5 Staging Mistakes Sellers Think Are Awesome —and How to Change Their Minds
Nowhere in life is the old adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder truer than in real estate. One woman’s dream home might be a mid-century modern, Mad Men styled contemporary, while another’s includes all the gingerbread charm of a classic Victorian. But when it comes to prepping a home to be viewed and (fingers crossed!) sold, there is both art and science to staging a home before its listed to maximize its appeal to the broadest number of target buyers.
The challenge is this: staging is an investment, one every seller can’t afford to make (although studies have shown professionally staged homes sell faster and for more than non-staged counterparts). So many sellers take it on as a do-it-yourself project which, like all DIY home improvement projects, can be fantastic or, mmm, not—depending on the approach, skill, and resources of the ‘self’ who does it.
Here are a few common scenarios in which sellers think their staging is awesome and buyers, well, beg to differ. Plus, check out the tactful things agents can say to help get sellers back on track:
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- The sellers used beat up or ugly furnishings and decor.
Great staging—DIY or professional—includes choosing furniture that shows the home off in its best light, and positioning the furnishings optimally, too. Sometimes this can be done using certain pieces of the seller’s furniture. Other times, furniture must be rented or otherwise obtained. One area in which budget-minded sellers like to save money on staging is by finding cheaper alternatives than renting new furniture from a staging company or store.
In this era of Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle, estate sales and other peer-to-peer online stores and trading sites, there is an abundance of access to used furniture at great prices. I have no bone to pick with the smart sellers who use these tools to replace their own furniture with something that is in better condition, more attractive or a smaller scale than their own, so as to highlight how much space their home truly offers. That said, using old, floral sofas from Craigslist’s Free Section, unattractive thrift store ‘artwork’ or even their own truly worn out, old furniture is a recurring reason buyers cite for focusing on how bad the staging is vs. the house itself.
What’s worse, the furnishings a seller might think was THE BEST BARGAIN EVER might actually give the nice home a worn-down, unkempt feel to the buyers who come to see it.
How to help your sellers: Have a consistent message throughout the process of staging. Clean and simple typically highlight a space. Before letting sellers go to town on the staging, show them examples of a beautifully staged home and one that’s not so great. The visual examples can help get your message across better than simply talking it through.
- They created distracting themes and scenes.
My friend Barb Schwarz is the head of the International Home Staging Professionals Association; she defines staging as ‘preparing a home for sale so the buyer can mentally move in.’ The goal is for buyers to visualize the new-and-improved versions of their lives that the home will help them realize, so some pro stagers will set up objects to communicate the lifestyle activities that a home facilitates. It’s not bizarre to see a breakfast table and chairs on the patio of a home with lovely views, a crib and baby gear-vignette in a small room suitable for a nursery, or a popcorn maker and recliners to show off a media room’s theater-readiness.
Occasionally, though, these scenes and vignettes can go rogue, creating borderline bizarre scenarios that distract and detract more than they help.
A beach scene (ball, umbrella and all) in a midwestern bedroom, a lively Parisian mural and Eiffel tower replica in a California condo and bizarre collections (taxidermy, anyone?) are all real-life examples of staging scenes that have done more harm than good.
- The house is neither clean nor clutter-free.
For various reasons, some homes just take time to sell. And if a client is living in a home that is on the market for long, it can be challenging to ensure it is perfectly pristine at all times, meaning every single time a buyer enters it. And it doesn’t take a truly filthy house to turn a buyer’s impression of a home from awesome to awful. The little messes that a family accumulates through daily living can be perceived by buyers as distracting at best—disgusting, at worst.
If the home is well staged, do not underestimate the power of piles of clothes, mail, paperwork, dishes or kids’ toys to deactivate the home-selling power of all the hard work and money that went into preparing the property in the first place.
How to help your sellers: Make sure your clients understand that you know how challenging this situation can be. Empathize with them, but also consider working out a referral coupon or discount with a local cleaning service. A weekly cleaning during the 30-60 day showing period, especially with a generous discount, can be well worth the cost, and show sellers that you get it, and you’re on their side.
- There are glaring gaps.
Sometimes a home’s staging leaves a glaring gap, an elephant in the room house, so to speak. This often happens when sellers run out of time and money to prepare a place, but it can be avoided through smart advance planning and budgeting for the pre-listing property preparation.
How to help your sellers:
- Rooms—Listen, I personally live in a house that is beautiful everywhere until you poke your head into my young adult son’s room. So I can relate to these sellers. This situation might be okay to live with, but it’s a real home staging fail for a property that’s on the market. Remind sellers not to let there be one or two rooms that it looks like the stager—or house cleaner—missed. And this goes for the garage, closets, cupboards and drawers, too. Buyers like to look inside these areas to see how much space they have—if they are crammed full of junk, it creates the impression that the house lacks storage and order.
- Exterior vs. interior—Some homes have amazing curb appeal, but look like they’ve been run over roughshod on the inside. And the opposite is true: some look like Martha Stewart handled the inside and junk man extraordinaire Fred Sanford was in charge of the yard. Neither of these is ideal. Again, here a visual tour can help. Make note of the most budget-friendly or simple-to-do projects that may be able to help remedy any eyesores.
- Multi-sensory gaps—If a home is beautiful to the eye but smells bad, is strangely hot or cold, or has a noise issue (think: neighbors’ music, freeway noise or strange in-house creaks or whirrs), buyers might appreciate the visuals but fixate on the multi-sensory challenges. Especially if there are pets, sellers may need a gut check on whether your home is smelly—sellers might be so used to it, that they can’t sense it anymore. Here, honesty is the best policy. If you have a super smelly property and don’t want to offend the seller, you may want to consider bringing in a stager for a consultation (use someone who you have a good relationship with and often send referrals to). After they look around, have them write notes for the seller. The third party perspective can help get the point across without causing tension within your client/agent relationship.
- The seller lacked a neutral, expert eye.
Home decorating and home staging are two different things. When an owner decorates a home, they customize it with your specific tastes, preferences and aesthetics in mind. When staging it, the goal is to neutralize the home’s look and feel so it appeals to more buyers and doesn’t have turn-off potential. Schwarz puts it this way: ‘Decorating a home is personalizing it. Staging a home is depersonalizing it.’
I cannot count the number of beautifully decorated homes I’ve seen where the seller must have thought they needed to do zero staging, and where the seller was simply wrong. Their very personal tastes in Elvis quilt art, red lacquer furnishings or sewing machine collections had been beautifully executed for them, but also were so highly personal, so very specific that it was near-impossible for a buyer to envision their own lives or families or homes or activities taking place in that space.
This is one reason I—and every agent should—encourage even sellers who are on a tight budget and can’t afford pro staging and sellers whose homes that have been beautifully decorated to at least have a home staging consultation with their agent and a professional stager. These pros can call out little ‘edits’ (furniture or decor items you should remove) and give advice about what buyers love and hate to see in a home that clients might be able to execute yourself at a surprisingly low cost.
Tell us! What is one the biggest staging missteps you have seen (or made!)?
I read this article at: http://www.trulia.com/pro/sellers/5-staging-mistakes-sellers-think-awesome-change-mind/
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