Saturday, June 28, 2014
Tales of a Tract Home: Tips for Staging Your Home to Sell
We are off on a grand, somewhat unknown adventure. Well at least a minor adventure. After seven years of living in our home we've sold it and are moving on. It's hard to leave a place where we've loved our neighbors, loved our ward (religious congregation), and loved how much of a "home" our house has become. But we knew it was time to go.
Once we made the initial decision, we were a bit overwhelmed with the process. We've sold two homes before. One with a realtor and one for sale by owner. And I clearly remember the stress and preparation involved in getting a home ready to put on the market. So this time we wanted to make the process as easy on us as possible.
Here are a few tips for staging your home to sell:
#1: Have your potential realtor do a walk through. This is painful. They will point out mysterious smells (thank goodness we passed on that front), ask you to remove certain items, suggest ways to improve the house, and finally give you a realistic picture of what your house is worth. Try to be as unemotional as possible. Ask yourself, "How much do I want to sell this house?" Recognize they are an expert in their field and make a list of everything they suggest or ask.
#2: Make a "to do" list. After the realtor has left, make a list of items that need updating or improvements. Do another walk through to determine based on their list if there is anything else that needs fixing. Determine who will complete each task: you, your spouse or significant other, or a contractor. Keep the list in plain sight and determine a timeline for each item so you stay on task and get your home on the market in the time frame you most desire.
#3: Bid your extra projects. We had carpet in our Master Bathroom. Yeah. I know. Weird. We bought this home as a spec home so everything inside was already selected and completed when we first walked through. It was a turnoff to us to find carpet in the bathroom, so we figured it might be for someone else. We decided to upgrade to tile, but neither of us have any skills in laying tile. We had three contractors come in and bid the project. While all three estimates were fairly close in price (which was a good sign), we were concerned about certain things and picked our contractor based on those concerns. This is NOT the time to feel bad about not hiring one contractor over another. It is your money and your house, and you need to go with the contractor and price that feels right to you. And don't go with the first contractor that you see. Make sure their bid is fair by bringing in a few more contractors to bid the job.
#4: Is it worth your time? There are many things on the list of fixes that you can do yourself. Sometimes it is worth your time and sometimes it isn't. Our realtor suggested that we upgrade from the white builder's paint in the main living areas to a color. While we've painted many, many rooms, we are just too busy to take on that task so this is another job we bid out to a contractor. Choosing paint was a bit of a headache, but thank goodness for Pinterest. I researched popular neutral paint colors that would appeal to any buyer and selected Sherwin Williams "Revere Pewter." It's a lovely greige paint that sometimes pulls grey and sometimes pulls tan, which matches everything in my home. Our painters knocked out the kitchen/dining/family room combo, the downstairs hallway, and the upstairs hallway in just two days. That was significantly faster than my husband and I could have done it and well worth the price of having a professional do the job. Again do your homework before hiring a contractor and make sure to include everything you want in the bid (such as how many coats of paint, whether you want the baseboards repainted their original white color, and what the expect you to remove before painting). You'll also get what you pay for so if you go cheap expect to fix things after they leave.
#5: Knock out the to do list. We thought we could get our list done in a matter of a couple of weeks. But with both of us working long hours and the kids finishing up school with loads of activities, we realized that wasn't realistic. We had to adjust our time frame a few times as it wasn't worth the stress to try and push through into the middle of the night to get things done. Clearly communicate with your spouse or significant other who will complete what task. Put the kids to work. They can clean their rooms, help with smaller projects (or larger if they're older). Take breaks when you need to, but just checking items off the list will help you feel you're getting closer to your goal. It also helps you stay on target.
#6: You'll inevitably discover additional fixes. Something about fixing up one area, helps you recognize other items that need to be fixed. Sometimes you feel you're adding more items to the list (fix faucet leak, weed garden) faster than you're eliminating items. Do recognize that you've lived in the house and your buyer will know that. The goal is to get it as clean and as fresh looking as possible.
#7: Early packing. As you go through each room, pack up unnecessary items. It will save you time when you finally get that offer and need to move, and it will also help you remove extra items that clutter up a space. We rented a storage unit in town and took boxes over every couple of days. We only moved items that we knew we wouldn't need for at least six months in case the market is slow. As we packed, we also purged. Donate unwanted items to charity or hold a garage sale to help offset some of the costs of fix ups and moving. You can obtain boxes from grocery stores, ask your neighbors, or even purchase them from places like Office Depot (we like their file folder boxes) or U-haul (who will allow you to return unused boxes for a full refund).
#8: Clean up. This is the time to go beyond basic Saturday cleaning. Use a critical eye to determine how clean an item looks. Hire a cleaning service if it makes sense. Thankfully my husband is the consummate cleaner and could dig in and go way beyond just helping me. (Really that man is a cleaning machine.) Keep a box of cleaning tools handy but out of sight for cleaning each day in case you get a last minute call. Then establish a daily "cleaning list" in case you get a call from a realtor wanting to show the house. Maintaining a clean home is difficult while you're trying to both live in it and pack up to move, but it's well worth it to be ready to show the house when you get those calls.
#9: Staging. This is my favorite part. It's like decorating a whole house all at once.Visit a few model homes in your areas. Note what was is missing from these homes: lots of excess furniture, photos of family members, oddly colored walls or strange furniture layouts. Note was does exist: simple decor, clean furniture lines, and wide open spaces. Return to your home and once again walk through each room. Remove unnecessary items. Move furniture around to capture the most space in each area. Remove any and all clutter. Again, pack up and remove what you want to keep and get rid of what you don't. Take a few photos to see how the room looks in pictures as this will be how buyers often first see your home. Remove more items if necessary. Remember you want to give a new buyer an idea of how they could make the home work for them. Make the home as neutral a personality as possible. That way when they walk through, they'll imagine themselves living in the home and not you. It's a little painful to do this because you've worked so long to make the house your own, but buyers need help to see this place as their own; and if you're truly wanting to sell, it's worth it!
#10: Taking Photographs: I was lucky in that my realtor allowed me to take my own photographs. Having served as a product photographer for a few companies, I knew enough about photography to capture my home in the best way, as opposed to someone else who might not know how best to shoot each room. I watched the light in my house and captured each room when it looked its best. I took photos from several different angles. I captured little details that I thought made our home special like our raised bed gardens. Then I took the time to make sure each photograph looked true to color and had the best view. There were a few photos that I actually retook once I viewed them on my computer because they didn't look as good as I knew they could. After selecting the best photograph for each space, I sent them to my realtor. He uploaded them in order of how someone would view them moving from space-to-space in my home. This gave buyers viewing my MLS listing a better idea of how the house flowed. I appreciated that he took the time to do this because having viewed several listings myself, I knew how frustrating it could be to not see a photograph of a certain part of a home. I also knew what a turnoff it was to see a room that was cluttered, unstaged, and frankly in need of a good cleaning.
#11: The Description: Let your realtor guide you through this process. He or she will ask the schools children attend in the area. He or she will look for your latest appraisal. A good realtor will make sure every bit of information is covered in the description. My realtor allowed me to write my overall general house description. As a product catalog writer and marketing coordinator, I knew what I wanted to say. I wrote out a description, edited it and whittled it down to the bare minimums and then sent it over. While his description might have been just as good, it made me feel better to know that I had described my own home and highlighted items that might best catch a buyer's attention.
#12: Pricing: While this doesn't seem related to staging your home to sell, you certainly don't want to overprice your home after all the work of prepping and staging your home. This will only cause the home to sit for months on the market, and who wants to live with that stress for months? You also don't want to undervalue the home you've come to love and want to sell. Look at the comps in the area. Talk about a painful and eye-opening process! Homes in our neighborhood were selling for much less than we wanted them to, but we didn't and couldn't set the terms of the market. The economy, buyers, sellers, and general market does all by itself. Based upon things like lot size, comparisons to other homes like ours in the area, and finishes in our own home, we selected a price we felt we were comfortable with. It was just a few thousand more than some of the comps, but with our larger cul-de-sac lot and the Zillow "Zestimate" we felt comfortable starting at that price. (Click HERE to view "Zestimates" in your area.) (Definitely take the time to educate yourself on values in the area. If you don't get a showing in the first few weeks, then you know you've priced too high. If you can't even get someone in your door, then you've already weakened your negotiation power and possibly hurt the pending sale of your home.)
The result: In just nine days we had two contracts, one of which we signed on the 10th day at our full asking price with no contingencies.
What I learned: Moving is hard, hard work and often emotional. It is exceedingly difficult to stage and clean and show a house with children (and two people who both work from home). It feels a little sad to fix up a house just to move away from it. I can't always control things like when people want to see the home, the market conditions, or what people really think the home is worth. And it was far harder than I remember it being the last two times (kind of like forgetting how difficult birth can be).
But more than anything I learned that all the hard work was worth it. Having our house sell so quickly was nothing short of a miracle in a slow-moving market. So while all those long hours were exhausting and often frustrating, the end result was absolutely incredible.
Take the time to make your home shine. Your rewards might include: a) more money offered on your home, b) a bidding war, c) a quicker selling home, or d) an offer that matches your asking price. Any or all of these items are well worth the time and effort to stage your home.
One interesting result was that my husband became an absolute believer in home staging. In the past we had been unable to really take the time to do this, and we noticed an immediate difference this time when we went to sell the house.
If you're looking to sell your home, try the staging route. I promise it will make a huge difference in your selling process. Good luck with your move!