April 4, 2019 | Staging
Let’s start with what this blog is NOT about. It’s not about whether you should stage or not. I understand there are circumstances in real estate where staging may not be an option. You may, for example, be selling a tenanted property with tenants who do not want their unit or house staged. I also understand that there may be a limited budget involved.
With that said, staging is an investment in your property. A good staging investment will yield the best return, and the top dollar for you. And let me tell you, the difference between a staged and unstaged property can be a huge difference in price. Often, when done right, it’s well worth the cost. Even with a smaller budget that may make an extensive stage less feasible, some small things can make a difference. So, for the purpose of this blog, let’s assume that staging is a go.
Next order of business… Let’s next address how to do staging right. Because, let me tell you, I have seen staging go wrong. Not just by sellers or their agents but by “professional” stagers as well. It may come down to taste for some, but I have walked through enough properties with enough buyers to know what makes an impact and what causes an eye roll. So, let me break down staging in to the good staging ideas at the bad ones.
Let’s start with the bad staging ideas that make me say: No way!
- DO NOT STAGE YOUR DINING ROOM TABLE AS IF SOMEONE IS COMING TO DINNER. I find it mildly odd to see a fully set dining room table with napkins, properly placed cutlery and wine glasses with your, or someone’s, best china on the table. I imaging this is suppose to show us that you could have a fancy dinner party right here at this property. Maybe there is even a bowl of fake fruit or plastic poured wine. I think this comes off as odd and formal. It’s rarely a good idea to use fake fruit/food at any time, in my opinion. It’s shocking how many stagers still do this table set up thing. My suggestion: Don’t bother.
- DO NOT OVER-DEPERSONALIZE. Yes, I just made that word up. I think some depersonalizing should be done in your space. I do believe that you buyers need to be able to insert themselves into your home, but it does have to come off as warm too, as if real people live here and it’s not a showroom at Ikea. So, if you do live in the property, you don’t have to pretend that real people don’t live here. A few personal things are okay.
- DO NOT SPELL OUT WORDS OR INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES ON THE WALL. This is what I see from time to time: Stagers, owners, agents purchase a bunch of letters and put words on the walls usually in the bedroom or sometimes in the kitchen. Words like “Bon Appetite” in the kitchen or “Love Lives Here” in the bedroom or some other phrase that is simply trying too hard. Better to put your money on a better design choice instead of something that may inspire people’s cynicism more than the warm and fuzzy feelings. It’s marketing at its worst. It’s TELLING you that owning property will mean happiness or more love. I’m all for having a property suggesting something aspirational. Just don’t TELL me. SHOW me.
- DO NOT HAVE TOO MANY SHADES OF WOOD. General rule of thumb is to not have more than two shades of wood in a given area. So, if you have oak hardwood floors and a tawny teak dining table, you’re done. Don’t add a dark wood TV stand or stools with dark wood legs. Three or more shades of wood is too many.
- DO NOT BAKE COOKIES. This was an 80s tactic to make the house smell homey and welcoming. And though I do love the smell of baking cookies myself, cooking smells may indicate to a buyer that you have poor ventilation more than anything else. If you do focus on smells, don’t add them, remove them. I would say do your best to remove bad smells as best as you can – cigarettes, cats, dogs, and moldiness or other obvious turn-offs. Don’t cover them up with something strong and perfumed. Clean, clean, clean! And if you are concerned about smells, open the windows slightly if you are comfortable doing that. Fresh air goes a long way. And if it’s winter, then run an air purifier between showings. Even if you decide not to show any furniture at all in your property, make sure it is professionally cleaned.
And here’s some of the things I suggest to keep you on the right path.
- DO DECLUTTER. If you only do one thing, do this: Declutter. People need to be able to move around when they are considering buying your house. Almost everyone has too much stuff in their house. I’ve never sold a house that did not need to be de-cluttered unless it was empty. Houses jammed up with too much stuff photograph poorly. It makes the place feel cramped and tight. It’s like what anxiety would look like if it was a room full of furniture and stuff. Not a great feeling to convey…
- DO GET RID OF OR MINIMIZE ANY WEIRDNESS. Buyers spot weirdness right away, and it sours them on a property instantly. Some examples I’ve experienced – An exterior door from the washroom to go outside, a particle board tunnel going to the garage (so you don’t get wet). On a personal note, I bought a house with a third floor washroom that had no window. The vanity was against a sloped roof so you can’t even have a mirror above the vanity. You have to turn 90 degrees right toward the toilet to see the mirror. Fix that weirdness. I did. I added a window and changed the configuration of my washroom. Weirdness will scare off the buyers. De-weird as much as possible without killing your budget.
- DO BE SELECTIVELY DISTINCTIVE. I say this to the sellers, agents, and stagers who have everything in hotel chic neutral tones: Try to add a little distinctiveness. I’m here to tell you that it’s good to splash up in the right spots. Big, colourful, G-rated art is great. Prints are fine too, but try to avoid photos of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. They’re not Classics. They’re boring. On another design note, really make a point of making the bed look amazing. When you take a photo of the bedroom, it is mostly the bed. So, the bed should be a focus with fresh coverings and the right throw pillows display. Don’t be afraid to use some colour in the furniture and pillows and art. These are the places where can be a little more wild.
- DO FOLLOW THE SEASONS. You don’t have to stage much outside during the winter. Buyers are not as focused on the outside. They are thinking cosy indoor spaces when they are buying in that season. They see everything through the filter of the season they are in. In most of the spring, part of the fall and all the summer, if you have great outdoor space, show it off. I’ve seen sellers with pools full of dead leaves and debris in the spring. If a buyer looks out the window, that’s all they will see – a winter eyesore and a whole lot of maintenance. A summer listing with a pool can be amazing. If families come, and the day is hot, the kids will practically beg the parents to buy the house with the pool. Some have argued that pools work against you when selling your home. It can be something that people don’t want and could work against your top price. I say no way! Pools on a hot day are heaven, even to the pool cynics.
- DO FOCUS ON THE RIGHT SPOTS. If you have a limited budget to fill a house or condo, focus on the right rooms. In other words, focus on the rooms that make the first impression as soon as a buyer opens the front door. That will very often be the living/dining room and kitchen. Though the kitchen rarely requires a great deal of staging, your living/dining rooms should take priority over other rooms in the house. Basements are a last priority unless your basement offers something about your property worth showing off.
Staging is a very important part of the selling process. It’s important to get it right. So attention and investment here will go a long way for your top price. In my experience, there are very few people who are able to successfully stage their own properties. Even the most design-inspired individual who will do a great job of someone else’s home, cannot do a great job of their own. They are too close, and have emotional connections to their space and furniture. Get someone besides yourself. And if you really want the best return on the sale of your property, bring in someone who knows how to stage for the buyers who are buying in your neighbourhood or condo building. Have an agent who knows how to stage your property for top dollar.