Setting the stage for a perfect – and quick – home sale

Selling your house is like a performance, so the background scenery is important

  • Vickie Williams, a home staging professional, staged Mary Anne DuPon's home to increase its appeal on the market.
Vickie Williams, a home staging professional, staged Mary… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
September 13, 2012|By Liz Atwood, For The Baltimore Sun

Is your home ready for its close-up?

You've cleared away the clutter, shampooed the carpets and repainted the walls. But selling a home in today's market may require a bit more imagination.

Home stagers, who specialize in readying a home for the market, say it's important to set a scene that invites a prospective buyer to linger. Put out a board game in the family room, set the dining room table for a romantic dinner or place a bowl of apples on the kitchen counter.

"Staging allows buyers to mentally envision living there," says Barb Schwarz, a Seattle real estate agent who coined the term "home staging" in 1972 and for many years has offered courses in it.

Schwarz says she hit upon the notion of home staging one day when she was looking at a property in Bellevue, Wash. Having done some work in theater, she said it occurred to her that the home was the stage, the seller was the actor and the prospective buyers the audience. What the production needed was someone to set the scene.

Usually, home stagers will use items they find in the home to add interest to a room or accentuate its features. Even rooms that would seem beyond hope have possibilities, Schwarz says.

She gave an example of a boy's room she staged. The draperies were torn, posters were plastered on the walls, the bedspread was dingy and an old lamp stood on a table.

She found some fishing gear in the basement of the home and transformed the room. She fashioned a curtain rod out of a fishing rod, made a headboard with a fishing net, put some fishing books in a tackle box and tucked the lamp into a fishing boot.

"People say they didn't believe what we could do with their things," Schwarz says.

The point of staging a room or an entire home is to create a memorable impression and get the buyers to linger, Schwarz says. She cites statistics that show 90 percent of customers shopping for homes on the Internet look at a listing for three seconds. Buyers who go to a home make up their minds within six seconds of walking in the door.

Jessica Garrison, who followed the advice of a home stager, sold her Medfield rowhouse for the asking price within days after listing it. After cleaning, painting and decluttering, she added little touches to make the house homier, she said.

To draw attention to an instant hot-water tap, she positioned a tea kettle in the sink, complete with tea bags. She covered small scratches on the kitchen counter with a tea towel and mugs. She set the dining room table for a romantic Chinese dinner for two, complete with chopsticks. She made a fake bed out of an air mattress.

"It very much looked like it was nice hotel," Garrison says.

Which points out another trick to home staging: depersonalizing the home.

"Staging is not decorating," Schwarz says. "Decorating is personalizing. Staging is depersonalizing."

Family photos, diplomas and collectibles are packed away. Furniture and artwork that seem too idiosyncratic are moved to less conspicuous places.

Although many stagers are accredited through Schwarz's organization, the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, they take different approaches. Some believe less is more. Once the clutter is removed, they might reposition art work or furniture, but not necessarily set theatrical scenes.

Julie Sweeney, an Easton home stager, says it's important to start with the view from the street. She advises clients to paint the front door, put down a new welcome mat and add a pot of flowers.

"This market being what it is, you have one opportunity to make a good impression," she says.

Vickie Williams, an Ellicott City home stager, offers a "One Day Miracle" service in which she and her team send the owners out and get to work. They rearrange photos, move furniture, bring in soft lighting and add high-quality artificial plants.

"When you walk in a room, you'd like to linger and notice the architectural features. From room to room, you want to draw the person in," she says.

It's especially important for sellers who are trying to attract buyers on the top end. Sandy Kennedy, a Howard County Long & Foster agent, frequently employs Williams to stage homes where the asking price is $375,000 or higher. She says a real estate agent can tell a client to reduce clutter, clean and paint, but a home stager offers the vision of how to make rooms look better by rearranging furnishings.

"The goal is from the time the buyer walks into the house, every room has that wow factor," she says.

The key to successfully staging a home is to create a scene almost any buyer will find attractive. "Go mass-market retail," advises home stager Joy Waida of Fallston. "Think Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel — pretty much what everyone can get on board with."

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