Home Staging Expert®

established in 1999


Setting the stage for a sale

Twenty years ago, professional real estate stager Judy Kincaid started telling friends what they needed to do to sell their homes.

Rip out that old carpet, she said.

Corral the clutter.

Clean out the closets.

"People don't always want to know what's wrong with their homes - you have to learn to be very diplomatic," she explained in a kindly but firm tone.

Kincaid, an affiliate of Center Stage Home, sees clients throughout the Tampa Bay area. For $325 for a two-hour consultation, she can walk into any home and scrutinize it objectively, ultimately giving it what she calls the "wow" factor.

That "wow" factor can sometimes mean more money and a faster sale for a seller. Her skills, and those of dozens of stagers like herself in the Tampa Bay area, are sought after more than ever in a once sizzling real estate market that many believe is cooling like sweet tea in a chilled pitcher.

That means if five houses similar to yours are for sale in your development - yours needs to razzle-dazzle.

"You want your home to look its very best and make its very best first impression because you might not get a second chance," Kincaid said.

And you don't have to spend a lot of money, either, said Sue Paskert, a South Tampa Realtor with Keller Williams Gulf Coast Realty.

"Some of the most effective things you can do are de-clutter, paint and get rid of odors, especially animal odors," she said. "Landscaping is important, too, but you don't need to do a lot to give a house more curb appeal - just make sure everything is manicured."

Think of it as show biz or "marketing" for the home. Unless your house is a $90,000 fixer-upper, any house can benefit from staging. Some professional stagers come with their own prop closet of rugs, throws, vases, lamps and artwork.

Others, like Kincaid, simply use what a seller has or rent what's necessary, as she does for many investors she's seeing with empty houses they now need to sell.

For most people, though, staging a house to sell starts with the simplest of steps, many of which you can do yourself. They are not only basic, Kincaid said, but many are a must, especially with upper bracket homes. Here are some tips for effective home staging:

  1. Clean, clean, clean: That means "hospital clean, Q-tip clean," Kincaid says. Everything needs to sparkle, including the "windows, baseboards, fixtures and tubs." Scrub appliances, bathrooms, floors and windows. Get rid of the cobwebs by the front door where potential buyers might linger - and look - while the Realtor fiddles with the lock box.

    Dust over doors, blinds, fans, furniture and fake plants. Shake out the area rugs.

  2. De-clutter: "And not just that pile of laundry on the floor," Kincaid quipped.

    If there's a desk in the master bedroom where you do your work, get rid of what's on top, paperwork, fax machine, computer. And that does not mean stuffing clutter into the closets (more about that later). It's worth the short-term investment, Kincaid noted, to put things in storage.

    "One client had five computers around their house - that was too many" she said.

    She also recommends emptying closets and garages of two-thirds of the contents. "You don't want people thinking, 'This house doesn't have enough storage.' "

    Clean off the coffee tables and streamline rooms with too much furniture. Sometimes a love seat and two chairs is all you need.

    Kid's toys in the den?

    "That's clutter, too," Kincaid said. "Even if they're neatly lined up."

  3. Depersonalize: That goes for collections, no matter how much you love them. You don't want potential buyers studying your vintage collection of salt-and-pepper shakers rather than your house. Ditto for that wall full of diplomas or family photos.

    "You want people to be able to picture themselves in your house rather than thinking, 'Oh, what a nice family. I'll bet they had many happy years here,' " Kincaid said. Get rid of wallpaper, even if you love it. And limit artwork that's very personal or potentially offensive to more conservative buyers.

  4. Let there be light: Open blinds, shades and curtains for plenty of natural light. If you can, remove and store screens from key windows - particularly those that frame a view.

    Place the maximum wattage bulb allowed in every lamp in the house. "Dark rooms look smaller," Kincaid said. And it's not just about square footage, she added, but how big a house actually looks and feels.

    "Turn on all the lights in every room. Don't rely on the Realtor to do it. If you're leaving for work, turn them on in the morning before you go. Your power bill might be a little higher, but the house will show better."

  5. Spruce up the yard: Power wash the front walkway and steps. Brighten up the front door with a fresh coat of paint. Plant some colorful annuals in a pretty pot by the front door.

    Spruce up the yard: Power wash the front walkway and steps. Brighten up the front door with a fresh coat of paint. Plant some colorful annuals in a pretty pot by the front door.

    "Make sure that the walkway is clean and remember that fresh mulch does wonders," Kincaid said. Trim anything that's overgrown, particularly bushes blocking a view. Replace the doormat. Make sure the house numbers are clean and that the light over the door shines clean and clear.

  6. Don't show a house empty: Kincaid recalls an $840,000 house on a large lake where the owner opted to pull all the dated furniture out rather than stage the home.

    "The owner ended up selling it for $120,000 less." The problem? In an empty house where there's nothing else to focus on, prospective buyers end up focusing on problems - like an out-of-date kitchen sink or ugly carpeting - things that might not command as much attention in a well-staged home. So unless the house is brand new and thoroughly up to the minute, don't show it empty.

  7. Replace flooring: This is a staging technique recommended only for sellers who can part with some serious money. Even if it's a sacrifice, Kincaid noted, new floors, particularly hardwood, can sell a house in a heartbeat. Nothing can sabotage an artfully staged house more than atrocious floors - whether they're dirty or just plain ugly.

    "I staged a house for some clients who simply put in hardwood laminate in a few of the rooms where there had been vinyl flooring. The house sold within a week for $3,000 over the asking price. And there were multiple offers."

    If the carpet looks dingy, and hardwood isn't a possibility, replace the carpeting. One client wanted to give the buyer a $5,000 carpeting allowance instead.

    The smarter move, she insists, would be to install new, neutral carpeting before you show the house, which mostly likely will prompt a quicker sale, reducing the time the house languishes on the market.

    An easier fix, said Paskert of Keller Williams, is sometimes the most obvious. One condo she was selling last year, featured beautiful teak floors beneath the rugs.

    "You wouldn't believe how much different it looked," Paskert recalled of the home after the floors were exposed.

  8. Replace dated counters with solid surfaces like granite: Another deep-pocket investment, but usually worth it, no matter what the asking price.

    With homes in higher price brackets, buyers expect nothing less, and will balk, as they did at one of Kincaid's client's homes, if they see faux-granite Formica.

    "Even a $200,000 house can be a lot of money for the person who's buying it," Kincaid says.

"Ultimately, you want the buyer to feel like they're getting something really wonderful for the money."

To learn more go to: www.centerstagehome.com/affiliates/judy_k.htm.