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Buying&Selling

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What’s the best way to stage your home for a fast sale?

By Ellen James Martin
Ellen James Martin
Syndicated columnist Ellen James Martin covers the complicated financial and lifestyle issues facing anyone who buys, sells or finances a home.
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If you have moved out of your house while it’s still for sale, be sure to leave some attractive furniture in it.

A couple in their 50s ached to sell their four-bedroom family house in the suburbs in favor of a slower lifestyle in the country. Soon after putting their property up for sale, they found and bought the perfect rural cottage.

They took all their furnishings to the new home, leaving their former house vacant. That made it much tougher to market the property, says Kurt Albers, the real estate broker who handled the listing. As he notes, when a house becomes empty, all its flaws become obvious to buyers. For example, they focus on marks on the carpet where furniture stood and on the walls where pictures once hung.

Visual eyesores aren’t the only problem. “Vacant houses often have a stale smell because the windows and doors are rarely open. And odors can be a huge barrier to getting a house sold,” says Albers, who’s been in the real estate business since 1994.

To make the house more presentable, Albers’ clients followed his recommendations. They hired a professional cleaning crew to do the carpets and painters to freshen the interior. They also ensured that all minor repairs, such as a shaky stair railing, were done. Then they brought back a few items of furniture and hired a home stager to arrange them artfully.

“It’s much better to market a house in move-in condition. That way, you sell faster and for more money than if the property is sold in ‘as is’ condition,” says Albers, who’s affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (www.crs.com).

He says a vacant house that lingers unsold raises buyers’ suspicions and can encourage below-market offers.

Why is it usually harder to sell a vacant house? Jane Fairweather, a veteran broker who heads a real estate team with multiple agents, says the problem is that most buyers lack visual imagination.

It will not show well in online pictures, either. “More than 90 percent of buyers meet houses for the first time on the Internet. Online, houses that are vacant look flat and lack perspective,” Fairweather says.

Tips on selling your vacant home:

• Fix any cosmetic flaws.

Davis contends it’s essential that vacant homes be freshly painted on the interior, in a light, neutral tone.

He also urges owners to replace worn carpet and refinish hardwood floors that need work.

•  Consider hiring a professional stager.

Eric Tyson, co-author of “House Selling for Dummies,” says a vacant property needs a few well-chosen items of furniture so that would-be buyers can see the scale of its rooms.

• Maintain your vacant home in show-worthy condition.

But Davis says it’s also important to ensure that your listing agent keep a close eye on the property, stopping by at least twice each week.

“Looking after your vacant home is part of your agent’s professional responsibility, and it’s not that much of a burden,” he says.

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