BY PAMELA ROTH
When you are selling your home, it’s essential to make a great impression right from the start. That’s why so many sellers have keyed into the importance of home staging, which is the art of preparing a home for sale in the real estate market. When done effectively, home staging brings out a home’s best attributes, downplays its worst and helps potential buyers to envision themselves living successfully in the space.
And helping prospective buyers form a vision is key, according to Josée Lalonde of The Housse, a solution for local home stagers, offering a warehouse packed with more than 3,500 items for rent, including artwork, accessories, light fixtures, cushions and large pieces of furniture.
Lalonde admits home staging in Victoria has been slow to catch on, compared with other Canadian cities, but she sees plenty of benefits — even in our hot housing market. Homes that are staged typically sell for at least five per cent more. Furthermore, 74 per cent of staged properties sell in less than four weeks.
She says it’s particularly important to stage a home if it’s sitting empty. “When it’s empty [prospective home buyers] don’t know what to do. Ninety-five per cent of the population has no vision that way. People can’t see past whatever is there,” she says.
“If you give them something [to look at] then it’s much easier for them to visualize their own things in there and it gives them that inspiration that their home could look like this.”
How to Set the Stage
Whether you stage your home yourself or use the services of a professional home stager, there are some key principles to follow to take your home from good to great.
• Get in the mindset
Liz Mackay, owner of Fabulous Home Staging, is a former realtor who’s been staging homes in Victoria for more than 10 years. She agrees home buyers have to be able to visualize themselves living in a home or they won’t buy it. So, for sellers, it’s crucial to stop thinking of your property as “home” as soon as you put your property on the market. Instead, detach and begin to see your property as a product.
Put away all personal items and treasures, such as photos or figurines, and make sure countertops are free of any clutter. And do get rid of or store furniture that contributes to a crowded feeling. Many people rent temporary storage lockers to avoid cluttering up a garage or rec room with extra pieces.
Once you’ve cleared the clutter, you can selectively add back in a few pieces to give the home a lived-in appeal. Think tasteful vases, bowls of fresh-cut flowers (be careful about heavily scented blooms), a basket of fresh fruit on the counter, a bowl of lemons beside the sink and artfully placed pillows and stylish throws.
• Refine hidden spaces
Sellers may like to believe closets and cupboards are unseen spots during viewing, but they won’t go unnoticed by buyers. “People will go into your closets and open your cupboards,” says Mackay. “You need to make sure that people think there’s lots and lots of space. Most people wear 20 per cent of what’s in their closet, so the rest should be packed and put away so it doesn’t look crowded. And then colour block your [clothing items], just like you’d see in a clothing store.” Closets that appear spacious make your entire home seem bigger. After decluttering, paint your closet interiors white or in a light neutral to make them more appealing.
• Let it shine
Before showing your home, make sure it’s sparkling clean and odour free. “[Home sellers] need to be aware of things, like if there’s pet odour. Cooking smells is another one,” says Mackay. But do be wary of trying to cover smells with over-perfumed synthetic scents; instead, bake some bread before an open house or use essential oils such as grapefruit or lemon in a scent diffuser — nothing too heavy. Consider hiring a cleaning service and window-washing service to give your home that extra sparkle.
Don’t forget the exterior. Give lawns and shrubs a trim and powerwash your home exterior, walkways and patios to give your home a fresh, neat look.
• Repair or replace
Once the home is decluttered and organized to perfection, it’s time to choose the right pieces to pull your rooms together. That means looking with a critical eye at your furnishings. A sagging sofa or scratched coffee table, for instance, may not seem like a problem to you, but a home buyer may see it as indicative of a careless attitude toward the home in general. And do think about your walls and floors too. Paint walls in neutral shades (it’s amazing how often bold wall colours can put off home buyers, even though it’s easy to repaint!) and polish or refinish floors if needed.
If your light fixtures are dated (we’re not talking heritage), consider replacing them to give your home a bright, contemporary look. And do replace yellowed or chipped switch-plate covers for a clean, new look.
• Make it flow
When staging a home, Mackay says it’s important to assess the “flow.” That begins with making sure each room has a focal point (typically, a piece of art, a feature wall, a fireplace or a large window). Psychologically, a room just feels more pulled together when furnishings and décor items are oriented around a focal point — and that makes visitors to the room feel more comfortable. It’s also important to place furnishings to ensure balance, harmony and the smooth flow of traffic. There has to be a certain amount of space between items so people can walk around properly without bumping into chairs and table corners. Again, it’s the psychology of making people feel at home.
Keep about 30 inches between furniture pieces you need to be able to walk around and 16 to 18 inches between sofas and coffee tables, so drinks are within easy reach.
Dress it up
When it comes to home sales, the “money rooms” are often the kitchen, family room and master bedroom, so make sure they look their best by investing in fresh neutral bedding and fresh, fluffy towels. Lalonde says one of the most popular items stagers rent from The Housse is original artwork from local artists. The right artwork, she adds, brings life to a home, and the colour and style of the artwork can set the tone for the design plan.
Other items that are popular staging rentals at The Housse are mirrors, which can bring in more light to dark rooms and add the feeling of spaciousness and sparkle to an otherwise small and boring room.
Get rid of yellowed blinds and dated draperies. Invest in neutral cottons or linens or, if it looks good, leave windows in some rooms bare to make the room seem bigger and increase natural light. Do raise blinds and tie back draperies during viewings (unless you want to de-emphasize an unsightly view).
The last key piece of home staging advice for a successful sell is simple: have it staged before the realtor walks through your front door. This will likely give you a better selling price and it also helps your realtor get to work immediately. And these days, when most people look at homes online before they decide whether or not to venture through the front door, it’s essential to have photos of your home.
But they need to be good photos, says Mackay, as photos of a pre-staged home can leave buyers turned off and in disbelief.
“We can’t believe what’s on the Internet …” she adds. “[A home] has to have really good photos and that alone is reason enough to get a professional in to have a look before it goes on the market.” Ultimately, it’s all about showing a home to its advantage so buyers can easily feel that emotional pull to make an offer. “People will fall in love with it once it’s staged,” says Lalonde. “You set the stage.”