Dressing Your Home for Success

Even in today’s red-hot market, where buyers are fighting tooth and nail for a limited supply of homes, how a property looks — in listing photos and in person — is important. This is where staging comes in. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a seller’s market or a buyer’s market,” says Monica P. Murphy, the owner of Preferred Staging, a home staging company in Potomac Falls, Va. “What staging does is it makes your home more presentable.”

Over 40 percent of buyers’ agents said staging had an effect on how most buyers perceived listings, according to the 2021 Profile of Home Staging from the National Association of Realtors. The survey — of 2,347 real estate agents — also found that 23 percent of sellers’ agents said staging increased a home’s value by 1 to 5 percent; an additional 18 percent of agents reported an increase of 6 to 10 percent.

“What we consistently see, year after year, is that if a home is staged and decorated well, it has a positive impact on buyers,” said Brandi Snowden, director of member and consumer survey research at N.A.R. “Staging can even make buyers overlook flaws in a home.” More than half of sellers’ agents said that staging a home greatly or slightly decreased the amount of time that the home was on the market, the trade association’s survey showed.

The bottom line: Staging can be a smart investment for home sellers. Preparing to put your house on the market? These tips can help your property sell quicker and for more money.

Whether it’s dog toys, exercise equipment, sports memorabilia or other tchotchkes, clutter can distract buyers and make it difficult for them to focus on your home’s best attributes. “I always tell people that the way you live in your home and the way you sell your home are two completely different things,” said Melinda Bartling, a real estate agent and stager in Overland Park, Kan. Personal items, like family photos, can make it challenging for buyers to visualize your property as their future home, she added.

Pay particular attention to closets. “Demonstrate you have more space than you need by removing items from closet floors, editing contents by half or less and leaving some shelves empty,” Jennifer Storo, the owner of Stage to Sell, a home staging company in Boston, recommended.

But don’t just throw all that clutter in a closet or garage. Your home’s storage areas should look spacious, Ms. Murphy said. Instead, stow items temporarily in storage units; they typically cost $90 to $290 a month, depending on the size.

Foliage can add aesthetically pleasing texture to the living space. “A few strategically placed plants make accessorizing easy, evoking nature and fresh air,” said Ms. Storo, who suggested choosing trending varieties such as succulents, philodendrons and ferns. One decorating approach: “Bring height and style to spaces with tall glass vases of three or four statement stems,” she said.

If you don’t have a green thumb, zero-maintenance artificial plants and flowers are the way to go, she added: “Live plants are wonderful, but only if you can take care of them. If not, high-quality faux greens are your friends.”

Take steps to maximize natural light. “Natural light opens up a room,” Ms. Storo said. Remove dark window shades, blinds or heavy drapery to let sunshine in. “Don’t block windows with furniture,” Ms. Bartling said.

Another way to brighten a room is to repaint dark colored walls with a cooler, more light-reflective palette. Strategically placed mirrors can also help. “Mirrors reflect light, so they’ll make a small space feel bigger,” Ms. Murphy said.

Staging extends to curb appeal — how your home looks from the outside. “Curb appeal is like the red carpet,” Ms Bartling said. “You only get one first impression.”

Ms. Murphy often advises sellers to accessorize their homes’ front entrances. “You usually don’t need anything huge,” she said. “A couple planters flanking your front door can make a big impact.”

“I always stage a home’s foyer, because it’s the first thing buyers see when they step inside your home,” she added. “A console, where you can drop off your keys and mail, is a nice touch.” Ms. Murphy also frequently places a mirror in the foyer. “There’s a human tendency to look at yourself in a mirror before you walk out your front door,” she explained. “Also, if someone sees their reflection in a mirror, they can literally envision themselves living in your home.”

Small touches in these rooms can go a long way, Ms. Storo said: “Like a hotel, white bed linens and towels are fresh and welcoming, making it easy to imagine staying for the night — or forever.”

Staging a vacant home can be expensive: Furnishing a 2,000-square-foot house costs, on average, about $2,000 a month, according to HomeAdvisor. If you’re selling a vacant home and are on a budget, focus your attention — and money for rental furniture — on staging the rooms that are most used by homeowners. “We always stage the main level of the house and the primary bedroom and bathroom,” Ms. Murphy said. “Everything else is secondary, unless a room is very small or has an unusual layout that’s not self-explanatory.”

N.A.R.’s home staging survey revealed a similar sentiment: Forty-six percent of buyers’ agents said the living room was a very important room to stage; forty-three percent said the same of the primary bedroom.

“Most sellers already have all the furniture they need to stage their home,” Ms. Bartling said, “meaning they don’t have to rent furniture.” That said, consolidating existing furniture can make a home feel more spacious. Statement pieces are often the first to go, Ms. Storo said: “Furnishings are meant to help people walk through your home smoothly, not stop and stare at your furniture.”

Her advice: “Take a photo of each room. What do you see? No one object should claim all the visual real estate, distracting from the room as a whole.”

“Every room has a focal point, and that’s often what you want to showcase,” Ms. Murphy said. “In the living room, the focal point could be the fireplace. In a home office, it may be a beautiful bay window.” The right accessories, such as hanging a painting above a fireplace mantel, can draw a buyer’s eye to certain features.

If you don’t have an eye for interior design — or have already moved all of your furniture to your new home — it may make sense to hire a professional stager.

Ask your real estate agent for a few referrals and then interview prospective hires. Check out their Instagram accounts and online reviews to get a feel for their workmanship. See if they have experience staging homes similar to your listing. If the stager will be moving furniture in and out of your home, ask for proof of insurance to cover any damages to your property.

You don’t need to break the bank. Some stagers charge by the hour — $75 per hour on average, HomeAdvisor reports — while others charge a fee for an initial consultation and then a monthly fee for the rental furniture they provide.

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