In a saturated real estate market, sellers may be tempted to spend vast amounts of time and money upgrading, decorating and staging a house to attract attention and encourage a fast, top-dollar sale. However, experts warn that excessive staging can look fake, waste money and even turn away potential buyers.
When staging to sell, think like a buyer, focus on the right rooms and avoid overdoing it.
Think like a buyer
To be sure, appropriate staging is worth the cost and effort. A Coldwell Banker study in 2004 found professionally staged homes sell in about half the time and at a 6-percent premium over non-staged homes.
"The competition out there is fierce these days nationwide ... Sellers have to get their home in marketable condition to sell so that it shows like a model home, period," said frequent Hometalk.com contributor Krisztina Bell, president of Virtually Staging Properties, a Georgia-based staging company that digitally adds images of furniture and décor to vacant property photos for online listings.
She said the most common mistake is leaving too much furniture and other belongings out in the home.
"Most of the time, (sellers) have not de-cluttered the home enough, and it just does not have that 'wow' factor buyers are looking for when viewing numerous homes," Bell of Virtually Staging Properties said. "The home has to be pristine and literally move-in ready as the buyers are being very picky and looking for the most bang for the buck these days."
Dalaine Bartelme, who stages homes for Colorado's House Whisperer company, said the key is simplicity and broad appeal.
"Remove personal items such as family photos, things that are religious or political in nature, or other decor that wouldn't appeal to the majority of buyers," she recommends.
Stacey Sherman said a home for sale "should reflect a clean style and be depersonalized." Sherman runs Spiffed Up Spaces, a design and staging company in North Carolina.
"With staging, the ultimate goal is to make the potential buyer feel that the house they're seeing fits their wish list and lifestyle, or a lifestyle they desire," Sherman said.
Your kids' artwork and stacks of magazines may not be part of the lifestyle they desire. Likewise, she warns that "period-heavy looks or stylized designs should be avoided."
Focus on the right rooms
Experts agree that buyers typically focus on the entryway, kitchen, bathrooms, main living room and master bedroom, which Bertelme calls the "zones of influence." Focus staging efforts on these areas to make sure they look updated, clean and inviting.
Don't assume you need to replace all the major appliances. Talk to your real estate agent and compare the home with other homes in the area to make sure you are not pricing the home out of the market.
"You don't want to get caught up in having to redo your whole house, as no house on the market is perfect," Bell said.
With home prices continuing to decline from their peak in most areas, it is difficult to get 100-percent return on investment. On the other hand, if every other home sold in the neighborhood has granite counters and new, efficient refrigerators, it might be time to go shopping.
"Updating kitchen countertops, replacing carpet in bedrooms and refinishing hardwood floors seem to be at the top of the list of updates and repairs these days," Bell said.
Sherman said bathrooms must, above all, "be impeccably clean." Also, bathroom fixtures are relatively inexpensive and often worth replacing. "Old, dated and leaky faucets and toilets are a definite turn-off for buyers and are definitely worth cost of repair," she said.
Sherman said the staging should be simple but attractive. She suggests completing bathrooms with "a nice throw rug, lush towels, a few decorative items and maybe a green plant."
Bell also suggests adding fresh, neutral paint, getting a professional cleaning and cleaning up the front landscaping to improve curb appeal.
Avoid too much staging
Bell said going beyond these basics can be too much, and homeowners should avoid "getting into decorating the home rather than staging."
So how much is too much?
"Putting champagne glasses and wine out with fake fruit in the bar area or lit candles by the bathtub is really going overboard," Bell said. "It just screams 'fake' and you want buyers to focus on the features of the home."
She adds that sellers don't need to put out their best china or buy candleholders for the dining room table. Rather, "less is best and a beautiful flower arrangement or a bowl with fresh fruit or decorative balls centered on the table is just enough."
Staging experts also warn sellers to limit seasonal decorations.
"You don't want buyers to be overwhelmed by holiday décor or leave it in the house too long, which may indicate the home has been on the market for a long time," she said. "It is always best to keep it simple when staging a home. A colorful wreath on the front door or a grouping of pumpkins on your front steps is just enough to give buyers a warm and inviting welcome into your home, and don't forget to remove them when the holidays are over."
A new matching bathroom set is also too much, according to Bell.
"A seller does not need to buy the blue shower curtain with the blue matching rug, blue towels and the toothbrush and soap holder set. (It's) too matchy, matchy."
Bartelme also warns against spending money staging rooms outside the "zones of influence." Secondary bedrooms and other spaces should be clean, but don't need to be staged. Her only exceptions are for very small bedrooms or other unusual spaces. Add a bed or desk to "allow buyers to see what they could do with the space."
The key to appropriate staging is allowing buyers to picture themselves in a home rather than impressing them with your style and taste. Keep staging simple for maximum effect.