by Michelle Warren, Bankrate.com
Homeowners have two primary goals when selling a house: Do it quickly and for the highest amount possible. They are obvious objectives, but not always easy to achieve.
House hunters are increasingly savvy and, with the huge popularity of home makeover shows and decorating magazines, expectations are getting higher and higher when it comes to the design and maintenance of a prospective house. Does yours have what it takes to pique interest and spark a bidding war?
Not everyone is born with great taste or the vision to create a model home, but everyone wants to make top dollar when it’s time to sell. That’s where professional house dressing or staging comes in.
The practice — which involves everything from tweaking decor to completely reinventing a house with new furniture, paint and accessories — wasn’t prevalent a decade ago, but today stagers, primpers or fluffers, as they’re also known, are the demigods of real estate, as homeowners seek higher returns on their biggest investment.
Kathy Wardle, a realtor with Bosley Real Estate in Toronto, swears by house dressing. “Sometimes it’s added up to $100,000 (to the closing price). For others, it just makes it sellable.”
When clients haven’t the time or inclination to ready their own houses for the market, she directs them to Jeffrey Trafford, owner of Toronto-based Dressed To Sell.
“People are putting more and more into selling their homes,” says Trafford, who has charged anywhere from $1,000 to $18,000 for his services.
Not only does he advise on what needs to be done, but he also does the work, whether it’s purging a cluttered interior or renovating a tired kitchen. “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I didn’t get a return on my money.'”
Set the stage
“That first 15 seconds upon entering a home, people will form an impression,” explains Brenda Paul, an agent with Irena Bell Real Estate in St. Catharines, Ont. “In a slower market, staging will help sell a home more quickly. In a busy market, it’ll help sell for more money.”
Paul knows of what she speaks. She also owns House Primping, a Niagara-area realtor-to-realtor staging company, and is writing a book, House Primping: The Art of the Real Estate Deal.
“You’re selling more than a house and four walls,” she says. “You’re selling a dream and a perception of a lifestyle.” Using decorating techniques and a variety of tools, from stock furniture to experienced handy people, primpers bring the dream to life and set the stage for potential buyers to envision themselves and their belongings in a house.
However, ambitious sellers can adopt a variety of trade secrets to make their house more marketable on their own.
Prepare to purge
The objective is to neutralize the space in order to widen its appeal. House hunters are not interested in sellers’ bowling trophies, family photos or antique teacup collections. Eliminating clutter is key to readying a house for the market.
“People can get distracted by who the owners are and not see the house,” says Wardle. “It’s not about dulling it down but giving it more of a universal appeal.”
Sometimes preparation is as easy as cleaning up the basement or purging items long destined for the garbage. But often, family heirlooms, over-the-top art and that comfy, but rather shabby, couch are banished to a storage locker.
“You want a house to feel open,” says Trafford, adding that storage is a primary concern for buyers and a cluttered house gives the impression that space is an issue.
10 easy and inexpensive projects
“There are certain things that potential buyers don’t want to see,” he stresses. When Trafford scrutinizes a house, he’s on the lookout for scuffed walls, stained ceilings, chipped sinks — the little things he insists make a big difference.
“It’s a lot of common sense stuff that people often don’t see for themselves.”
Trafford has 10 tips for do-it-yourself primpers:
1. Touch up scuffed or chipped walls and staircases.
2. Ensure windows are spotless.
3. Shampoo all carpets.
4. Make sure every light switch has a matching plate.
5. Cover outdated kitchen and bathroom floors with peel-and-stick tiles.
6. Update kitchen cabinets with new handles.
7. Re-caulk around tubs and sinks.
8. Give old tiles a facelift by scrubbing grout.
9. Invest in a new shower curtain.
10. Paint, paint and then paint some more.
“Paint is the No. 1 thing to improve the look of a property, inside and out,” seconds Paul. Warm, neutral walls have wide appeal, but why stop there? Give a concrete basement floor new life and update kitchen or bathroom cupboards without the expense of new cabinetry.
“Dated for a home buyer spells work and it spells money,” warns Paul.
Trafford also recommends replacing stained countertops and worn broadloom, while Wardle advises returning a converted room to its expected use. The third bedroom may function as an office, but buyers want to see a bedroom — oust the computer in favour of a bed and night table.
Finishing touches — such as new towels in the bathroom, a mirror strategically placed to open up a narrow hallway or fresh flowers in a drab room — all play a role in selling a house.
Consider the curb appeal
Pay equal attention to a home’s exterior. Keep it tidy (i.e., don’t clutter the front porch with garbage and recycling bins) and take on simple projects to set the house apart.
Red cedar chips transform a boring front garden, while flowerpots, a new mailbox and a freshly painted front door send house hunters the right message.
Spend money to make money
Whether following these tips yourself or hiring a stager for a thorough makeover, prepare to spend money to make money.
Investing 1 percent of the asking price into fixing up a house is a general guide, says Paul, who charges anywhere from $150 for a consultation and five-page report to $3,000 to dress a house fully with furniture and accessories. (Painting and repairs done by a third-party contractor cost extra.)
While no one can guarantee a house will fetch a specific price or sell within a certain time frame, experts insist primping has a positive influence. Paul cites a Victorian house in Toronto that sat on the market for six months at $569,000, but sold for $612,000 within a week ofa detailed overhaul that included staging the dining room for an elegant (but imaginary) dinner party.
It goes back to encouraging house hunters to buy into a dream, and in the process, buy the house.
Michelle Warren is a writer in Toronto
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