Sid Davis, author of Home Makeovers That Sell (AMACOM, 2007), responds to your staging questions.
What do you suggest [in terms of staging] for a house that is vacant?
DAVIS: If a vacant home is freshly painted, clean, and smells good it should sell. Buyers also won’t have a problem imagining where their stuff is going to go, and a quicker closing can be a plus. I don’t think it’s necessary to leave furniture or move some in to make a home look “lived in.” Many times I’ve had a home sell soon after the owners moved out and had the home professionally cleaned. Personally, I would rather have a vacant home listing than one with owners cluttering it up.
While I agree with all your suggestions, there are instances where the home owner cannot afford to make improvements or repairs. What is your suggestion for this instance?
DAVIS: Can a home owner afford not to do the repairs? If a home won’t appraise because of problems or the owner is uncooperative, I would rather walk away from the listing. If there’s equity, the owner should be able to find a short terms loan. Government agencies, church groups, and other sources often have programs to help people fix up their homes who can’t qualify for financing. You may have to do some digging, but they’re out there.
Besides the two obvious things — decluttering and cleaning — what do you think is the single most important thing to do before putting a home on the market?
DAVIS: Painting is a good third. It’s hard to resist a freshly painted home. Smells good too…
What are your thoughts on professional staging services? I am doing research on the viability of staging services with the desire to start my own consulting business for staging.
DAVIS: It’s obvious that most homes on the market can benefit from staging. The issue is not does staging work, but selling the concept to home sellers and making money doing it. This is where most stagers I know run into problems. They don’t know how to market their services and create cash flow. You may consider working with a REALTOR® and adding your fee for a package deal. It’s the marketing that will be your biggest challenge. Good luck, your skills are certainly needed by sellers and agents.
Do you think that using feng shui to rearrange rooms and decorate helps a home sell faster?
DAVIS: Absolutely, a great book on this is Sell Your Home Faster With Feng Shui (Dragon Chi Publications, 2001) by Holly Ziegler. If you have a lot of Asian buyers in your area, you’ll want to incorporate Feng Shui principals in putting a home in showing condition.
Do you have any suggestions for handling potential problems that might result from having home inspections prior to placing a listing on the market? For example, how about if a buyer thinks the seller selected a home inspector who didn’t catch everything and the buyer believes it should really be them selecting their own inspector and being present during the inspection.
DAVIS: I’ve never had a problem with this. Buyers are always impressed that the owners got an inspection and fixed any problems upfront. When you take the inspection’s problem list and document that you’ve done the repairs — with receipts and work orders — that’s what makes it a sales tool. The older the home, the better this works. If a buyer wants to hire their own inspector, fine. Two professional inspections may differ slightly, but usually not significantly. I always encourage buyers to get a second opinion if they feel uncomfortable with the seller’s inspection.
What are some affordable staging ideas to improve the kitchen and living room?
DAVIS: Declutter is No. 1 and the cheapest; a good cleaning is another. Other low-cost items are refinish or paint the cabinets a gloss white and add new hardware. Appliances that are color miss-matched can be professionally painted to match. Floors in the kitchen and entryway can be tiled economically, especially if you do-it-yourself. Home Depot and other home centers often give free classes on how to tile. If the carpet is past cleaning, replacing with wood or laminate is a good way to go. And of course, a good paint job helps: flat in the living room, semi-gloss in the kitchen.
Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.