Posted on February 26 2022
I recently completed a successful staging project. Although we live in a city where houses practically sell themselves, I would like to think that some of the 16 offers were inspired by my work. I was lucky that these homeowners were really motivated sellers who took my advice on board with gusto. They also had a house full of very nice décor with which I could creatively play chess.
With interest rates at historic lows, scarce inventory and a desire to live and work in our city, the real estate market is hotter than ever, even though February is traditionally considered a quieter month. It seems like not long ago, the concept of staging was something reserved for more luxury properties. Nowadays, it is de rigueur for every property, great and small, bungalow or condo tower.
Coming from an interior design background, parlaying the same skills to home staging seemed a natural side transition. However, there are some major differences. One of the most important things to consider is that designing a home is for the homeowners. Staging that same home is for presenting it in a manner which becomes very appetizing for perspective buyers. The first is an exercise in personalization while the second is to cast a wide net. Make no mistake; staging has nothing to do with decorating or aesthetics. It’s the primary visual method of perception steering reality. It’s the most powerful tool an agent has that is akin to a Vulcan mind meld. “My thoughts are your thoughts…” Mr. Spock said in many episodes of Star Trek trying to steer human minds to his will. If you steer the mind in the wrong direction, or the mind is allowed to wander freely, it doesn’t see or register what you want it to see, nor ignore what you want it to ignore.
Staging is about manipulation and the bottom line. It needs to be brutally persuasive and compelling enough for a lot of money to be handed over. Sellers need to be properly advised that staging is all about the art of manipulation and has nothing to do with showing their pride of ownership to a wider audience. They shouldn’t take personally what will be done to their beloved homes when there is a lot of money at stake, especially when they’re squeezed between the rungs of a property ladder. They should keep their eye on the prize when at times the process gets rough.
Having sounded like a fear monger, I don’t want to give the impression that home staging is necessarily a scary process. It doesn’t have to be. The most important job of sellers is to have open minds, be very comfortable with their listing agents and let them do their jobs by enlisting the help of stagers to objectively fill in the blanks to present homes in the best ways possible. Staging budgets should be relative to expected selling prices and target market analysis.
Right at the start of the selling process, homeowners should have an in-depth meeting with their agent about which direction the staging should go – whether the home should be completely emptied, or work with what’s already there. Extreme hoarding or dated interiors may need a heavier handed approach to preparing for an open house. While most other homes could streamline and showcase what’s already available and add a few key pieces. Cost for both approaches should be clearly laid out. Also how much the sellers get involved in the staging process should be clear to all parties involved.
There are pros and cons to completely emptying out a home. Storing existing furniture comes at a cost, same as renting furniture for staging. If the home doesn’t sell for a long time, those costs multiply. The danger in going too far with emptying a home is that it can lead to confusion as most people aren’t comfortable filling in the blanks themselves. A dining area left empty cannot easily be furnished in the mind’s eye of an observer. Empty spaces can feel intimidating and elicit a negative response the same way it could if spaces were cramped with too much furniture and décor.
How can opposite situations result in the same reaction? This is proof that the mind is the most powerful tool of persuasion. Staging is the conduit to the psychology of selling a home and not about visually enhancing it.
Enough psycho mumbo jumbo! What exactly do stagers do? We dissect every space inside and out, and look objectively through the eyes of a potential buyer. We look at the big picture and fuss over the smallest details, always with perception in mind. Aesthetics offer pleasant visual stimulus; while decluttering and key furniture placement are the meat and potatoes of capturing an audience.
We added a seating arrangement on the balcony for curb appeal.
First impressions are so important. Creating a welcoming entranceway and street view can make or break a deal. Depending on the time of year, seasonal or holiday planters are always a good idea. During the winter months, put away pots with dead flowers. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but can give the impression of homeowner neglect.
Once inside, the front foyer should look as spacious as possible with a place for keys, coats, shoes and bums. Keep it simple and uncluttered. Too much stuff can lead people to believe you don’t have enough space. You might not, but they don’t need to know that. Good flow starts at the door, so removing extraneous pieces of décor or furniture is a good idea. A viewer shouldn’t be bumping into things right from the start of their tour. And right from the start, remove very personal items like family photos and controversial art pieces.
Front Living Room (separate from TV room)
If the living room is full of wallflower furniture, combat their shyness by pulling them more into the room. Perimeter decorating doesn’t make a space look bigger; it makes a space feel very awkward and claustrophobic. Furniture needs to have breathing spaces around them. But keep in mind about practical living. Rooms that look too over staged turn people off as they will think that no one actually lives like that, it’s not practical. And if people see through the staging, skepticism about the home will set in.
The wall units used to be in the kitchen. They are now a nice focal point when you first walk into the house to see living dining area. We also installed a light fixture as there was none before. We placed the chairs 3 across 3 as opposed to 2 chairs at ends to allow for more flow which gives the impression there is more space.
Dining spaces should ideally have enough room for a table to sit 6 or more people. Even those who rarely entertain will find fault in a home that cannot accommodate the best dinner party they will never have. What if you don’t have an area large enough? Use a smaller table and chairs. Also, see if your table can accommodate for 3 chairs on each side and leave the ends open. I used this little trick in my last staging project. The flow was better and it still sat six.
Remove china cabinets from the space as they really don’t enhance a dining room and to be honest, they’re just not what people are coveting these days. Doing this may be just the extra square footage you need for that 6 person setting.
Kitchens can make or break a sale of a home. But don’t renovate. You will never get that money back. If it is in hopeless condition, the price will reflect that. Keep it neat and clean. A cute dish towel goes a long way to pull the heart strings. Put away all the small appliance we have come to believe we need to become the next Jamie Oliver or prized baristas. Ok, maybe leave out the coffee maker that costs as much as your car. Is there any way to make it an eat-in kitchen? You can push a square or rectangular table against a wall to achieve that.
Light and Bright
One thing to consider is to make sure rooms are light and bright. Abundant natural light sources are money making features. If you’re lacking windows in all the right places or the days seem to be endlessly dull, blast those pot lights and accent lighting. Mood lighting is only for first dates and yoga chanting.
That brings me to window coverings. Remove anything that looks like Victorian undergarments or ballroom gowns. Windows don’t need to look like period dramas. Invest in some neutral blinds or simple panels on metal rods only for the rooms that need privacy.
As for overhead lighting, please install a hanging fixture over the kitchen and dining tables if there aren’t any. If the wiring is already in the ceiling then put in a nice pendant light. There may be nothing wrong with your electrical system and it was just your choice not to have them.
However, potential buyers will assume there are problems lurking in the ceiling. And even if your choice of pendant isn’t to a buyer’s liking, they will likely keep it there for awhile, confirming the adage – if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
They say kitchens and bathrooms can make or break a deal. I can agree. However, this is also not a time for making big ticket changes. First, make sure all bathrooms are hospital level clean. No one wants to see them dirty or grimy. Put away all products and electrical such as razors and blow dryers. You want to give the impression that the spaces have adequate storage. A fresh new shower curtain, new drawer and cabinet door knobs, bath mat or rug and a new light fixture can all make an incredibly impactful statement. These changes won’t break the bank but potential buyers will make all the right noises.
There is no need to overthink these rooms. The number of bedrooms is more important than how they’re staged for a viewing. Kids’ rooms can look cute with stuffies and books and scaled furniture pieces. Also keep their toys at bay. A few in a basket look sweet, but it shouldn’t look like a toy store blew up in there.
Teen rooms should be devoid of specific wall graphics and any references to personal social media accounts. Principle bedrooms could use a bit more attention. They should look as spacious as possible with good circulation. Remove any large pieces of furniture such as a second dresser or portable closet units. They only make the room look smaller and lacking in proper closet storage. You may have a small closet, but that fact need not be emphasized further.
If your bed is positioned in a more unorthodox manner in the room because that’s just the way you like it, a stager will want to move to a more conventional location. Buyers want to see unique features of a house, but they won’t like tripping over the bed or wonder why it is blocking a doorway or inches from your ensuite toilet! They can’t unsee what they’ve already seen and will form unnecessarily negative opinions.
TV room on the main floor
If you’re lucky enough to have a separate family TV room on the main floor, make that room feel a bit different than the front living room. This space can also fall into the trap of wallflower decorating. It can easily be the dumping ground for unloved pieces of furniture as it’s considered a more private and casual area. Have a good statement piece for under the TV. This can be appropriated from another room in the house. It’s ok to make the TV the focal point. What is the sense in disguising that fact?! I’ve never been a fan of large TV’s just floating on the wall with nothing underneath. It looks so awkward and easy to walk by and bump against it.
Again, look at ways to declutter and to remove the 3rd puffy sofa that was relegated to this room. As much as possible hide all those cables! It may seem an impossible task, but I managed to do so by simply placing a cute basket of throw blankets in front of a corner of spidery web-like mass of power and internet cables.
Whether you have a finished basement or not, keeping it clean and bright are more important than anything else you can do for that space. Do not quickly get it finished. You will not be able to recoup that money in the sale. Likely the laundry facility is down there. That function should be considered a separate space and should include open and closed storage, a surface for folding, hanging space and it should be very clean. No one wants to clean clothes in an unsanitary environment.
The basement space should be flooded with light and do whatever can be done to remove the usual damp and cold feeling. It’s ok to have a dehumidifier going or even buy an inexpensive electric fireplace. That feeling of cold can be felt underfoot enough to make your toes curl. Combat that with thick rugs. If you do go to the trouble to install finished flooring, look into a clicking sub floor system that can keep the damp and cold from penetrating.
Regardless of what part of the world we live in, regardless of harsh climates, people are in love with the idea of living outdoors as much as possible. My last staging project happened during one of the coldest months of the year. That didn’t stop me from making sure that the views to the backyard were as aspirational as possible. Set up your dining sets, your seating areas with cheery cushions, fire pit and Edison string lights. Potential buyers want to know what they can look forward to come the warmer months. The idea is, if you have it, make sure to show it off.
If your back area is less than inspiring, that’s ok. Tackle the clutter, trim trees and shrubs and perhaps borrow a patio seating set from a friend or neighbor for the open house. These items are not usually in the final negotiations, so you don’t want to be stuck with a set you wouldn’t use yourself.
When the dust has settled, stagers also look keenly at site lines. What does that mean exactly? We look at what the furthest point looks like from any given position in the home. Is that end point aesthetically pleasing? Does it make the potential buyer want to explore further? To achieve this might mean a great piece of art or iconic chair strategically positioned for viewing. Sometimes we won’t want them to look too far. That means clever positioning of décor or furniture is called upon to break up that site line.
All of these considerations are in the name of steering the narrative. Finally, buy some pretty flowers, brew a pot of coffee, pat yourselves on the back for a job well done and wait for the offers to come in. It is an exhausting and emotional time. But knowing that these changes are necessary to guide perception, you can hopefully get some great results. Please remember that changes are not a negative reflection on who you are and your decorating style. Successful styling is a clever tool to get that quick, high priced sale.