. Schwarz recommends renting a storage space or finding space in the attic or a corner of the basement.

Home stagers can advise sellers on how to rearrange their furniture to maximize the space in the room and to draw attention to a focal point, such as a fireplace or a view through a picture window.

“Buyers don’t want to know that the house they are buying has been used; they want to see a model of a bathroom and a model of a kitchen,” Mrs. Gorham says. “So everything needs to be de-cluttered and toothbrush clean, even inside the refrigerator and inside the drawers.”

Mrs. Turner, quoting from Ms. Schwarz’s book, says, “You need to detail your house like you detail your car.”

“Sellers need to put the effort into making the home ‘Q-Tip clean,’ getting bugs out of the light fixtures, cleaning the shoe moldings and making small repairs before we even talk about decorations and accessories,” Mrs. Turner says. “Each house has its own merits, so the job of the stager is to highlight the best attributes and distract from the negatives.”

Ms. Schwarz’s book takes sellers room-by-room through the home, recommending such essential tasks as keeping the beds made, clearing everything possible from the kitchen counters and packing away anything nonessential in the bathrooms.

Sellers are advised to make their dining rooms look larger by removing some of the dining chairs and then adding to the appeal by setting the table.

In the bedrooms, she recommends packing away or giving away as many shoes and clothes as possible to make the closets look as big as they can. Other basic rules of home staging include opening all the blinds and curtains, turning on all the lights, keeping the lids down on the toilets and emptying the trash in each wastebasket.

Each step of home staging can make a difference in making the home more appealing to a wider variety of buyers who can visualize themselves and their belongings in the home.

“Staging isn’t magic, and we really are at the mercy of real estate agents and sellers who must price the home correctly,” Mrs. Turner says. “If a house isn’t priced appropriately, it won’t sell, but a staged home can help a seller compete in a competitive market.”

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