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Originally published July 8, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified July 9, 2011 at 9:49 PM

Don't take home-staging advice personally

The whole point of the staging is to work on the psychology of the client when they come in the door and have them be able to see themselves in your place.

MarketWatch

Home-staging tips

Pack away personal items, including family photos.

Rid your home of clutter, including your CD collection and items on kitchen and bathroom countertops.

Rearrange rooms to make sure each room has a distinct, useful purpose.

Apply neutral paint on the walls, trim and doors, and replace worn carpet.

Remove litter boxes.

Clean your house from top to bottom.

Pressure clean the exterior, sidewalk and driveway.

Mow the lawn and mulch the flower beds.

quotes About the only thing missing from this article is to add that having your home staged... Read more

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CHICAGO —

Craig and Amy Smith always felt quite confident, even cocky in their abilities to tastefully design the spacious interior of their steel-and-concrete loft in downtown Denver.

That was until they decided to sell it and a consultant hired to help them "stage" their home told them to neutralize a dramatic accent wall, put away family photos and place most of their furniture and artwork in storage.

"The hardest part was not taking it personally," said Craig Smith, who as chief executive of ServiceMagic.com, an online business that connects homeowners with prescreened home-service professionals, decided to take his own advice.

"When you think you're the best designers in the world and you have someone saying your taste in things might not be appreciated by others — that could be an ego hit."

In turn, that is the hardest part of the job for those offering the advice: Breaking it to sellers that their taste in décor and the lovingly acquired pieces and, well, clutter in their homes could be a huge turnoff to a prospective homebuyer.

Their job is to neuter the home before it goes on the market by getting rid of the chaos, opening up corridors, living spaces and walls, lightening bold colors and exposing hidden pieces of charm and architecture.

A New York City home that might heavily reflect, say, an equestrian family's passions with plaid wallpaper, dark paintings and horse bookends, could repel a single woman's love for theater, opera, art and bright, flowing rooms.

"What's fine for living is not always fine for selling," said Donna Dazzo, president of Designed To Appeal, a home-staging company that serves New York and the Hamptons.

"You want to portray a lifestyle that people can relate to and aspire to," she said. "You have to have them fall in love as soon as they walk in the door."

Staging got its start a decade ago when the housing market was on fire and every seller wanted to up the value of their home emotionally and physically by making it more attractive and purchase-worthy than the house next door.

But as the market has switched directions and the numbers of able-and-willing buyers has dropped like a wrecking ball, home sellers are again turning to staging consultants to give their properties that extra oomph to impress and compete in the buyer's market.

It's helped too that home-oriented lifestyle television channels show the before-and-after process of how a relatively inexpensive staging can turn the tables for homeowners itching to sell.

"The basic reality is that people buy on emotion," said Gina Ferraro, president of Cross Home Concepts in Chicago. "People always want to imagine having a grander lifestyle. We like to think that we're going to live in a beautiful, always-clean home and that we're going to entertain a lot.

"The reality is that we don't, but the whole point of the staging is to work on the psychology of the client when they come in the door and have them be able to see themselves in that place," she said.

You may need an expert to come in and offer direction, but you don't need one to do the work if you're handy around the house.

Prices vary from city to city and home to home. An oversized estate in the Hamptons could cost upward of $10,000, $20,000, even $30,000 to stage properly, assuming it's not run down. The consultation on the Smith's Denver loft was about $200.

The advice, however, is straightforward no matter what the size or value of the home: declutter, repaint in neutral colors, update when necessary, open the space by keeping furniture and trinkets to a minimum, take out family pictures and treasures, and by all means, make sure it's spotlessly clean.

For the Smiths, the return on their investment is not only a financial gain but a lifestyle change. "We carried the 'less is more' theme over to the new house and said, 'Let's not overcrowd our rooms,' " Craig Smith said. "We had to sever those ties with that college couch."

Here's a list of some of the basics — with a few secrets:

Get rid of stuff

It can't be said enough how important it is to declutter your home. Most people accumulate things like furniture, pictures, vases, vacation mementos and other knickknacks and then find places for them in the home, rather than taking something out. Most people don't even really notice how much clutter they have because they have learned to live with it. But really, is there any better time to purge than when you move? Consider it a head-start on packing.

Depersonalize

Put away family photos, education degrees, children's pictures, trophies, awards, collections. "Don't mistake depersonalizing with removing personality," Ferraro said. "You still want the place to have style and personality." If you're selling a high-rise in a large metropolitan city, buyers are going to be looking for clean, streamlined lines but not overly contemporary. On the flip side, if you're selling in an older, well-heeled neighborhood, buyers will be expecting to see traditional furniture and artwork.

Clean, clean, clean

If the three most important points to selling a home are location, location, location, the next three are sparkling, glittering clean. "People don't want to walk into a dirty home that's for sale in the same way that you don't want to check into a hotel and find a bathroom that's dirty with someone else's shampoo in it," Dazzo said.

Update old and deteriorating spaces

You might not have to totally redo a 1980s kitchen, but you will want to put new hardware on cabinet doors, replace countertops and appliances, and fix what's broken, peeling or worn out. The same is true in bathrooms where tiles might have mildew or light fixtures and cabinetry are outdated. "Buyers don't want projects," Dazzo said. Don't forget to replace burned-out light bulbs or missing knobs and pulls.

Define spaces

Buyers don't like to guess which rooms are used for what. Dining rooms need ceiling light fixtures to define them; sitting rooms are marked by comfy chairs and reading lamps; family rooms are set off with couches and a TV.

Fill empty rooms

A vacant home is nothing more than an empty shell and buyers have very little imagination. "People aren't good at visualizing or seeing beyond what's in front of them," Ferraro said. An empty room either looks too small or too overwhelmingly big for a buyer's furniture. Create the space for them with rental furniture.

Lighten up spaces

The most obvious way is by getting rid of heavy curtains, rugs and furniture, and painting the walls white or a lighter color. But here are some other tricks: add new light fixtures; clean windows, remove screens and take treatments down to let in natural light; never hide good views or scenery behind window treatments; put cream-colored place mats on dark-wood dining tables; use fresh, white towels in bathrooms (helps emphasize cleanliness with spalike look. Who uses white towels?); pull up carpets to expose hardwood floors.

Open up indoor walkways

Even if the buyer is single, she's likely to bring an entourage with her when she's inspecting the home, so be sure the hallways and walkways are big enough for three, even four people to be in at one time. "It's OK to pull your furniture close together in the living room," Ferraro said. "People aren't going to walk into the seating area but will view it from the walkway."

Clean out closets

and leave them

one-third empty

Old houses can be problematic because of their limited closet space, but you can trick the eye by leaving plenty of space empty. Same's true for a bigger home and closets by keeping shoes limited, and hanging and folded clothes neat, tidy, and yes, even color-coordinated. Buyers will inspect all of your closets to see if there's enough room for all their things. If the closet looks overloaded with your stuff, then certainly they won't be able to fit all their stuff in it.

Curb and hallway appeal really count

The buyers' first impressions are set as they approach the door. That's as true for apartments and condominiums as it is for homes and town houses. If you're on the third floor of a walk-up, you must be sure the hallway walls are clean, the moldings in place and the carpet not threadbare, which means you might have to address such things with a homeowner's association long before you put the house on the market.

Be model-ready

Rooms posed well for good photo shoots are becoming a must in home-selling because buyers get a first peek at your home on the Internet. "The time that people actually have to spend physically looking at properties is very limited," Ferraro said. "You have to get them at 'Hello.' "

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