We're all a bit like Goldilocks in search of the just-right spot to settle in: neither too large, nor too small, a place that meets all our needs. Sometimes our current home just isn't quite a good fit anymore. That vague discomfort combined with the Inland Northwest's hot real eastate market, may just nudge you to take the plunge toward selling your home. But whether you're upsizing, downsizing or rightsizing, it can be a daunting task to refashion your lived-in look into a place future buyers can envision their own lives unfolding. That's where home stagers step in.
Staging involves many things, says Sylvia Dunn, who created Home Staging Works in 2006. In addition to repairing, updating, decluttering, redecorating, rearranging, cleaning and other aesthetic strategies, Dunn says there's also the feeling you're trying to create.
"Purchasing a home is absolutely an emotional experience," Dunn says. "You are showing buyers a lifestyle they may have living in the home."
Dunn looks for ways to create what she calls "pockets of emotion" for varying demographics: Kids' artwork on the wall appeals to families, golf clubs or travel books convey an active lifestyle, and a dining tray with beautiful glasses can suggest the space is ideal for entertaining.
"Creating these kinds of stories throughout the home are winning strategies for getting top-dollar offers," says Dunn, who offers several service levels.
For occupied homes, Dunn does a pre-listing walk-through to prioritize projects and recommend fixes. Sometimes only a portion of the space needs sprucing up, so for both that and vacant homes, Dunn's team turns to their extensive inventory of furnishing and accessories.
"Professionally staged homes always sell for more money than a vacant property," says Dunn, whose business caters to every price point.
At Affordable Home Staging, owner Amy Barragan also pulls from a warehouse of furnishings and accessories to stage vacant spaces. Their goal is ensuring listing photos stand out and buyers are enticed to visit.
Once they visit, says Barragan, buyers form an opinion within seconds, and it's not just what people see that can influence them.
Bad smells can sink a sale, she says, because owners are usually acclimated to their home's smell and don't notice an offending odor. Barragan suggests asking someone you trust to do a sniff test. Then use a light fragrance — wall plug-ins, essential oils or sprays — as needed. Be sure to sniff again before you allow potential homebuyers into your space, she says.
Pet smells linger in carpets so give yourself an extra week if you're cleaning them to air that out. Better yet, says Barrigan, hide all evidence of pets.
"Seeing pet items around a home automatically makes a buyer suspicious of possible smells, pee in the carpet, clawed baseboards or flooring, or a dug up lawn," she says.
Home stagers aren't the only party invested in making homes picture-perfect. Spokane Realtor Sara Koenig says even the smallest details matter in forming that all-important first impression.
"Putting away items most of us live with each day like pet bowls, laundry baskets, dish drying racks, shoe racks, and mail stations are easy fixes that always make a difference," Koenig says.
Landscaping should be well-maintained regardless of season, and pay special attention to the entry. Consider fresh paint on the door, adding a potted plant or a new doormat.
Less is More
"A great rule of thumb for spaces such as a closet or the pantry is to allow for 20 percent empty areas," says Sylvia Dunn. Stash stuff out of sight, take it with you on showing days, or rent a temporary space to store large items like furniture that can make a small space feel crowded.
It's Not Personal
In addition to pet items, remove most photos, kids' toys, hygiene items, etc., but don't go overboard. Some items — artwork, plants, a few mementos — make the space personable and unique.
In addition to cleaning the house from top to bottom before real estate photos or videos and before all showings, consider having very soft background music — Dunn recommends jazz or instrumental — to help create a welcoming vibe.
Best Bang for Your Buck
You can't go wrong with fresh paint, especially warm, neutral colors. And if carpet or flooring is worn, says Dunn, it's better to replace it (plus you get that desirable "new carpet" smell) and know you can add the cost to the asking price.
Focus on the living, dining and kitchen areas, and at least one bedroom, where it might be worth it to invest in new bedding and some pretty pillows, says Koenig.
In the bathroom, a light-colored shower curtain and towels show well.
Other nice touches: fresh flowers in the kitchen, good lighting — bulbs should all match — and clean windows, both inside and out, Koenig says.
Koenig concurs that vacant homes don't sell as well as those with furnishings, so she looks for a stager with a strong sense of design who can match the furnishings to the home.
The investment is worth it, our experts say.
"In the current real estate market, with the low inventory levels, you can sell a home in any condition," Dunn says. Well-staged homes, however, sell faster and better, even going above the asking price.
"You might end up investing a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand dollars into staging and — if done right — make many more times your investment with higher offers," Dunn says.
"Professional staging should not only pay for itself, but should also make you money in the end."
And, if nothing, else, after all that decluttering and fresh paint you might realize that your forever home... is exactly where you already are.