“You have one chance to make a good first impression.” It’s every real estate agent’s mantra and a familiar refrain that William Raveis Real Estate broker Lisa Koh knows all too well. When working with sellers to prepare their homes for listing, Koh teams with professional stager Marie Graham, founder of The Refreshed Home. Graham has organized her recommended steps of staging to help realtors more easily open the staging conversation with homeowners and help target their thinking. Here, Koh shares her advice to help homeowners avoid unnecessary angst and costly mistakes.
Step 1: Declutter and Depersonalize
Purge. If you open a closet and items fall out, the buyer will assume there’s not enough storage in the house. Now is the time to get a dumpster. You don’t want to pack and pay to move items that you aren’t using.
Remove collections. People will walk through and remember nothing but the collection. Store your collectibles except for a very few prized possessions.
Minimize personal items. Personal items distract buyers. Remember: it’s going to be someone else’s home. If there are too many photos, buyers won’t be able to see themselves in your house. Ultimately, you want your house to look like a hotel.
Step 2: Repair and Replace
You want your house to command the highest price. Go through and look at your house as a potential buyer would. Ask yourself, “If I were to walk into this house, would I buy it?” If the mailbox is showing signs of wear, replace it. If your home’s exterior needs painting, paint it. If a window or a light switch is broken, just take care of it. Your house will be more inviting.
Step 3: Get It to Code
If you have a finished basement that wasn’t completed with a permit, get it to code. If your house isn’t to code, it can distract buyers.
Step 4: Make It Clean and Pristine
If you can do only two things to the interior besides declutter, paint the walls and refresh the floors. Walls should be painted in the current neutral shades—which right now are grays and beiges. You want buyers to feel that your house can become their home. A fresh, clean look will be welcoming.
Step 5: Make Minor Updates
Replace old appliances and consider minor updates to your kitchen and bathrooms, which will make the house more marketable and desirable.
Step 6: Make Major Updates
Decide where to put your money and incorporate any major updates into the price of the house. The more money you spend, the more you’ll get back.
Step 7: Bring Things In
You can usually work with what you have to stage your home. Decluttering alone can make a big difference, but sometimes it’s necessary to bring in furniture during the process. That’s where a professional stager can advise.
Experienced stager Marie Graham of The Refreshed Home shares the most common mistakes she’s seen people selling their homes make.
Assume buyers can use their imaginations. They can’t.
Plan to offer an allowance instead of correcting problems yourself. Not addressing problems creates a scavenger hunt for buyers to find other problems.
Assume staging is for empty or trophy houses and is involved and costly. Basic staging can be completed at minimal cost. As a bonus, in many cases, the IRS considers these expenses as the cost of doing business and deductions against proceeds.
Do minimal preparation just to see how the market responds. For the first 30 days on the market, your house is new and fresh and buyers want to see it. But after 30 days, buyers may assume there are problems and move on to the next listing. Do the best job you can in preparing your house from day one.
Overestimate the value of repairs or renovations you did years ago. Sellers often want top dollar today for a house that’s no longer up-to-date.
Remain attached to stuff or décor. A personal photo or three won’t make or break a sale. But if you don’t pack up some of your collectibles and macaroni art on the fridge, it says you’re more committed to maintaining your personal taste than you are about selling.
Give up. Sellers sell for many reasons. Buyers buy to have happy futures. Karma counts. Unprepared properties invite lowball offers.