home staging

Realtor Teresa Rule shows off some of the items she keeps in the basement of her home to help her clients "stage" vacant, for-sale homes. While the task of de-cluttering and de-personalizing is good because it shows off space, it is also beneficial to have a few props to warm a place up. A large clock over a fireplace would fill the bill.

Larry Fisher

Fifteen seconds.

That’s about how long it takes a prospective buyer to sense whether they’re going to have a good feeling about your house, said Teresa Rule, an agent with Mel Foster Co.

And that is why it is often important for people who want to sell their homes for the best price to make changes to get their homes ready to sell. This begins with basic, common-sense steps such as cleaning and fixing things that are broken to a practice called “staging” in which you purposefully arrange your house to put it in the best light.

You also want to make your home as move-in ready as possible because 95 percent of buyers aren’t looking for a fixer-upper or even a home that will require them to remove wallpaper they don’t like or replace carpeting that is worn or stained.

While sellers may think that removing wallpaper or replacing carpet are big steps that will cost too much or take too much time, doing both can work to their advantage, Rule said.

“People (buyers) want a house that is clean and move-in ready,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen time and time again where $3,500 to $4,000 in new carpet will save $15,000 in negotiations. It’s definitely worth it.”

Don’t worry that you will pick the “wrong” carpet. The point is that it be clean and fresh.

More pointers

Light. Most people don’t live in their house with every light turned on, but that is how a house should be when a buyer first sees it, said Matt Schwind, an agent with Ruhl & Ruhl. “Turn on every light, including those in closets, bathrooms and basements. Don’t be frugal with low wattage, either.

“Second, always leave blinds and curtains open wide, taking advantage of every bit of natural light. It’s a psychological fact that the brighter a house when a buyer first sees it, the better impression they will have when they leave.”

Staging. “I talk about the ‘three Ds,” Rule said. “De-clutter, de-personalize and decorate.”

De-cluttering means tidying up (putting away magazines, toys and clothing) as well as packing up excess accessories and knick-knacks. These items prevent prospective buyers from “seeing” your house because there’s too much stuff in the way. Or, there is so much stuff that they can’t picture their stuff in the home.

“You want to clear the palette,” Rule said.

Dawnita Neff of Ruhl & Ruhl goes so far as to say that you should pack up anything that is smaller than the distance between your elbow and  fingertips — vases or statuary, for example.

Removal will open up space, and “space is good,” said Diane Nelson of Room Wizards in Davenport. “You are selling square footage. Less is more.”

If your kitchen counter space is limited, make it look as large as possible by putting coffeemakers, toasters, microwaves, cookie jars and other items in cupboards or storage.

After de-cluttering comes de-personalizing, an even more difficult step. That means putting away family photos. Buyers want to see themselves in your house, and if there are constant reminders that it’s your house, they may walk away.

That said, you don’t want a sterile house. So some things stay — and you need to decorate.

Paint. Bright, rich colors are popular, but when it comes to selling, neutral is best. That doesn’t mean white. White is seen as cold and sterile. But colors in the sand family or a soft gray — a new neutral tone — are best. If you think color will help set off a room, confine it to one wall or add pillows or a piece of artwork.

Wallpaper. This may come as a surprise to people who love wallpaper, but it is not universally cherished. “Even if you have spent thousands of dollars on a designer print, the odds are 10 to 1 against the next person wanting your particular style,” Schwind said.

And if you think it’s too much hassle to pull it down, so will the buyer, he said.

Odors. Cooking smells, pet odors, diapers, mold, mildew and smoke can literally kill a sale, Schwind said, adding that you should ask your agent for an honest assessment of how your house smells.

“Smokers especially may have no 'nose' for cigarette smoke, but it is always offensive to nonsmokers,” he said. “Also, buyers will walk right out of a house with a cat or dog urine smell.

“Covering up odors is not the answer either,” he continued. “Heavy perfume, plug-in air fresheners and candles will raise a red flag with buyers.”

Clean. This means windows, floors and furniture. If your faucets are chrome, make sure they shine. “No one wants to move into a dirty house,” Nelson said.

Exterior. Potential buyers have time during drive-bys, or even while the agent is getting out the key, to make an assessment. Clean the gutters, knock down cobwebs, power-wash your siding, do a little touch-up painting if there are spots that need it and perhaps paint the front door. “If your front door is white, painting it can make it pop,” Nelson said.

Put down a new welcome mat and, in the summer, place a pot of blooming flowers next to the door. Trim hedges and pull weeds out of cracks in the sidewalk and driveway. Store “whimsical” doo-dads such as gnomes or whirlygigs. They’re not to everyone’s taste.

Fix it up. Sometimes prospective sellers look at their real estate agent and say, “I don’t want to remake my house, I want to sell it.”

While that’s true, some work — such as the new carpeting described above — can pay big dividends.

Sometimes the work is big. If you have a really old furnace, it could pay to replace it. Your real estate agent could use that as a selling point to prospective buyers, and you might get a quicker, better sale.

Sometimes the work is small, but there can be a lot of it. That is, your home has blemishes or inconveniences that you have learned to live with, but when they are “piled one on top of another, (they) seem overwhelming in total,” Schwind said. The more minor things you can fix, the better.