Never mind what the calendar says. The spring housing market is itching to arrive, all competitive and feisty. You’d be wise to put your home in training now to make it a top contender when February rolls around.
“Today’s buyer doesn’t want a fixer-upper,” decorator-stager Debbie Welsh said. “They want to buy on Monday and entertain on Saturday.”
It’s a tall order, but doable with the help of a professional trained in the art of staging, be they a decorator or a real estate agent. They’ll see your home through the eyes of a discerning buyer, and guide you through your fix-it program, prioritizing improvements according to your budget.
“We know you don’t want to spend a lot,” stager Shirley Slemc, said. “But you’ve got to do enough to make it look like you’ve paid attention.” She and Welsh are partners in The Decorating Gals, a home decorating and staging firm with offices in Avon Lake and Painesville.
There are roughly nine areas for the motivated seller to address. But don’t stress out. You don’t have to tackle them all at once, and they don’t have to be finished on the same day. Consider your home improvement a process.
Absolutely don’t list your home before you’ve finished the process. “That’s like coming out on your wedding day in your robe and curlers,” Slemc said. “Wait ‘til you’re all dolled up.”
No. 1: Street presence
Your home’s architecture is set in stone, more or less, but there’s something you can do about curb appeal. Are shrubs or trees interfering with the windows? Prune them. Are shingles curling on the roof? Call a roofer. Is the front door faded and shabby? Paint it. And clear the flower bed of summer’s debris so the daffodils can pop up unimpeded.
There. Doesn’t the house look like someone cares now?
“The details show the owner’s level of commitment,” Slemc said. Let would-be buyers see the love.
No. 2: Interior walls
Got wallpaper? Get rid of it. All of it. Same goes for decorative borders. (If your real estate agent loves your wallpaper, find a real estate agent who will advise you to rent a steamer.) Then give each room a modernizing pick-me-up by painting the walls in soft “today” colors – earth tones, sages, taupes. These are sometimes called Williamsburg colors. Your stager has color training, and can choose hues that perk things up.
Don’t ever underestimate paint’s power to make a big impact. It might be all that’s standing between a nice room and “Wow, what a beautiful room.”
No. 3: Carpeting
Replace worn, stained or out-of-style carpet.
“Just having fresh and clean carpet makes a huge difference,” Slemc said. “It’s one of the most important improvements if your budget is limited.”
It’s the one item in your improvement list that can make the difference between selling and languishing on the market.
No. 4: Clutter
Call ‘em gee-gaws, knick-knacks, collections or treasures, they’ve got to go. They make the house feel crowded and much too personal. Buyers want to picture themselves in your home, and that’s hard to do with all your stuff lying around. Same goes for an over-abundance of art work, particularly if your Aunt Lulu painted it.
Religious artifacts are best gathered up and stored for the duration, too. “The buyer shouldn’t know who lives there,” Slemc said. Your home needs to be neutral territory.
As for closets, too much stuff gives them that “too small” look. Get rid of everything you don’t need or use. Your eventual move will be that much easier.
No. 5: Furniture
Less is more. Excessive furniture eats up space – call it real estate -- and makes rooms feel smaller. “If I give you the impression that the house is already full,” Slemc said, “you’ll think you won’t fit there.”
And sometimes, excessive furniture detracts from a room’s assets. “Maybe the fireplace is awesome, but the room’s too cluttered or crowded for you to notice,” Welsh said. Sending some of the furniture to the basement can make a world of difference.
Besides sending some of your furniture to the basement, your stager may want to rearrange what’s left. Let her. She has your best interest at heart.
No. 6: Window treatments
Guess what. Less is still more. Heavy draperies and elaborate valences are out. They gather dust and block the light. Cutesy kitchen curtains with tiebacks are also out. Don’t take it personally if your real estate agent or stager wants to take them down.
No. 7: Deodorize
Mustiness is a turnoff, so put a dehumidifier in the basement. And while you’re at it, change the cat litter and scoop it daily. Cat odor is the Mother of All Odor, and must be completely eliminated. Do what you must.
Hide the litter box when buyers come calling. And that goes for pet dishes, too. Just the sight of them can sour a buyer’s perception of your home.
No. 8: Kitchen and bathrooms
If you haven’t been able to renovate, perhaps you can afford new countertop, at very least. “Everyone wants pretty countertops,” Gallman said. “Get laminate if you can’t afford granite.”
If major improvements are out of the question, at least modernize your color scheme, update the cupboard pulls and get new accessories, such as towels and potholders. And clean, clean, clean. Immaculate goes a long way with buyers.
Put away as much stuff as possible to free up counter space and make the place look more spacious. And if you’ve got two kitchens’ worth of cookware, give some away to Goodwill. You can’t possibly need it, and someone else surely does.
And clean, clean, clean. Immaculate goes a long way with buyers.
When your kitchen starts to look like it’s in a model home, you’ll know you’ve done your job.
No. 9: Lighting
Brass and gold-toned fixtures are out, silver is in.
Well-lit is in, dim is out. Up the wattage in those light bulbs, borrow your sister’s extra floor lamp until your house sells, and turn on every light before a showing.
But that’s getting ahead of the game. For now, get a stager and start making improvements. Avoid the rush.