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Originally published February 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 3, 2009 at 10:58 AM

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In down market, even staging on a shoestring helps sell

To help give their listings an edge, some real estate agents are paying for staging consultations on the homes they list. Others are even pitching in to help their clients with the primping and painting.

Special to The Seattle Times

Staging tips

IF YOU'RE GETTING ready to sell your home, consider some of these staging tips from local stagers and real-estate professionals:

× Clean the home from top to bottom. "I'm talking Q-tip clean," said Barb Schwarz, a former Seattle-area real-estate agent credited for establishing the home-staging industry in the 1970s. "People forget all the flies and dead yellow jackets trapped in window sills."

× Pack away knick-

knacks, collectibles and clutter. "Declutter, and then go through and declutter again," said home stager Karalee Donlan of Seattle. Too many items on display distract potential buyers, and make a room feel smaller than it is.

×Depersonalize your home with neutral colors and design. "It allows other people to go in and mentally move their stuff in, versus feeling like a guest in your home," said Eric Manzanares, a regional-sales manager for Polygon Northwest in Bellevue.

×Take care of the details: "We tell everybody when you get your home ready, all of those things that you wanted to do, everything that bothered you like that squeaky door or that trim, needs fixed," said Henry Samonte, an agent with John L. Scott's University Village office in Seattle. "You should be sort of sad and unhappy that you're leaving. ... The house should be, 'Wow, this is what I wanted it to look like when I moved here.' "

×Create curb appeal: Power-wash the sidewalks and driveway. Clean gutters and give the door a fresh coat of paint, if it needs one. "Concentrate on the yard," said Pat Phillips, an agent with John L. Scott Real Estate's Madison Park office in Seattle. "Actually, a well-maintained garden can get them into a home."

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The newly remodeled luxury home in Edmonds sat on the market for 90 days, without an offer — not even a bite.

On Day 91, real-estate agent Stan Isenhath enlisted the help of a professional home stager, who brought in new furnishings and accessories to give the property more pizazz.

On Day 92, the seller received an offer for the full asking price.

Isenhath credits staging — more specifically, the placement of a hide-a-bed in the media room to demonstrate the area's versatility — for the buyer's interest in the home.

The buyer had "been through the home the week it was first listed but ruled it out as she had wanted a fourth bedroom for guests," he said. "She returned to see the home in an entirely new light."

Real-estate professionals and sellers turn to staging as a way to give their properties a competitive edge.

"We are in a market now where the competition is fierce for those buyers," said home stager Karalee Donlan of Seattle. "You've got that first few seconds to get them to say, 'Wow, I can see myself living here.' "

Home stagers work with sellers in clearing out clutter, cleaning their home until it passes a white-glove test and creating the perfect Pottery Barn look and ambience to potential buyers.

Service can be costly

It's a service that can cost hundreds to several thousands of dollars, depending on the size and condition of a home. But Isenhath tells his clients it's a worthwhile investment.

"Right now, people aren't buying or selling unless they have to," said Isenhath, who is with Coldwell Banker Bain's Lake Union office in Seattle.

"Once (sellers) understand that the home becomes a product, and we're doing product marketing, it starts to make sense."

And like others in the real-estate industry, home stagers are experiencing major changes in their work and demands, due to a regional and national slowdown of home sales and growing glut of unsold homes on the market.

Some of the biggest trends in the home-staging industry include:

1. Agents covering

the costs

A growing number of real-estate brokers and agents are offering to pay for a homeowner's initial consultation with an accredited stager, according to Barb Schwarz, founder of the trade group International Association of Home Staging Professionals and author of "Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money."

The average cost of a consultation is $350, Schwarz said.

The process usually takes two or three hours, and results in a detailed report on all of the important things the stager thinks the owner should clean, fix or pack away.

"I have a couple of Realtors who just do not put a house on the market until I've been there," said Donlan. "I would say 90 percent of my business is before it ever goes on the market."

In addition, some agents will reimburse their clients' staging costs, which could include anything from fresh paint to new landscaping, once the sale has closed, Schwarz said.

2. Innovation

on a budget

The average cost of staging on the West Coast is about $2,800, according to Schwarz.

But what happens when a homeowner is facing a short sale, or already is strapped for cash?

These days, home stagers are constantly trying to come up with ways they can stretch a dollar, and "cut corners but still get the punch," according to home stager Cynthia Seager, of Gracious Transformations in Seattle.

"I think there's more resourcefulness," she said.

To save money, some homeowners only stage their home's entry way and main living areas.

Some agents keep costs lower by helping the seller paint, move furniture and take care of other tasks on a staging report.

For example, Isenhath and his wife recently spent a day helping a client put in a new yard.

And when one of his clients no longer wanted to rent staging furniture for a beach side condo, Isenhath created posters from photographs that were taken while the home was completely staged.

He displayed the posters on easels throughout the home, so potential buyers could see what each of the rooms looked like when they were fully furnished.

"We have to be careful that we don't spend any money that we don't need to," Isenhath said.

3. Makeovers for lower priced, occupied homes

Not long ago, most home stagers focused their energy on upscale and vacant homes.

But thanks to a plethora of media reports and popular home-staging television shows, such as HGTV's "Designed to Sell" and A&E's "Sell this House," home stagers are getting more calls from folks with homes in all price ranges, Schwarz said.

Donlan belongs to an association of Puget Sound area home-staging professionals who share information. One of the biggest changes in an industry that people are talking about is clientele, she said.

"One gal had never staged a home under $500,000 and now she's done three or four," Donlan said.

Real-estate agent Jan Sewell stages all of her listings at no cost to her clients. She even provides her own furniture for their homes.

"It's even more important than ever in this market to stage," said Sewell, who is with Windermere Real Estate's Capitol Hill office in Seattle and owner of Jan Sewell Design, a staging company.

"You have to be on top of everything right now."

Sewell recently staged four vacant homes in West Seattle in the $300,000 to $350,000 price range.

Her listings had plenty of competition for price and location, but all of them sold ahead of the market.

"All of the others sat there," Sewell said.

4. Sellers contacting stagers before agents

In some cases, sellers are contacting staging professionals to help them get their home in tiptop shape before hiring a real-estate agent, Schwarz said.

As a result, more stagers say they're referring clients to real-estate agents.

"In the industry, that's a huge paradigm shift," Schwarz said.

But no matter whom they call first, real-estate agent Pat Phillips, with John L. Scott Real Estate's Madison Park office in Seattle, believes sellers can't be too prepared for listing their home.

"Light, bright, clean and spacious are the words we're always using with our clients," Phillips said.

"If your house is not ready to go on the market with those, we will not put it on the market, we will prefer to push it out until it is ready to go."

5. Staging the outside

of a home, too

Once a potential buyer has found a listing on the Internet, chances are he or she will drive by the house before scheduling an appointment with a real-estate agent.

And that's why stagers have begun tackling a home's yard and exterior, too.

"It all starts at the curb," Schwarz said. "It's got to be staged on the outside."

Schwarz said sellers often spend so much time and effort staging the inside of a home, they overlook some of the things that will turn a buyer away, such as broken shutters, overgrown landscaping and mossy sidewalks.

These days, sellers need to remember that buyers can afford to be selective, said Henry Samonte, an agent with John L. Scott's University Village office in Seattle.

"When the market was hot, oftentimes you'd hear, 'I don't have to do anything,' " he said. "Well you don't hear it in this market. ... In this market, you better be the best of the best, or the best value. Your yard better be nice. You better not need paint."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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