Selling a home can be compared to internet dating, according to Stephanie Jacobs, Atlanta chapter president of the national Real Estate Staging Association.
The vast majority of potential buyers are looking at pictures online of homes first before stepping into a home, she said. “What we don’t want are potential buyers swiping to the next photo when doing searches. Instead, we want them to love the home, telling their real estate agent they are ready to ‘have their first date’ to see it.”
That’s why Jacobs believes it’s important to understand how decorating and staging a home differ.
When decorating a home, it’s about the current homeowner and their taste and style, she explained. “Staging has nothing to do with my taste, or the current homeowner’s taste. It’s all about appealing to potential buyers and the location of the home.”
Jacobs, owner of Staged by Stephanie, and two other real estate agents, Ariel Baverman and Jill Ginsberg-Wright of Keller Williams Realty shared with the AJT ways they work with sellers to prepare a home for sale.
Jacobs lets sellers know that “light, bright and clean are what sells.” For the outside, she may suggest “fresh pinestraw/mulch, pressure washing, bright pots of flowers on either side of the front door” and for inside, “neutral paint with pops of color in blues and greens.”
Wright said her stager gives detailed advice about how best to place the seller’s furniture and belongings or if the seller moves out, the stager works with what furniture is left. Sellers will hear about what to pack and what to leave, to do repairs or updates. Questions Baverman might ask about staging are: “Do we just need paint, and maybe flooring and lighting updates?”
The stager and agent work as a team to ensure the best scenario for prospective home buyers. Putting the seller’s house at the top of a buyer’s must-see list eventually leads to a signed contract in a short amount of time, according to those interviewed for this story.
Not until the home is perfectly staged should a professional photographer capture the home on film, Jacobs said. Most stagers have the real estate agents choose their photographers, but some stagers provide the service themselves, she added.
Done right, Jacobs said, as soon as buyers step through the front door, the home staging allows them to experience a stronger emotional connection with the property, resulting in buyers making an offer.
Baverman said, “We are selling not just a house, but a lifestyle and vision that goes along with it, that this house will have more storage than you have now, that your life will be clutter free, easier and enjoyable. Messes don’t exist.”
She remembers seeing a listing where she knew it had been staged while being owner-occupied. There wasn’t a TV anywhere. No pap
ers. No piles of shoes near the door. She noticed ribbons tied around the hand towels. Even though it was obviously staged and there must have been homework crammed into drawers, the buyer was able to envision that the house was perfect and signed the contract. But staging and selling an occupied house has its challenges.
According to those interviewed, a staged house is not how most people live. Especially when the house is occupied, getting rid of items you don’t use on a regular basis, following up by putting them into storage takes up the majority of staging efforts. People just cannot connect with an empty space or personal items all over.
Baverman likes to compare staging to getting ready for a red-carpet event. Before the home gets photographed and is shown to prospective buyers, it needs to be in stellar condition, she said. Wright agreed, saying that for showings, the “goal is to always have the home look like it does in the photographs, freshly cleaned and staged.”
During showings, if a buyer sees a sparkling kitchen online and then walks in to find dirty dishes everywhere, it’s a huge deterrent, she said. Getting everyone out of the house, including pets, can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort, Wright said, and “you shouldn’t be inconvenienced for long in this market.” In addition to decluttering and specific cleaning chores, stagers bring in more light and space in rooms by choosing neutral paint colors in hues of white and pale gray.
Jacobs said the biggest difference in staging a vacant home is how other furniture, art, décor and accessories are brought in and where the owner’s furniture remains when the home is occupied. And there are times when stagers bring in their own décor and art that are not taste specific such as installing a monochromatic shade of white abstract painting with a splash of light blue, Jacobs said. Carefully positioned green plants adding their colors and textures become another design component, she added.
To find finishing decorative touches, Jacobs said she shops for her staging inventory at HomeGoods, Target, Amazon and a lot of trade accounts she has from being an interior designer and stager, and she also enjoys using the work of local artists.
When it comes to making a good investment, Jacobs told the AJT that even in a seller’s market, because of staging “you will get more money and a faster sale. Without staging, you are literally leaving money on the table.”