Joan Inglis has seen it over and over during her two-decade home staging career: homeowners trying to sell but unable to see their houses as products.
They don’t repaint the purple-walled kids’ room. They leave the tricycle in the driveway and old towels hanging in the bathroom. They don’t step back and look at their homes through the eyes of a potential buyer.
Inglis, who owns Lake Wylie, S.C.-based Carolina Spaces home staging service, is getting ready for spring, typically the peak selling season in Charlotte and around the country. And she’ll be telling clients: Keep your homes as uncluttered and “neutral” as you can. You want your potential buyers to imagine themselves living there.
And this year, the local housing market is showing genuine signs of a lasting recovery for the first time since its collapse in fall 2008. The city’s home prices rose by 5 percent in November, the foreclosure rate dropped, and analysts heralded the return of demand for single-family homes for the first time in years.
Home prices are still nowhere near their peak in the mid-2000s. But for homeowners finally able to sell without taking a financial bath, this spring presents a fresh opportunity to make sure their homes are in prime condition to fetch optimal prices – which means more pre-listing preparation than many homeowners are used to.
Here are some key tips for getting the best price possible.
Step back for first impression
Start with “curb appeal” – the first impression from the street. Homeowners need to step back, as a painter does from a large canvas, and take a critical look at what the house might look like to someone with no emotional attachment to it.
“Make sure the lawn is manicured, with a fresh cut and fresh mulch, the exterior is power-washed, you have a freshly painted front door, there are no toys or garbage cans in view,” Inglis said. “It’s nice to put a new welcome mat at the front door. The windows should be clean. For showing, you should remove screens from the windows because the screens cast a kind of shadow on the windows, and they show much better with them off.”
Repaint with neutrals
If you haven’t repainted within the last five years, Inglis said, you should. And don’t think prospective buyers will assign creativity points for the ’70s-mod orange-and-saddle brown striped pattern in the game room, warned Dawn Drew of The Wow Factor home staging in Raleigh.
“When people come in and see personal paint colors,” she said, “they’ll think, ‘Oh, I’m going to need to paint before I move in.’ ” Drew suggested neutral colors such as beige.
The more neutral and less distinctive the colors and furnishings, she said, the more buyers can see themselves living there instead of you.
Kill the clutter
Think strategically about display. In general, Drew said, you want to furnish each room enough to give it a distinct identity – a bed, dresser and nightstand in the master bedroom, for instance – but not jam it full of bric-a-brac.
This is important not just for potential buyers not just when they visit but when they view photos of your listing online.
“If I can’t tell your master bedroom is a master bedroom because you have a patchwork quilt in every room, that’s confusing for me, because people do almost all of their initial shopping online now,” Drew said.
“You can’t have everything trying to grab your attention. You need a focal point – say a great room with a fireplace and a great piece of art on the mantel. You shouldn’t have beautiful art on every wall.”
Check in bad weather
Drive by your home when it’s raining. Bad weather can bring out blemishes that don’t show when the sun shines: clogged gutters and downspouts, a low spot in the concrete driveway where water pools during downpours. Inglis recalled a client who had to install a French drain to direct water from an unsightly driveway puddle to the adjoining lawn, sidestepping a possible impediment to sale.
Don’t list too soon
One of the most common seller’s mistakes is to “test the waters” and list the home when it’s not in peak showing condition, just to see what kind of offers it draws.
Bad move, said Inglis, who’s also a member of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals’ board of directors. Showing a lived-in or unstaged home can lead to rejections and long tenures on listing sheets, which raises red flags for buyers, which drives the price down.
“That’s the whole goal: to have that house prepared when it first hits the market, so it sells fast for the most amount of money.”