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Before you call an agent, bring in a stager

By Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

If you’d like advice on preparing your home for sale and are reluctant to call a real estate agent early in the process, consider contacting a home stager about a walk-through.

“We do that,” said home stager Jennifer Manchester, “and, as a matter of fact, lots of agents prefer it ...”

Manchester is both a stager and a real estate agent (www.jennifermanchester.com), so she’s familiar with the roles of both. I called her after my neighbor said she was reluctant to contact an agent a year or more before she and her husband plan to sell. If not to an agent, where else could she turn?

I suggested a stager, but explained that I hadn’t explored that question.

Most sellers know that stagers arrange or “prop” homes for sale, to show spaces at their most appealing. Stagers bring their own furniture and accessories into empty homes. But Manchester said stagers can do everything from choosing paint and carpet colors to suggesting kitchen upgrades.

Manchester also said she understands why a seller might be reluctant to contact an agent early on. For instance, the seller might not be ready to choose an agent to handle the sale. In fact, she said, some agents can be reluctant to offer tough advice, for fear of offending a potential client.

Why not an interior designer? Well, designers often work to push clients out of their comfort zones, perhaps toward bold colors. Stagers do the opposite. “Designers personalize spaces,” she said. “Stagers neutralize.”

It’s easy to find general advice about preparing a home for sale. The suggestions are broad and generic, but they’re a good starting place. Clean up and fix up. Outside, prune the shrubs and paint the front door. Inside, get rid of clutter and make sure everything is working properly.

Make sure rooms are used as intended – which means no exercise equipment in the dining room. “You’re selling square footage – not stuff,” Manchester said.

A stager can help with more specific advice.

In addition to such things as colors and carpet, stagers can suggest ways to upgrade lighting and the like, and even offer kitchen and bath improvements. It might not make sense to tackle a full kitchen renovation before selling, but new countertops might be in order if they’re dated.

To find a stager, visit www.stagedhomes.com. That’s the online site of the professional organization that Manchester and other top pros are certified by. They’re Accredited Staging Professionals, or ASPs.

When choosing a stager, ask about professional training and experience. Top pros should be able to share pictures of their work. Manchester said they should be able to tell you how long homes they’ve staged took to sell, and how close to the asking price the homes sold for.

Ask how the stagers charge, of course, and how much. They can charge by the hour or by square footage. Some work for flat fees. Prices begin at about $150 for a starter home, Manchester said, and go up.

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