Preparing a home for sale requires seeing it with new eyes -- a bit of a challenge when you've lived in and loved a space for years. That's where home staging, the art of styling your home for the buying audience, comes in.
Industry surveys show that staged homes sell faster and at higher prices than those that aren't, so the effort and minor expense invested in home staging can definitely put dollars in your pocket at closing time. Real estate agents often include the services of a professional stager in their marketing package, and this can be invaluable in gaining an objective view of a home and grooming it for sale.
To give you an idea of what's involved as well as a head start in preparing your own home, here's a step-by-step guide to home staging.
Tour with a buyer's-eye view
DRIVE BY -- Grab a pad and pen, hop into your car, and do a drive-by viewing of your home's exterior. What do you notice first: a haphazard collection of family bikes scattered across lawns and walks, or a welcoming, tidy facade? Make notes on what needs to be cleared away, cleaned up, repaired and repainted, all things you need to do before to get ready for home staging.
INSPECT -- Follow with an interior tour of your home, taking a step back from your usual traffic patterns to note the dominant features of every room, planning touch-ups to make them shine.
BE NOSY -- If you've been home-shopping yourself, do a little research during visits to open houses and model homes. Take note of the home staging: what's displayed and what's not, the extent of furnishings used and how architectural elements are highlighted.
CLEAR CLUTTER -- Begin the home staging process by clearing away the personal clutter, including everything from paperwork to photos to collections. Remember that the potential buyer needs to visualize themselves in the space, and your particular brand of "lived-in" may not match up with theirs (you could also end up making a negative connection by reminding them of the clutter clean-up that awaits them back at their current home).
CHECK FURNITURE FLOW -- Edit furnishings for the kind of just-right balance that would suit Goldilocks. There needs to be enough in place to suggest proper scale and capacity within each room, but not so much that traffic flow is hindered and architectural elements are obscured.
TONE DOWN -- The key to successful home staging is a neutral palette that creates a backdrop for buyer imagination. Replace patterned wall coverings with off-white paint, and install low-grade tan wall-to-wall carpet.
TIDY UP -- Clean, clean, clean! Ensure that every inch of your home sparkles for a fresh, welcoming appearance, from ceiling cobweb hideaways to windows to floors. After all, soap is cheap.
CLEAN SMELL -- As part of your home staging program, address and banish odors resulting from pets, cooking, smoking and the like. Anything offensive or even the least bit memorable will override all your efforts in the visual department, so don't underestimate a buyer's sense of smell.
FIX-UP -- Touch up interior trim, repair or replace inoperable hardware, and make sure all light fixtures are clean and loaded with brand-new bulbs.
REDUCE ART - Limit wall decorations to fewer and larger pieces of artwork, again keeping a subtle, neutral look in mind (home staging is no time for dramatic artistic statements). Also include a few strategically placed mirrors to expand the space and reflect its best assets.
ACCESSORIZE SPARINGLY -- When staging rooms with pared-down selections from your collection, remember the "rule of threes" to create pleasing, uncluttered groupings of items. A few plants placed within main living areas can also add welcome vitality.
CLEAR GARAGE -- Garages are a big "bonus space" for new home buyers, so make sure yours can be seen. Clear away corner cobwebs, sweep floors, dust surfaces and pack up any straggling tools and project materials.
Guaranteed curb appeal
GREEN SCENE -- Lush landscaping is one of your home's best exterior assets at selling time, and according to the Professional Landcare Network, it can add as much as 15 percent to property value. So do a little home staging on the exterior, too. Get out the mower, fertilize all turf and plantings, weed diligently, and add seasonal color to flower beds.
GARDENS -- While you're in the garden, apply the same home staging eye you did indoors to any outdoor accessories. Large, idiosyncratic sculptures can be off-putting, and too many garden ornaments can add up to clutter rather than whimsy. Also ensure that water features are clean and operable, as their look and soothing sound will contribute positively to exterior impressions.
PACK UP ---Stow away all athletic equipment, gardening implements and surplus furniture, and neatly coil and rack hoses.
TOUCH UP - Touch up trim and other exterior surfaces as needed, and repair any loose or damaged shutters and ornamentation.
CLEAN UP -- Clean windows and operable, sparkling lighting fixtures will both reflect positively on your home, so make sure they're on your home staging to-do list. Soak up any driveway oil stains, and sweep away grass clippings and other debris.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS -- Finally, create a grand and welcoming entrance with a perfectly swept walk, freshly painted door and trim, polished hardware and address numbers, tidy doormat, and a few pots of colorful blooms on the front porch.
If you follow these home staging steps, you're far more likely to snag top dollar in a timely home sale.
Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.
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