12 Days of Staging, A Home Staging Series

The art of great marketing is in the ability to position your product in the mind of the buyer as a product that will fill their specific need and desires. This well-known marketing concept is very powerful when it comes to home staging. “Positioning” focuses on what you do to the mind of the buyer rather than what you do to the product. In other words, a home seller does not need to make expensive renovations and redecorations to have a profound influence on buyers. Small improvements can make a big impact. For example: very thorough cleaning, removing unnecessary furniture, and de-cluttering. In our series “The 12 Days of Staging” we will show you some easy tips and tricks to speed up the sale of your home or listing.

Day 1 Positioning: Start the “Positioning” process by having the homeowner take an active roll in the sale of their home. A wonderful source for information is right close by: take advantage of peoples opinions. Survey friends and family about the way your home looks and feels. Ask them to write down their comments to ease any discomfort involved in critiquing your home. After all, most home owners forced to sell in this market know that it won’t be easy. Put them to task to expedite the sale of their home. The days of simply putting a house on the market without any preparation and selling it in a few hours or days is long gone.

Day 2 Curb Appeal: Many times curb appeal is at the top of our list because it literally is the first impression. This first impression is all-important because it sets the tone for the way the buyer will view the rest of the house. The clock starts ticking at the curb and within fifteen seconds the buyer will develop an attitude toward your house, either positive or negative. Then the buyer will be looking to reinforce their positive or negative initial impression throughout the rest of the home tour. By making the first impression a positive one, the buyer will seek other positive aspects of the home to reinforce their initial impression.

A great exercise to get the ball rolling is to standing in front of your home with critical “buyers eyes” and write down everything that comes to mind. It is always difficult for any home seller to see all the shortfalls of their own home yet it is critical in the success of the sale. To help you in this task ask trusted friends, neighbors, and family what they see when standing in front of your home. Ask them to be brutally honest, or invite them to write down their comments and put them in a hat to be pulled out only after everyone has commented. This way you might get better results and avoid making people feel uncomfortable about criticizing your home.

Day 3 “Here Kitty Kitty”: Who doesn’t love the sound of a cat purring in your ear? So soft, so fluffy….so SMELLY! Well, not always, but cat odors can be a big problem for home sellers. As cat owners ourselves (or “captors” as most felines would put it) we know just how stinky kitty can be sometime. For a home seller this issue can mean the difference between a buyer that stays and looks and one that runs for the door.

1. On days that you know your home is going to be shown consider taking kitty for a car ride. Cats become well accustomed to being in the car and most actually will enjoy the ride. (Note: Do NOT leave your pet in the car unattended. Especially during warm to hot days. Cats can overheat and suffer brain damage or death if left in the car. Dogs too!)
2. If possible on show day’s move the litter box to an out of the way area, or better yet, out of the home.
3. Take up any wet food. Besides being unappetizing to look at it stinks to high heaven!
4. Keep litter boxes scooped as often as possible and replace every couple of weeks with fresh litter. Your cat, and potential buyers, will thank you.
5. Have you noticed that your cat produces an unimaginable amount of hair? We thought so. Keep it swept up. We know, it’s a never ending cycle but our job is to help you sell your home. Tufts of hair on the floor make buyer’s think “dirty house” and that is the last impression they need.
6. Kitty go outside the litter box? If this is a new problem you should take them to the vet. Cats can get crystals in their urine, which can be deadly if left untreated.
7. Help is on the way! Behold the “Stink finder”! This tool is a great way to spot just what kitty has been up to. Also known as a black light you can purchase one at your local pet supply store. Simply turn off the lights and walk around the walls of each room. If kitty has made a mess it will show up in the light. Also, move over every inch of carpet. (Keep blinds closed so your neighbors won’t think you’ve gone crazy as you crawl around on your hands and knees in the dark holding a black light.)
8. If you find an area that is suspicious you will need to confirm with the good old fashion smell test. (For those of you not familiar with the unmistakable smell of cat urine, it can best be described as somewhere between ammonia and the worst smell imaginable. Consider yourself warned.)
9. After your blood pressure has returned to normal it’s time to tackle the problem. Luckily today there are a number of good products on the market. First, pull up the carpet and seal the concrete to eliminate the smell. (Kilz is a good product) Cat urine does not lose its odor so it’s imperative that you seal off the smell from the source. Next, either have the carpet professionally cleaned or purchase an enzyme type cleaner from the store. If kitty has gone on the walls or baseboards repeat the first step above using Kilz and then repaint the wall. (Aren’t cats fun?!)
10. Lastly, keep your home as clean as possible. Pet dander is a real problem for some people so clean, clean, and clean and replace your air filter often. A buyer having a sneezing attack upon walking in your front door is more than likely not going to be a buyer clamoring to purchase your home.

Day 4 It’s OK To Point…Focal Point That Is: Focal points throughout a home are particularly important. They pull a buyer into a space, bring emotions into play, and tell the story of a home’s details. Every area has a focal point and every focal point must maximize the positive impact on a buyer touring a home.

As a seller ask yourself some tough questions concerning your home’s focal points. Write down the questions and answers, and then ask friends and family to answer the same questions. You might be surprised at some of the answers. It’s very hard for people to be impartial about their own home.

Use the questions below as a template:

1. What is the first thing someone notices when they walk into this room?
2. Is it positive or negative?
3. What is the focal point in this room?
4. What should be the focal point of this room?
5. Is it a positive or negative?
6. Does it compete with another focal point?
7. How can we complement the focal point?
8. Is your seating reinforcing the focal point?
9. Does the focal point pull you into the space?
10. Is the focal point well lit, clean, and inviting?

Once you have identified every room’s focal point be sure to emphasize its positive attributes so it naturally draws the buyer’s eye and inspires a positive emotional reaction. A buyer’s attraction to a beautiful focal point is not just endearing, it also serves to downplay any negative elements a space might have.

Day 5 Skeletons in the Closet: Closets throughout a home are important, yet often overlooked by sellers. Buyers touring homes always look into closets, checking out the size, functionality and capacity of the space but that’s not all buyers are looking for. Buyers are also looking to see if there is a story to tell just under the surface. A well organized closet says volumes about the seller, a home’s maintenance, as well as the home’s unseen details.

Everything in a home and every space throughout a home, even the closets, must look their very best.

Since you will be packing things away anyway tackle one closet at a time starting with the master closet.

1. Pack away anything you have not used or worn in four months. For most of us, it’s about 80% of our wardrobe.
2. Group by item starting with shirts, blouses, jackets, skirts and lastly pants (If you have a walk-in closet, pants should be in the back.) Separate the His and Her’s sections.
3. Make sure each item is facing the same direction (away from the door).
4. Organize shoes preferably in a rack on the floor.
5. Clear off and pack away anything on the top of the closet shelf.
6. Organize any “loose” items such as belts and scarves in matching boxes or baskets on the top of the closet.
7. Consider buying inexpensive hat boxes/nesting boxes for accessories to add a little drama.
8. Consider buying a closet organizer (Target has these now) which can be very appealing to homebuyers.
9. Finally, since closets usually don’t have any natural light, make sure your artificial light is extra bright by replacing the bulbs and cleaning the fixtures.
10. Remember, preparing your home to sell is a process that takes time but will net you thousands in return!

Closets are an area that home buyers pry into, so it’s a good idea to appear spacious, neat and organized. The neater you appear to be, the more your homebuyer will view the house as well “taken care of”.

Day 6 Dog’s playing poker: What is “art”? Webster’s dictionary defines art as: the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

When it comes to selling a home it’s best to leave the art critics in the galleries. In other words, your “Dog’s playing poker” or 5′ tall velvet paintings of Elvis is not what buyer’s are looking for. Think simple, classic and neutral (yes, art can be neutral). Landscapes, flowers, and abstracts are a great way to soften walls without detracting from what the space has to offer. We never know what a buyer’s particular taste is going to be and in the high stakes game of real estate we need to make sure that your space feels like their space. This can mean all the difference between getting an offer or not.

You can often find nice quality looking art pieces at places like Ross or Marshalls. If you don’t have a lot to spend consider purchasing some inexpensive frames and making your own art by printing out non-copyrighted pictures on high gloss paper. Place in a frame and “Voila!” instant art. Yard or estate sales are also a great way to find some bargains.

Remember, the key to a home that shows well is neutrality. You will have plenty of time to make a new home your own, so create a space that buyers will love. It’s a simple as that.

Day 7 “It’s a jungle out there”: Today’s will focus on the one of the common problems that sellers often overlook: the front and back yard of a home.

Sellers need to keep in mind that when a potential buyer is looking at their home they are not just looking at the inside, but the exterior as well. This article will help you prepare your exterior so that your home will be the best one on the block.

1. A brown lawn does not enhance curb appeal. Add fresh sod to any brown or dying areas of your lawn. This small investment will make a huge difference.
2. Take a walk around your neighborhood. Which houses look the best with regard to curb appeal? Ask yourself why?
3. Take pictures of yards that you love. This way you can use them as a template for your own yard.
4. Plant some fresh blooming annuals. They are inexpensive and will add a nice burst of color. Remember, as we talked about before but worth repeating, curb appeal is extremely important and your home truly needs to stand out.
5. Make sure that weeds are pulled and any dead growth is trimmed. If a buyer is distracted by untidy landscaping they will not only start a mental “To do” list but also feel that the home is not being kept up.
6. A few bags of red mulch can have a huge impact on the look of planting beds by freshening and providing contrasting colors in the plant beds.
7. Keep bushes and hedges trimmed down so that the exterior of the home can be seen. When trimming pay close attention to windows; trim all vegetation to expose all windows to maximize the available ambient light inside the home.
8. If you know that you are going to have a big open house weekend consider hiring a lawn service to come out the day before so that it is fresh looking.
9. If you have a pool make sure that swept clean and looks inviting.
10. Keep hoses coiled up and put away. Put away any gardening tools and maintenance equipment.

Too often sellers only focus on the inside of the home and neglect the all important exterior. Don’t let this happen to you.

Taking care of these simple things can make all the difference in how your home shows to a buyer, and in today’s real estate market you need all possible things to show in your favor.

Day 8 Is that take-out from two months ago? Yum!: When you place your home on the market it becomes a commodity or product. Today’s buyers are faced with an almost overwhelming number of choices so to be competitive you must make your home look and show its best at all times.

An often overlooked, but still very important, area of the home is your kitchen. Having shown potential homes to thousands of people during my years in leasing and marketing I can tell you that buyer’s will look in your refrigerator, kitchen cabinets, even the dishwasher!

Guess what? That take out container of General Tso’s chicken from two months ago is not appealing. A dirty refrigerator with spoiled food can literally ruin a home tour. Why? Simply put, if a buyer sees that you aren’t willing to clean out your fridge then they start to wonder “What else has not been taken care of?” Remember from our previous letters that the last thing we want during a home tour is a buyer to start a “To do” list in their head. This only reinforces negative opinions of the home.

Solution: Keep the refrigerator, cabinets, and the rest of the kitchen absolutely spotless at all times. Throw out any expired food, take out containers and make sure the refrigerator is wiped down and spotless. Keep a fresh box of baking soda in both the refrigerator and freezer to absorb any odors. And finally, have all items lined up and labels facing out and in one direction. Sound crazy? Nope and here’s why. If I buyer opens your fridge and sees all the Coke cans lined up and orderly then they immediately assume that the rest of the home sees the same attention to detail. It’s often the little things that can have a major impact on the way a buyer sees your home. The same goes for the pantry and cabinets. Selling a home is not just about the physical aspects and pricing. It’s also about a psychology with regard to the buyer. This is why staging is so important in how a home shows.

Day 9 Feng shui: It’s day nine in our “12 days of Staging”. Feng shui (or Fung shui as some spell it) is not the dinner special at your local Asian restaurant. In fact Feng shui can be a powerful concept in real estate marketing, relating precisely to our ongoing discussion centered on the concept of “Positioning”, which focuses on what you do to the mind of the buyer rather than what you do to the product.

Do buyers run through a particular listing? Never refer to it again? Turn their nose up when it’s mentioned again? Does the space feel cramped, dark, or stale yet the home is spacious with lots of windows? Your listing may be suffering from bad flow, negative energy and bad feng shui.
Feng what? Pronounced (“fung shway”), it’s a complicated philosophy from the Far East quickly making inroads in many cultures around the world. Simply put feng shui studies the art of placement, the art of living life, and the energy that stirs emotions. It could just as well be called “the art of flow.” This ancient Chinese practice, literally translated as “wind” and “water”.

In real estate sales feng shui is used to maximize the beneficial movement of energy through a space. A home’s flow is crucial to buyers when touring. Buyers want to meander gracefully through a space, like a gentle breeze or a winding stream. They want to feel the exhilaration of taking in fresh air, warm sun light, and a clean environment. When buyers are nourished buy positive energy in a home it usually means the tour was a success. Buyers will aspire to live in a space that is clean and open and start to visualize their life in these surroundings. To accomplish feng shui walk through a home looking for natural flow in all the spaces. Ask does this space flow from one room to another? Is the flow natural? Are the windows easily accusable? Are rooms blocked with too much furniture? Does the space feel clean and look bright?

When the flow through a space is blocked, weak, or misdirected the buyer’s perceived relationship to the home suffers, resulting in an unsuccessful tour. Dark, dirty, or stale spaces can choke the positive reaction to a home. Buyers may feel tired, run down, depressed, unable to focus, hampered in their efforts to move forward with the tour. It is almost impossible to turn that around in the buyer’s mind. Once buyers have a negative feeling toward a home it permeates every reference to it. Remember most homes are purchased based on emotions. Often emotions can’t be reasoned with, so it’s important to manage every aspect of a tour keeping the energy positive and the buyer’s imagination nourished by every aspect in the home.

In today’s real estate market it is essential to minimize any negative aspects of a home, but even more important is highlighting the positive beneficial aspects of the home. Use the art of placement and feng shui to create that positive space crying out to be purchased.
If sellers think feng shui (natural flow, fresh air, immaculately clean, bright sunlight, uncluttered, and attention to detail) it will greatly influence every tour. As I mentioned, feng shui is complicated so take advantage of the resources you have available; contact your local home stagers who are ready and willing to complete an extensive analysis of your listings incorporating powerful tried and true philosophy such as Positioning, Feng shui, among many other marketing tactics which focuses on what you do to the mind of the buyer rather than what you do to the product.

Day 10 On day #10 of “The 12 Days of Staging”: we discuss staging the master bedroom by further highlighting the concept of “Positioning”, which focuses on what you do to the mind of the buyer rather than what you do to the product.

A Master Bedroom should be an escape, a sanctuary away from the chaos of life. Relaxing colors, plush linens, and fluffy pillows all subtly display this desired effect. Blue is a favorite color for a Master Bedroom because subconsciously it is very calming to buyers. It is also a neutral color that goes well with white, the second favorite color in bedrooms.

Ask yourself: “What is the first thing someone notices when he or she walks into the master bedroom? Is it positive or negative?” Usually a beautiful bed with comforter and many pillows is the first thing buyers notice, it’s the focal point. Due to the importance of the master bedroom we highly recommended that sellers purchase a new neutral colored bed set for their bed and lots of fluffy pillows. It will be one of the best staging investments you can make for this space and the great thing is you get to take it with you!

It is important to neutralize the master bedroom as much as possible so buyers don’t enter and immediately profile the home seller. Buyers want the master bedroom to feel like it is their own escape, not yours. The bed should be on the longest wall across from the doorway with easy natural flow through the space to windows and master bath. Try not to position the bed so buyers have to walk around it to get to where they are going.

Bright, warm and inviting is always good for this space. The master bedroom should invite the buyer to linger and enjoy the space. Accomplish this by allowing as much natural light in as possible. Remove window coverings that are blocking out the sun. Add more lighting in the form of bright bedside lamps or a standup lamp. Make sure the bulbs are the brightest kind you can safely put in the lamps.

The master bedroom should not be a space that has accumulated clutter although many of us still tend to do so. Buyers are distracted by clutter and don’t respond well when they see it especially in the master bedroom. Keep the furniture and accessories to a minimum, queen bed, two nightstands, a dresser and mirror.

Part of creating your sanctuary in the master bedroom is adding a reading space. Nothing draws a buyer emotionally more than a cozy chair that is complete with an ottoman, pillow and throw. It just makes the buyer want to curl up in it with a great book and cup of hot java. So if the space permits add an inviting, comfortable reading nook.

Day 11 “Update the Style”: When it comes to prepping a home for sale one of the most important things to do is to make sure that your interior reflects what is current with design trends and what is “in”. Buyers don’t like outdated, especially when it comes to something as large as a purchase of a home.

If your home is older or outdated you might have some tough decisions to make. In addition to the master bedroom and living room, buyers are really interested in the kitchen and master bathroom. If your kitchen has older or outdated appliances this could potentially turn buyers off.

Replacing the major appliances can be a way to add serious value to your home. With the economy in such bad shape most of the appliance retailers are slashing prices in order to move inventory. What this means is that you may find some incredible bargains. Also, consider donating your old appliances to a charity such as “Habitat for Humanity” “The Red Cross” or a local organization. Besides helping someone else you can take advantage of a nice charitable tax deduction (see your tax advisor for specifics).

If you can afford it, consider stainless steel appliances. They are still very popular and look great in most applications. If you don’t go the stainless steel route then make sure that your appliances compliment your kitchen cabinets and flooring. White cabinets and black appliances are a “No, no.” If you have dark cabinets, say cherry wood for instance, then you should use dark appliances. Contrast should be limited in the kitchen, especially if the kitchen is smaller.

Another great way to update the look of your kitchen is to add new handles to the cabinets. Often times your locate discount store will have a great selection of handles. This quick, inexpensive trick will pay off in the long run.

A small or outdated master bathroom can be the death of a potential sale. Short of doing a full bathroom remodel (which can cost thousands of dollars) consider some cosmetic changes. A large number of master bathroom come with a standard non-framed mirror, plain sink, 3 or 5 strip lighting and a medicine cabinet. Yawn! Replacing these items with a new light fixture (around $80.00), framed mirror ($100.00) and adding a new vessel sink/cabinet combo ($300.00) finishes off the look. Adding plush towels and an appropriate shower curtain and you have a fresh and new looking master bath; and buyer’s LOVE the word “New”.

Red walls: Bad. Taupe or cream colored walls: Good! The color of your walls can make or break a sale. Sure painting is a relatively easy and inexpensive investment but today’s buyers are looking for “Plug and play”. In other words they don’t want to have to move in and spend time and money changing your Pepto Bismol pink master bedroom back to a more neutral color. (And to answer your question: Yes, we have seen a pink master bedroom, on more than one occasion in fact.) A fresh coat of paint can make a huge difference and is something that should be highly considered.

Day 12 Open House Tip: Well here we are the last in our “12 Days of Staging” series. Our last topic is one of the most important, yet is often neglected by the home seller. There are differing opinions on whether an Open House is effective or not with regard to selling a home. No matter what your belief it is important for a seller to keep their home “Open house” ready at all times, especially if the home is on lock box.

The prospect of keeping your home neat, spotless and show ready at all times starts to become a daunting task. Everyday life, kids and pets can mean that sellers feel overwhelmed. What we’re going to offer are some tips and tricks to maximize the homes appeal while minimizing the inconvenience to the homeowner.

Tip #1: Baskets are your friend. Buyers hate clutter, but clutter is often inevitable. A great way to minimize clutter is to purchase several wicker baskets of varying size to hold lose belongings. Toys, medicines, toiletries and the like can easy be placed in a basket and moved out of sight. Big Lots often has a nice selection of fabric lined wicker baskets starting at around $2.50.

Tip #2: How about some fresh air? During the cooler months take the time to open all the windows and let some fresh air circulate. Homes are great for trapping everyday odors and by letting a little air in we can all breathe easier. Store bought air fresheners are often effective but they can have a strong chemical smell and can even be a trigger for some asthma sufferers. A trick we like to use is to purchase a small bouquet of eucalyptus from Joann fabrics or Michaels. Separate the bouquet into smaller bundles (depending on the number of rooms), wrap the bundles in cheese cloth and place under the couch, behind the bed, in the laundry room, etc. They will make the whole house smell great, last a long time and are inexpensive. Note: Eucalyptus often has dye coloring added to it and can come off on carpets and fabrics if it gets wet, so please be careful.

Tip #3: Music to your ears. A great way to create a calm and pleasing touring environment for buyers is to have soft music playing in the background. (Think “Elevator music”) If you have cable turn to the smooth jazz music channel on your receiver, turn the TV off and you now have a pleasing environment. (If you don’t have cable or music channels use your stereo and tune to your local smooth jazz station.)

Tip #4: Turn up the lights. When you know your home is going to be shown make sure you have every light on in the home. A bright and open space is what buyers are looking for. They need to be able to see each room’s features. Furthermore, open all blinds and shades to let in as much light as possible.

Tip#5: High end hotel. The last, and final, tip is to “stage” your home like a high end hotel room. Neutral spaces that are warm and inviting can go a long way in enticing buyers to consider your home over the many others they are possibly looking at. Neutral bedding, throw pillows and floral art is a good route to take. Remove all traces of your personal items (family pictures, religious artifacts, political affiliations) from the home. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to sell your home and move on. It becomes hard, if not downright impossible, to accomplish this if a buyer feels as if they are in “your” space and not theirs. A little bit of inconvenience now can make all the difference later.

We hope that you found the articles to be informative as well as interesting. By incorporating these tips into your sales tactics you will be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Stay focused on positioning your product and happy staging!