You're putting your home on the market. But before you let buyers inside, you wonder -- is your house ready to be judged? Is your furniture OK? Can you keep the homage to your favorite sports team in the basement? And exactly how clean do you need to keep your home at all times?
Home staging is growing increasingly important in the real estate industry, where there's stiff competition between homeowners vying for the best property values. As homeowners seek the highest selling price, many have turned to home staging as a way to present their home in the best light possible.
"You're marketing what's likely your largest asset, and for a lot of people also their largest source of debt, and so you want to take that seriously and do whatever you can to make your home the most appealing," says Julie Chrissis, a professional home stager and owner of Chrissis & Company Interiors in Boston.
Here are some tips to stage your home to make it sell, and sell well.
Less is more. The old saying holds true for home staging, particularly because you want to highlight the features of your home, rather than crowd rooms with furniture.
"If a buyer comes in and says, 'Oh look, they've got a sofa, two chairs, a cocktail table and a TV in here. I could definitely get another chair, and I could get a sofa table in here,' that's a good thing," Chrissis says. "Versus someone who has furniture shoehorned into the space ... If it looks like a furniture showroom -- that doesn't help sell the home."
It needs to be neat. If you're living in your home while you have it on the market, keep in mind that people might -- and hopefully will -- scrutinize every room in the house while you're not there. That means you shouldn't leave your dirty laundry on the floor.
Jessica Flavell, owner of Flavell Home Staging in Rockville, Maryland, says a tidy home matters in helping buyers envision the space as their own. "Make sure, while your house is on the market, you tidy every day before you leave -- make the beds, put the dishes away," Flavell says.
No family photos or religious symbols. Real estate agents will be the first to tell you this about your home, and home stagers echo the sentiment. By taking out those personal touches, potential buyers won't wonder about who lives in the home, and will instead picture themselves there.
Michelle Minch, owner of Moving Mountains Design in Pasadena, California, says homeowners should remove "any photographs or artwork that has a face with eyes," because buyers often focus on the people in the image more than the features of the home.
"You don't want somebody to come and look at your house, and look at a picture of you, and say, 'My family isn't like that,' or, 'I don't look like this,' or, 'They're different than me, so this house isn't for me,'" Minch says. "We want them looking at the house, not being distracted by the people who live in the house."
What you own can work. In most cases, stagers can make many of your existing furnishings work, with a few little tweaks. Flavell says she often supplements some details, such as rugs, pillows or artwork, to brighten the room or highlight the best parts of the room.
However, some rooms need a bit more work, depending on the state of the furniture. If the tables or couches are old or don't fit in the space well, Flavell says she often offers to bring in "fresher pieces."
Not all rooms need staging. If you've already moved out of your home, don't worry about filling every single room with furniture again. The most important thing is to look at what you have and decide which rooms will best benefit from extra help.
Flavell says she typically starts with five key rooms for staging -- the living room, dining room, kitchen, master bedroom and master bathroom. However, depending on what needs further attention and the homeowner's budget, other rooms can be staged in addition to, or instead of, the usual five rooms.
For example, particularly small rooms are good for staging, Flavell says. "A lot of buyers can't envision where their sofa's going to fit, or, [if they can] really fit a queen-size bed," she says.
Chrissis notes that other rooms may be difficult to furnish because of size or awkward dimensions.
"If you have a teeny, tiny nine-by-nine bedroom, you might want to stage that because it's a trickier space," Chrissis says, while showcase rooms, such as a paneled library or sunroom with tall windows, benefit from staging to highlight the space.
An outside opinion helps. While you've been living in your home, you've decorated it to your tastes and your needs, and it can be hard to step away from your personal view of the space to stage it correctly.
"The difficulty with people staging their own homes is that they've lived in that home for five, 10, 20 or 40 years, and it's hard for them to see it as something other than the home they've always known." Minch explains.
You may not be in a position to hire a stager to work with you from the beginning to the end of the selling process. But professionals are increasingly offering services at a variety of prices, including consulting services that allow owners to take the advice they find most feasible.
"When I do a consultation I give people a shopping list, and I tell them, 'You can go to Ikea and get this, or you can go to Target, you can go to Walmart. Your furniture's OK, but you might need some pretty silk flowers or some new lamps or throw pillows to dress it up,'" Minch says. These small details can help make a room feel welcoming, without adding so much that the buyer has trouble envisioning their furniture in the space.
There's a lot of competition out there. Even with a growing number of buyers in the market, sellers still have to work to get the price they hope for their home.
"You're either making yourself look good by your listing presentation -- which is your photos that your agent takes of [your home] and the way your home looks when someone comes through it -- or frankly, you're making somebody [else's house] look better," Chrissis says.
She adds that her clients spent almost double the usual amount on home staging last year. Despite the fact that the Boston market is currently extremely competitive for buyers, it hasn't diminished the competition between sellers to get top dollar for their property.
Regardless of whether you can do a little staging or a major upheaval, it's beneficial to make changes that highlight the best features of each room. It could mean a faster sale at a higher price.