All Your Home’s a Stage

Pros offer strategies for selling your house in a buyer’s marketAll Your Home’s a StageThe Pros Offer Tips for Selling Your Home in a Tough Market

By Caroline Brewster

Selling a home is never an easy task, but in today’s market the process can be even more daunting. The recent financial industry bailout by the federal government has left many home sellers confused as to what the market could hold for them. Although Tallahassee’s appreciation values are higher than anywhere else in the state, falling home prices and homes that sit for exceedingly lengthy times on the market have led some sellers to worry that their most lucrative asset may actually be turning into a money pit.

With conflicting information as to whether the market is on the rise or decline, sellers are left to wonder what’s going on and what they can do about it.

Is it a good time to sell?
It’s true that we’re experiencing a buyer’s market that, while great for potential home buyers, doesn’t bode well for those hoping to sell their home. The average resale home price in Leon County for August 2008 was $225,000, down $5,000 from the same month in 2007. There are an estimated 1,800 homes currently for sale in Leon County, and of those, only 8 percent will sell each month.

Don Pickett, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Hartung and Noblin, and Tallahassee’s Realtor of the Year for 2007, attributes the decline in home sales prices to the overabundance of properties on the market.

“We’ve supersaturated the market,” Pickett says. “With regard to people looking to sell their homes, the question they need to be asked is: Are you interested in listing your home for sale, or actually selling your home? There is a big difference.”

No one wants to lose money on the sale of their most valuable asset, so if you’re listing your home in the current market out of desire rather than necessity, it may be wiser to wait until market conditions improve.

“For those folks that don’t have to sell right away, sit on your investment and wait it out,” Pickett says. “You may want to downsize or upgrade, or live in a different area of town, but if it’s not a necessity, then my advice is to wait. If you rush the sale out of impatience, you will lose money. We’re in that tough of a market.”

Do I need a Realtor? What should I look for?
When a homeowner decides he or she is ready to sell, the first – and most important – step to take is to choose the right real estate agent.

“I liken (the current market) to personal illness,” Pickett says. “If you have a cold, you can usually take care of it yourself. If you have pneumonia, you’re going to need some professional medical attention. Right now the real estate market has pneumonia, and (sellers) need all the help they can get.”

A reliable real estate agent should guide sellers through the marketplace and help them make informed decisions about their property. It’s important not to let social ties and emotions get involved when dealing with the sale of your home, and to remember that real estate is a business and should be treated as such.

“Everyone knows a Realtor,” Pickett warned. “Everyone knows someone who’d be willing to represent them in the sale of their home. People should ask: ‘What qualifications do I want and need in my professional Realtor?’ And then ask themselves if their friend or acquaintance can truly deliver on those qualifications.”

Sellers should also look for a strong track record, knowledge of the marketplace and a certain amount of technological know-how in their real estate agent.

“If a Realtor isn’t savvy with regard to the market and technology, then time and years of experience are not all that important,” Pickett says. Marketability is crucial in the sale of a home, and a lack of technological knowledge on the part of your Realtor can mean the difference between your home being seen by only a hundred people or thousands.

What if I need to sell now?
Sellers who find themselves in a time crunch should consider home staging to get their home sold quickly. Professional home stagers can help sellers see their home through the eyes of the buyer and suggest changes that will make their home appeal to a larger audience.

“National figures show that staged homes sell for more and in a shorter time than homes that are not staged,” says Lisa Hougland, a home staging consultant and the owner of Centsible Style ( in Tallahassee. “When trying to sell in a slow market, one has two choices: either lower the price of your home or make the home more desirable to buyers.”

If selling quickly is your goal, then simple staging techniques may help. After thoroughly cleaning and mending your space, make sure to de-clutter and remove personal items that may distract buyers from focusing on your home. Hougland suggests rearranging your furniture, or even storing some furniture away, to maximize the square footage of your home.

“Just moving furniture and storing clutter can make a room look totally different and can expand and open up the space,” she says. “There is hidden square footage in most homes due to poor furniture placement and clutter. Square footage sells, so clutter can really cost you.”

Stagers take the entire house into consideration when making suggestions, from front yard to back, baseboards to ceilings, with cleanliness and marketability as the goal.

“Clean is so important to prospective buyers,” Hougland says, “and clean is cheap. Sometimes for a seller, their house is too close and personal for them to see it through the buyer’s eyes. They need fresh eyes and the value of another opinion because, really, one person’s clean is not another’s.”

I have an older home in a great neighborhood and it isn’t selling. What gives?
Believe it or not, location is no longer everything. While it is certainly still important, pricing and presentation are equally so. Imagine driving up to a shoddy house in a good neighborhood and, after calculating the cost of renovating the place, you are told that the home is selling for the same price as other, less “lived-in” homes in that same area.

Location won’t trump presentation and pricing if it means living in a home that’s not up to snuff.

“If your home isn’t priced right then it’s not as attractive to buyers from the get-go,” says Pickett. “Ask yourself what your Realtor is using to determine the price of your home to be sure that it’s priced right for its location and condition.”

Simple updates to an older home can bring it back to life and help raise the seller’s price point, especially if those updates are made to the kitchens and bathrooms.

“Kitchens are important to buyers, and their condition can make or break a sale,” Hougland says. “People live out of their kitchens these days, so if you have an older kitchen, you could paint the cupboards and change out hardware or light fixtures so they look more updated. Painting can make a huge difference, and it’s so cost-effective.”

Hougland warns against using bold wall colors when trying to sell a home and urges homeowners to remember that not everyone shares their taste in home décor.

“Painting neutrals on walls and cabinetry will appeal to more people and will provide a blank canvas for buyers so that they can mentally move in to the space,” she says.

For bathrooms, it’s a good idea to make them feel more spa-like – and keeping the bathroom clean is of utmost importance.

“Roll up some towels and keep them displayed with specialty soaps and candles around a bathtub,” Hougland suggested. “Accessories in both kitchens and baths are really important when updating a space, and they fit into every budget.”

I thought the idea was to de-clutter. Why are we adding accessories?
While less is more when it comes to clutter, it’s important to understand that clutter and accessories are very different things. Clutter is the minutiae of your life, the photographs, trinkets and collectibles that, while dear to you, are distracting for a buyer. Accessories, on the other hand, are objects that help to define a room’s purpose. Place accessories strategically throughout a home to lend a particular feeling to the rooms. A runner placed in an entryway draws buyers into a home, flowers make a space feel more inviting, and sheer window dressing allows light to spill into a room creating a sense of warmth. Accessories will cost some money, but Hougland insists that the return is well worth it.

“You have to spend money to sell a house,” she says. “You have to be creative and show buyers what the house could be.”

One mistake that Hougland sees homeowners make is the misappropriation of space.

“Staging helps buyers mentally move in, so you have to be sure to play up the assets of your house,” she says. “Do not use rooms for anything other than what they were designed for.” Having children’s toys in a dining room, gym equipment in a master bedroom or an office in the family room are mistakes when staging.

“Buyers want to see defined spaces,” she says. “Gym equipment in a bedroom makes buyers think that there isn’t enough room in the house to put anything, and a dining room as a play area is just a very bad idea, especially if your buyer doesn’t have children.”

What about the yard?
“Never, ever underestimate the importance of curb appeal,” Hougland says. “If you drive up to a home and the grass isn’t mowed, the shrubs are overgrown and there is mold on the stepping-stones, what does that tell you about the inside of the house? If the outside isn’t well maintained, then the buyer will think that the inside is not well maintained.”

A little elbow grease will maximize curb appeal. Pressure washing your house and mowing the lawn are a great place to start but, just as inside the house, accessorizing is important outside the home. A new welcome mat, updated outdoor lighting and doorbell, a freshly painted front door and clean windows can give a home sparkle. Refurbishing or replacing the garage door can lend your home an added punch of personality.

Ed Blissard, a landscape designer for Purple Martin Nursery in Crawfordville, suggests carrying the neutral theme from inside your home to the landscaping outside.

“I hate to see people come to the nursery and buy a wild assortment of plants that don’t work together well,” he says. “If you pick something as simple as a white impatiens and plant that throughout your yard, it will make for a more unifying look. Sticking with one color palette can be soothing to the eye.”

Blissard also suggests adding pine straw to your flowerbeds to hide any imperfections.

“I refer to it as the ‘miracle of pine straw,’” he says. “Pine straw lends a finished effect to a yard and, in my opinion, is the best mulch you can buy. It’s easy on the budget and is a more renewable resource than, say, cypress mulch.”

Do I really need to hire a stager?
A professional home stager can offer a wealth of knowledge on how to make a home more appealing to buyers, but some homeowners still may choose to do the work themselves. Hougland urges homeowners to get to know their competition in order to more aggressively sell their home.

“Go to the open houses of your competitors and (see) what they are offering,” she says. “Then go home and see if your home stands up to theirs in terms of marketability. If it doesn’t, fix it.”

Hougland also encourages sellers to immerse themselves in the home staging process.

“Ask for opinions about your house from someone you trust, watch HGTV for ideas, read home magazines and try to mirror what you see in show homes. You can never pay too much attention to detail when selling your home, and your efforts will help you beat the competition.”


Quick Home Staging Tips

•  Clean, clean, clean.
•  Repair any code violations and fix anything that is broken (closet doors, toilet seats, door handles, etc.)
•  De-clutter and store any furniture that is not working in your space.
•  Don’t forget to clean and organize closets, garages and other storage areas.
•  Pay attention to your outdoor spaces and enhance any positives such as a large deck, a pool, fountain or just beautiful trees.
•  Change out any old bed linens to make the bedroom seem current.
•  Paint neutral colors throughout the home to appeal to more home buyers.
•  Steam-clean any carpets and put down rugs to mask any imperfections.
•  Purposefully accessorize to define your spaces.
•  Know your market base and appeal to their needs.
•  Check out your competition and make sure your price point is reflective of your property.

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