In a saturated real estate market, sellers may be tempted to spend vast amounts of time and money upgrading, decorating and staging a house to attract attention and encourage a fast, top-dollar sale. However, experts warn that excessive staging can look fake, waste money and even turn away potential buyers. When staging to sell, think like a buyer, focus on the right rooms and avoid overdoing it.
Think like a buyer
Appropriate staging is worth the cost and effort. A Coldwell Banker study in 2004 found professionally staged homes sell in about half the time and at a 6 percent premium over non-staged homes.
"Sellers have to get their home in marketable condition to sell so that it shows like a model home, period," said frequent Hometalk.com contributor Krisztina Bell, president of Virtually Staging Properties, a Georgia-based staging company that digitally adds images of furniture and decor to vacant property photos for online listings.
She said the most common mistake is leaving too much furniture and other belongings out in the home.
"Most of the time, (sellers) have not decluttered the home enough, and it just does not have that 'wow' factor buyers are looking for when viewing numerous homes," Bell said. "The home has to be pristine and literally move-in ready as the buyers are being very picky and looking for the most bang for the buck these days."
Stacey Sherman said a home for sale "should reflect a clean style and be depersonalized." Sherman runs Spiffed Up Spaces, a North Carolina company.
"With staging, the ultimate goal is to make the potential buyer feel that the house they're seeing fits their wish list and lifestyle, or a lifestyle they desire," Sherman said.
Focus on the right roomsExperts agree that buyers typically focus on the entryway, kitchen, bathrooms, main living room and master bedroom, the "zones of influence." Focus staging efforts on these areas to make sure they look updated, clean and inviting.
Don't assume you need to replace all the major appliances. Talk to your real estate agent and compare the home with other homes in the area to make sure you are not pricing the home out of the market.
"Updating kitchen countertops, replacing carpet in bedrooms and refinishing hardwood floors seem to be at the top of the list of updates and repairs these days," Bell said.
Sherman said bathrooms must, above all, "be impeccably clean." Also, bathroom fixtures are relatively inexpensive and often worth replacing. "Old, dated and leaky faucets and toilets are a definite turn-off for buyers and are definitely worth cost of repair," she said.
Sherman said the staging should be simple but attractive. She suggests completing bathrooms with "a nice throw rug, lush towels, a few decorative items and maybe a green plant."
Bell also suggests adding fresh, neutral paint, getting a professional cleaning and cleaning up the front landscaping to improve curb appeal.
Avoid too much staging
Bell said going beyond basics can be too much, and homeowners should avoid "getting into decorating the home rather than staging." So how much is too much?
"Putting champagne glasses and wine out with fake fruit in the bar area or lit candles by the bathtub is really going overboard," Bell said. "It just screams 'fake' and you want buyers to focus on the features of the home."
She adds that sellers don't need to put out their best china or buy candleholders for the dining room table. Rather, "less is best, and a beautiful flower arrangement or a bowl with fresh fruit or decorative balls centered on the table is just enough."
Staging experts also warn sellers to limit seasonal decorations.
"You don't want buyers to be overwhelmed by holiday decor or leave it in the house too long, which may indicate the home has been on the market for a long time," she said. "A colorful wreath on the front door or a grouping of pumpkins on your front steps is just enough to give buyers a warm and inviting welcome into your home, and don't forget to remove them when the holidays are over."
The key to appropriate staging is allowing buyers to picture themselves in a home rather than impressing them with your style and taste. Keep staging simple for maximum effect.