Staging your home to sell: Whatcom business aims for increased value, faster sale

FOR WHATCOM MAGAZINEFebruary 27, 2012 

Karri Street has been staging homes in Whatcom County for the past 14 years, but she's still surprised at how clueless some homeowners can be.

"Some people need to be told they should pick up the dog poop in their yard when they're selling their house," she says. "With all the makeover shows on HGTV, people are becoming more interested in the power of home staging, but it's still difficult for most sellers to see their house from the eyes of a prospective buyer."

Offering a new set of eyes on a house is precisely the service provided by home stagers, whose vision is pared down to how best to showcase a home to sell it quickly and at its maximum value.

"We provide two kinds of services," explains Street, the owner of Bellingham-based K Street Home Designs. "We can do a stage consultation that offers recommendations on what homeowners can do to stage the property themselves, or we can stage it for them."

Stagers do what homeowners themselves find virtually impossible, and what friends and family are too polite or nervous to do competently: they look at a space with fresh eyes, opening the door to each room for the first time and examining a home's smell, carpets, paint, lighting and color as if they themselves were looking to purchase the property.

"There are so many houses on the market that people are very picky," Street says. "Buyers tend to be very visual and can't see beyond the interiors they enter.

"A house that's staged to sell is easy on the eye, with no clutter, no toys all over the place, no dogs barking or cat litter boxes. Basically we remove the things no one wants to see when they go into a house. Stagers try to help sellers understand what buyers are most attracted to."

One of the biggest misconceptions among homeowners is that staging is a good idea, but only for a "certain segment" of the market, such as higher priced properties, rather than lower-end homes or condominiums.

"That's ideologically a huge mistake," insists Laurie Bunnell, the owner of Stage-It!, a Bellingham-based staging company.

"When someone's looking for a home, they're comparing properties in their price range or school district, whatever their particular parameters are," she says. "If you staged your home, your house will automatically stand out within those parameters. So staging really benefits every price point, because it gets down to how you present your property."

Another mistake is to stage the house after it has already been listed, as an attempt to refresh a stale listing.

"If you're going to do it, get a home stager before you take pictures and before the first person walks through an open house," Bunnell cautions. "If you do it later, you're looking down the barrel of a price reduction. And the investment you'll make in staging is always less than a price reduction."


TOP 5 TIPS ON STAGING YOUR HOME

Paint it pretty: "Fresh paint is huge," say Karri Street of K Street Home Designs. "If the house hasn't been painted in years and you've had kids and pets around, consider fresh paint. It can change a house, inside and out."

C is for clean: People have different standards of cleanliness, but when it comes time to sell your home, nothing short of spotless is good enough.

"Potential buyers look into all your cupboards, so make sure everything is neat and tidy, from your linen closet to your luggage," says Danne Neill, a real estate broker with the Muljat Group in Bellingham.

Ensure all horizontal surfaces are free of "stuff," and consider hiring a professional cleaner to make sure your home is really, truly clean.

Begone, clutter: Many people accumulate too much furniture over the years, Neill says.

"Too much furniture prevents a potential purchaser from looking at a space and feeling it might work for them," she says. "So pack away a good deal of your personal possessions and keep only the nicest pieces of furniture. Choose Pottery Barn colors, opting for nice, bright and simple."

Update the old: If your finishes are outdated and you can afford to update them, do it, Street says.

"Pulls or knobs in bathrooms and kitchens can help make cabinets look newer," she says. "Consider purchasing inexpensive new drapes and blinds from a department store, and if your cabinets are really old, either paint or reface them, if replacing them is not an option."

Mask those odors: A bad-smelling home is not a quick seller, so make an effort to give your house some nose-appeal.

Street suggests that sellers bake cookies or bread just prior to an open house, so their home smells homey and fresh.

"Plants are wonderful to help absorb bad smells," she says. "And if they look good, they add aesthetically, too."

Lauren Kramer is a Bellingham freelance writer.

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