Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Boost Sales with Home Staging Strategies from the Pros

As the spring and summer selling season begins, careful attention to a property's appearance from the outside in will mean faster sales and higher asking prices, home-staging experts tell by-owner sellers.

Some 95 percent of homes staged by the group's members sell in an average of 11 days or less and for 17 percent more than homes whose owners didn't tailor their properties to appeal to buyers, according to Barb Schwarz of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

And a staged home sells 78 percent faster than a non-staged property, according to a Real Estate Staging Association survey cited by Patricia Marie Kelly, owner of Marie Kelly Unlimited, an Algonquin, Illinois-based company specializing in real estate services including home staging, decorating and photography.

This link between staging and selling isn't surprising considering how buyers find homes for sale, Kelly says. "In today's ever-increasing technology-based shopping, more than 90 percent of buyers look online for homes first," she says. "A properly staged home will always attract more shoppers, which equals more showings, which equals greater potential for offers and a sale."

The art of home staging is a new concept for many first-time sellers. Schwarz, who has performed professionally on stage, says it's no coincidence that tailoring a home for buyer browsing is called "staging." "This is not decorating," Schwarz says. "Decorating is personalized. Staging is depersonalized." The goal is to create a visual space that prospective buyers can envision making their own. Schwarz compares the seller and bank to the show's producers and the "audience" to potential home buyers.

Kelly says crafting a sell-out performance actually begins outdoors. "A home with great curb appeal can significantly raise the perceived value of a home," she says. "A properly staged home starts at the curb, not at the front door. From the moment a potential buyer drives up to your home, the decision process begins. Great curb appeal draws them to your front door in anticipation of what's inside."

The first rule of curb appeal is the same as with the interior of any home: declutter and clean. And spring is a great time to spruce up that exterior. Kelly suggests removing dead shrubbery, excessive amounts of potted plants and lawn ornaments. She also advises that sellers check gutters, roofs, garage doors and front doors for signs of wear. "Sometimes just simply repainting the front door and adding new hardware can add a wealth of value to a home needing that extra punch of curb appeal that draws in buyers," Kelly says.

Spring and summer also are great times to showcase blooming plants, but make sure the plantings complement your home's color and style, she says.

Once inside, sellers should apply the same approach to create a "look" that prospective buyers can envision themselves living in.

Whether sellers hire a professional stager or do it themselves, staging is money well spent. Schwarz points to a survey by HomeGain, a website that compiles information on home buying, selling and mortgage rates that found every staging task, even the minor ones, significantly increases a home's selling price. Spending $75 on inexpensive portable lighting fixtures to brighten dark areas, for example, allows sellers to ask $1,000 to $1,500 to the asking price, the survey reported. Investing $250 in springtime seasonal yard improvements yields an increase of from $1,000 to $1,500.

Both Schwarz and Kelly warn by-owner sellers staging their homes themselves to make sure the house and the marketing materials match.

"The analogy I like to use is online dating," Schwarz says. "People will set up a meeting, and then the person who walks in looks nothing like the one in the online picture. People really get burned that way."

Kelly agrees. "The worst thing you can do is stage a home for MLS photos, only to disappoint your potential buyer by removing the items during the selling process," she says. "Buyers might view this as bait and switch." Her advice: Give buyers what they want. Before a showing or open house, stage your home again so what buyers encounter when they visit your home matches what they've seen in your online listing.

Tell us in the comments: What are your best spring home staging tips? 

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