Houses need an advantage now
As market slows, here are budget-conscious ways to spur sale
By Rachel Koning Beals
Last Update: 7:42 PM ET May 11, 2006
CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- A slower U.S. housing market means sellers can no longer bank on having their
pick of offers for properties showing their age and the wear and tear of everyday living. Dressing up, or
staging, a home with a thorough cleaning and decorator touches may be vital to luring increasingly fussy
Sellers work within a range of budgets as they prepare a property for sale, often from a few hundred to a few
thousand dollars. Yet many critical fixes don't cost a dime.
"Walk through the house and remove all the clutter," says Rhonda Duffy, an agent for Rainmaker Realty in Atlanta.
She reports four houses on the market for every one buyer in her area, plus slower activity in her firm's northern
California, Washington D.C., and Florida offices.
"A living room should have a couch and chairs, a table, some plants and maybe a TV, not a 30-year life history," she
says. "Clean out the closets and don't forget the garage."
Since similar houses that had routinely sold in weeks over the past few years may now be sitting on the market for
several months, sellers are challenged over a longer time to keep their home free of the remnants of hectic family life.
At the least, agents recommend, stage the house for a series of high-quality photos to run on an Internet listing sight -
- first impressions take on even greater importance these days. Then, keep copies of the photos accessible to wouldbe
buyers as they walk through the house, says Duffy. Toys, piled-up mail and crowded countertops are likely to be
forgiven if a buyer can see the home's full potential. Staging for photos can include moving a sofa away from a
feature window and editing items on a fireplace mantel.
Personal items that will soon have to make the move to a new place anyway should be boxed up and stored ahead of
opening the house to potential buyers. Sellers must try to distance themselves emotionally from the house as soon
as the decision is made to list, says Fran Bailey, an agent with Baird & Warner in suburban Chicago. "Yes, the
purpose of a home is to support a lifestyle. Now, it has another purpose and that is to sell itself," Bailey says.
Don't rid the home of its lamps, however. Plenty of light, including a small lamp on a kitchen counter, can go a long
way to warm the place up. Made beds and emptied garbage cans should become second nature since sellers never
know when they may have to show the place on little notice.
The few hundred dollars budgeted for the house sale might be best spent on storage rental or professional clutter
removal -- out-of-commission appliances for instance -- in order to optimize square footage. For smaller homes,
space is often a trick of the eye, says Lindsay Peroff, with 1800gotjunk.com, a junk-removal service operating in
When to call the pros
Once personal items and extra furniture are out of the way, sellers may want to spend enough to hire professional
cleaners, including someone to wash windows inside and out and to shampoo carpets. Pets shouldn't be around for
As market slows, budget-conscious ways to spur sale of your home - MarketWatch Page 1 of 3
showings and neither should their smell.
"This may seem simple, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do it," says David Henry, an agent with
Coldwell Banker in Aptos, Calif., in Santa Cruz County. "Air the place out several hours a day, for several days."
Have pest, septic and mold inspections prior to investing in any upgrade projects, he says. Then, sellers can better
prioritize upgrade ideas and budget accordingly.
Sellers hoping to keep their staging expenses lean and their family routine intact might focus on the exterior. Webbased
listings may be key to generating early interest, but curb appeal is what's likely to get buyers to the front door.
Get rid of clutter and dead vegetation and add color with some new plantings. When possible, try to pick flowers that
will bloom in time for showings, says Duffy. Remove broken and dated lawn features and fences -- and, says Duffy,
tear out chain-link fences in any condition.
Inside, modest budgets stretch the most if spent on fresh paint, particularly for the entry and main rooms of the
house. Cracked windowpanes, leaky faucets and other modest repairs deserve attention.
Agents and decorating professionals said budgets of several thousand dollars might be best used toward exterior
panting, new landscaping and kitchen face-lifts.
It's no surprise that kitchens and bathrooms sell a home, so spiffing up these spaces, even for a few dollars, can go a
long way toward boosting the asking price and generating interest.
Many people underestimate the low cost and high impact of swapping out cabinet hardware and faucets for updated
styles, says Daryl Coley, who co-owns the Tulsa, Okla.-based franchise of national remodeling chain Kitchen
He suggests that larger budgets go to countertop upgrades; solid surface materials such as granite, quartz and
marble give a high-end feel. Even less-expensive choices, such as a laminate with a beveled front that runs $1,000 to
$2,000 depending on footage, can give the overall room a fresher look. Floors should be considered next, he says.
Those watching the bottom line might consider long-wearing laminate flooring as an alternative to hardwood or tile.
Gut kitchen renovations or even a few choice updates -- refaced cabinets, new floors and countertops -- can typically
add $5,000 to $10,000 to the asking price depending on size and quality, says Coley. But sellers must keep in mind
that new owners may have different taste; a few staging updates might prove more enticing to buyers than being
stuck with an expensive renovation they don't like.
It's likely that a designer free of emotional investment in the property can better dress a home for the widest range of
potential buyers. If the budget allows, a professional stager -- a growing field of certified and noncertified participants
-- might ease seller anxiety; many agents, but not all, also consider staging a specialty.
Think twice before assuming you can stage on your own. Chicago designer Philip Popwici was called in to help sell a
midrise Chicago apartment, on the market for nearly three months with little interest, that along with several similar
two-bedroom, two-bath units in building, was about to have its Lake Michigan views compromised by new
construction. Staging introduced to potential buyers the appeal of the apartment exclusive of its view. It sold long
before any of the comparable properties, some of which had to be pulled off the market.
Popwici, owner of Rooms Redux, a staging company catering to a clientele of condo and town home owners, helped
carve out a dining space in an open floor plan with furniture positioning, essentially adding a room within existing
square footage. He recommends hanging a mirror to mimic a window in rooms lacking natural light. He says
bathrooms and master bedrooms are a good place to use limited resources. A few touches, like rich window
treatments and candles, can make these rooms feel like a retreat for potential buyers.
He too emphasizes a good edit of life's possessions.
Yet, while decluttered homes stand a better chance of selling, that doesn't mean homes should be shown completely
As market slows, budget-conscious ways to spur sale of your home - MarketWatch Page 2 of 3
empty, the experts say.
Those working under a larger budget might consider trendy and appropriately proportioned rental furniture to fill the
main rooms, says Baird & Warner's Bailey.
At the least, says Rainmaker's Duffy, stage small vignettes of tables, lamps and artificial plants to soften corners and
add interest. Make sure to provide a chair or two, even inexpensive covered folding chairs and a simple covered
table, for any buyer who might need to sit down and weigh her options -- like making an offer.
Copyright © 2006 MarketWatch, Inc. All rights reserved.
Historical and current end-of-day data provided by FT Interactive Data.
More information on NASDAQ traded symbols and their current financial status.
Intraday data delayed 15 minutes for Nasdaq, and 20 minutes for other exchanges.
Dow Jones IndexesSM from Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
SEHK intraday data is provided by Comstock and is at least 60-minutes delayed.
All quotes are in local exchange time.
As market slows, budget-conscious ways to spur sale of your home - MarketWatch Page 3 of 3
Lift Interiors LLC Copyright 2006
Scotch Plains, New Jersey Specializing in Staging and Redesign