Lake Norman Magazine

On center stage

The main living area of the Pine Road home in Davidson, showing furniture and accessories brought in by home stagers.
The main living area of the Pine Road home in Davidson, showing furniture and accessories brought in by home stagers. Gayle Shomer

It’s a buyer’s world out there. With homes flooding the market and property values declining in some spots, sellers can get discouraged.But home staging, a movement that has gained momentum every year since its creation in the 1970s, is offering hope. Experts in the field say it may give houses the competitive edge they need to stand out.What is home staging, anyway? Jamie McNeilis, owner of Centerpiece Home Staging, offers her answer: “It’s getting the home ready for the market to appeal to a mass group of people,” she says. “It’s about creating first impressions.”Decorating is about personalizing a space, but staging is depersonalizing. Techniques include using neutral colors, removing personal items like family photos and hat collections, and using pops of color through accessories.“It’s not about what you like, it’s about what will appeal to the widest audience,” McNeilis says. “You have to remove your passion, your tastes, and turn your home into a product that can be marketed.” Maria Tobin, an Accredited Staging Professional and President of the Charlotte Chapter of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, says staging is about creating the vision for a potential homebuyer, “while focusing on the architecture and important parts of the house.” Buyers need to focus on each section of the house. Still struggling with how to arrange furniture in your living room without blocking entryways? If you don’t know how to use your home space, the buyers probably won’t either. “That’s one of the great benefits of staging,” Tobin says. “It’s giving spaces purpose – showing people what the possibilities are in certain areas of the house.”

Buying space, not stuff

Clutter: Most of us are guilty of it, but it’s one of the first things that has to go when staging a home. Homeowners have “too much personal stuff, and they fill up their space,” Manchester says. “Buyers want space, not the stuff.” “You are going to move this stuff sooner or later, so you want to pack it up now, because it will save you time, money and stress later,” says Barb Schwarz of XXX, who travels nationally to speak about home staging and is credited with inventing the movement. The collection of Victorian teacups hanging on your shelves may distract homebuyers from seeing their own collections in the space. The knickknacks that represent your travels around the world may inspire you, but it may cause the buyer to feel detached from the house. Wrap them, box them, and save them for later. Brooke Crutchfield and her husband are accustomed to moving - every three years, in fact, thanks to corporate relocation. Most recently, it was a move to Atlanta, so the couple decided to put their Cornelius home on the market. Even as a seasoned home seller, Crutchfield knew this time could prove more difficult. “This is the worst market we have ever sold a house in,” she says. “Ever.” She hired McNeilis to stage her house. She knew that most buyers are looking for a move-in-ready property. “People are looking for a deal,” she says. “That’s what we wanted to do.” It was a lot of work, Crutchfield says, to complete McNeilis’ customized list of instructions, but it looked great. And the hard work paid off - four days after listing their house in March, it sold.

Sell it faster and for more

According to a survey conducted by the international home staging group, the average period a non-staged home sits on the market is 145 days – the Lake Norman average is 183 days. Ninety-four percent of staged homes, however, sell in 29 days or less. The goal, McNeilis says, is “to sell your home faster and for more money.” It’s a home staging mantra.Consider the average price reduction in the Lake Norman area: 10 percent, says Realtor and home stager Jennifer Manchester. That could mean upwards of tens of thousands of dollars. Investing in home staging, says Schwarz, is far less than a price reduction on your home.Money is the biggest misconception related to home staging, Manchester says. Accredited Staging Professionals are trained to provide a number of different levels of staging.The do-it-yourself seller may choose to invest a few hundred dollars for an initial one-hour consultation and receive a follow-up sheet with a list of suggestions – painting, cleaning, furniture removal or rearrangements. The seller chooses what to implement and what to leave alone.On the other end, a seller may choose to invest a few thousand dollars to hire a stager for a vacant home. Many professional stagers have a vast inventory of furniture, wall hangings, and accessories and loan them for a monthly rental fee. So, stagers argue, there’s not much excuse. When sellers are coping with a tough market, there’s no reason not to investigating home staging as a way to stand out from the crowd.

Do-it-yourself Tips

Color. Use neutral colors for the walls and floor. Include moveable color through area rugs, artwork, bedspreads and throws.

Clean. Schwarz calls it “Q-tip clean.” Start at the top of the ceiling and move your way down to the floors, focusing particularly on kitchens and bathrooms.

Declutter. Clutter eats equity. Pare down the personal items, take down the family photos and box up the golf trophies. Think in threes. Three items on the kitchen counter, three hanging plants on your front porch, three accessories on the fireplace mantle.

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