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SETTING THE STAGE FOR A SALE

Hoping to buy that new home, but can't sell your house? Some builders are offering to help dress up your home.

Here's the latest come-on builders are offering to (a) persuade you to buy their home and (b) sell your current home so you can buy their home: staging.

Pulte Homes and Toll Brothers both make this offer: Sign a sales contract with us, and we'll pay for the services of a stager to make your current home look great so it will sell faster.

Staging is the art of using your furnishings and accessories in a different way to make a home look more attractive. It involves purging clutter, re-arranging furniture and highlighting a home's best features without spending a lot of money on new things.

"There's a difference between living in a house and setting it up for sale," said Deborah Ehrlich of Staging Plus in Hillsborough, which is providing the staging services for Pulte.

Ehrlich has conducted group information sessions for buyers as well as one-on-one sessions at buyers' homes. When she does an in-home consultation she asks the sellers to talk about the home's pluses and minuses and takes digital images. Then she prepares a report of every room, a to-do list of what the sellers need to do to prepare the house for sale. "They're usually not too surprised at what's on the list," she said.

Pulte will contribute a maximum of $2,000 when the stager does an in-home consultation to compensate sellers for outlays required to comply with the stager's advice, depending on the community and the type of home buyers are purchasing.

David Leonard is convinced the advice he got from a stager helped him quickly sell his 2-year-old house in Valrico so he could move ahead with his purchase of a Pulte home at Villa Serena in Riverview. "They brought out things I never would have thought about," said Leonard, 43, general manager of Rinker Materials, maker of heavy construction materials in Tampa.

He and his wife, Julie, 28, a manager at GNC, attended one of the group presentations on staging. The ideas that stood out for him, he recalled, were depersonalizing the home by removing family photographs; opening blinds and draperies to make the house look airy and bright; removing small appliances from kitchen countertops; and using neutral paint.

He ignored that last piece of advice: "I told them, I just painted the house in a lot of different colors, dark colors, oranges and chocolates," and wasn't about to repaint.

He did take the stager's advice to give his house a tough critical look from the street to gauge its curb appeal. Then he spent about $1,000 on landscaping.

The Leonards had had their home on the market about six weeks with little action. Then they took the steps the stager advised and adjusted the price, "three people looked at it, and the first one who saw it bought it," Leonard said.

And the buyers "absolutely loved" his paint colors.

Toll Brothers offers a similar staging program for local sellers, said Tom Wingfield, sales manager at the Estates at Harbour Isles in Apollo Beach. "If they have to spend money to follow the stager's ideas, we would cover the cost to a certain extent," depending on the location and price of the Toll Brothers home sellers are buying, he said.

Judy Stark can be reached at (727) 893-8446 or stark@sptimes.com.

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Stagers' suggestions

Deborah Ehrlich of Staging Plus offers these tips to home sellers:

- Eliminate countertop clutter. "You're selling the counter, not the stuff on it." A countertop covered in small appliances and utensils looks crowded, not spacious.

- Replace the door mat that says "Wipe your paws," she suggests, with one that says "Welcome."

- Pack up the too-personal. If potential buyers walk into the bathroom and see your toiletries out on the counter, "it feels as if they're in somebody else's house rather than one they might live in." Ditto for all those family photos.

- Get rid of flamboyant colors and too-vivid wallpaper. "You want colors that everybody's everything goes with. And wallpaper will scare buyers like crazy."

- Make sure the front door is clean and the hardware polished "for the best presentation possible."

- Sell the room, not the stuff. Store some furniture that makes rooms feel crowded.

- Show every room for the kind of room it is. Maybe you've turned your formal dining room into a home office. Get rid of the desk and computer and bring back the dining table and chairs.

- Manage the expectations. A home that is in perfect condition, everything in good repair, neat and clean, sends a message to appraisers and buyers that it's worth more than one in need of repair and cleanup.

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