The 3D's of Staging

When selling your home, it has to look its best; it has to be memorable.  There's a lot of competition on the market today.  In our area, Cumming Georgia, for instance, there is an enormous amount of growth and development.  That means lots of new homes and a significant number of remodeled homes.  Flippers are out there finding every home they can to improve.  This means you're competing with your neighbors, new home manufacturers, and house flippers.  To make things even more interesting, you're also competing with the ideal version of what a home should look like created by TV programs on channels like HGTV.  These shows create the expectation that every home on the market should look like something out of a magazine.  Today, not only are you competing with other homes and sellers, now you're also competing with the buyer’s ideal vision of a home. 

Staging does several things:

  1. It makes a good first impression and, if done right, one that lasts

  2. It enables buyers to visualize the home as their own.  Home buying is mostly an emotional decision.  Thus, ownership starts in the imagination of the buyer.  Staging is a crucial step in creating an emotional connection between the buyer and your home.

  3. It sends the message to the buyer, "This seller cares about their home."  Thus, creating the impression that you are the kind of person who takes care of your home.  Remember, buyers can't see inside your walls, but they are certainly worried about what's there.  When you create an attractive and welcoming first experience when they walk into the home, it puts their mind at ease and lowers their guard a little bit.  This is clearly demonstrated by a survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors in 2019 which showed that 23% of buyers were willing to overlook faults in homes which were staged when compared to those which were not. 

If you're still not convinced to stage your home, check out Jackie's post, "To Stage or Not to Stage."  Then, if you're still not convinced, talk to your agent. 

OK, now that you've decided to stage your home, your first question is probably, "What is staging, anyway?"  Staging is simply the steps you take to make your home presentable to buyers so they come away from a showing with an "I could live there" feeling.  We've broken down staging into three simple steps we call the 3D's of Staging.  The 3D's are Declutter, Depersonalize, and Decorate.  While each is important and will result in better, quicker offers, the first two are absolutely paramount.  Regardless of whether or not you decide to Decorate, you must do the first two if you want to sell your house for what it's worth.

Let's start with Decluttering.  Clutter is distracting and, for many, creates, at least, mild anxiety.  That's not a good impression to leave potential buyers with, especially if you want to get top dollar for your home.  Even if your "clutter" is interesting to the buyer and creates no anxiety, it's still distracting.  In fact, the more interesting it is, the more distracting it is.  When a buyer is distracted she is not bonding with your home.  She is not forging memories of a home she wants her family to live in.  Clutter distracts buyers and distracted buyers won't remember your home when it's time to make an offer.

Clutter comes in a variety of forms.  One version, the one sellers struggle with the most is knick-knacks.  Some of us like figurines, pictures, and keep-sakes out on our fireplace mantles, our coffee tables, shelves, and pretty much everywhere.  When buyers come through your home, they will be looking at these and not the house.  They will, invariably, spend most of the time they are in your house being nosy and looking at your pictures when they should be looking at your house.  The second version of clutter is really more about being messy.  We all get busy and, from time to time, it's easy to let things pile up on a counter, dresser, or desk.  Regardless of what's cluttering your house, it's distracting and essentially hiding your house from a potential buyers view.  Decluttering and cleaning your home is absolutely critical when preparing to sell.  It's not just about removing tchotchkes from the shelves, though that's absolutely important.  It's also about cleaning and keeping the home neat and orderly.  When a house is decluttered, it allows the buyer to easily and enjoyably view your house, rather than your stuff.

When a buyer views your home, it should be visually appealing.  As a seller, you don't know who your buyer is going to be and what will appeal to any individual or family.  However, it is safe to assume a clean, neat, and orderly home will appeal to most people.  It is also safe to assume a messy, cluttered, and disorganized home will leave the average buyer with a bad impression.  Buyers often pass on homes simply because the pictures they see online show a messy or cluttered home.   The only thing worse than not getting a hit, is not getting up to bat. In other words, you can’t sell your house if buyers won’t come to look at it.

Keep in mind, your idea of cluttered is not necessarily the same as the average buyer.  Now, we're not saying you can't have anything out on a table, but it should be minimal and, if at all possible, deliberate.  What I mean by that is, for instance, you should put away your subscription to gun weekly, the socialist review, and any offensive or polarizing material which could influence a buyer’s decision based on anything other than the home.  You will see this is a common theme throughout the 3D's.  Keep things neutral and avoid anything which distracts the buyer from visualizing themselves as the new owners of your house.

Decluttering can look different in different areas of the house.  For instance, in the kitchen, you may like to have all of your appliances out on the counters and readily available.  However, unless you have a giant kitchen, this could create the impression of limited counter-space.  Also, in the kitchen, many of us like to maximize the use of our cabinets and pantries, packing them full with bulk items from big box stores.  While this is very efficient and beneficial to the household budget, when selling your home, you want your buyer to feel as if cabinet space is endless and vast. If the cupboards are stuffed to the gills, it could make it seem as if there is not enough space.  In the living room, decluttering should include minimizing or removing tchotchkes, pictures, magazines, and whatever else you like to have close at hand from day to day.  Simply put, any space in your home meant to store items should be staged to look as large as possible.  Remove extra clothes from Closets.  Empty hangers and space for more clothes allows the buyer to imagine their stuff hanging there.  Garages and basements should seem like "giant" spaces capable of accommodating any "extras" a potential buyer might have. 

Decluttering creates a sense of order while showcasing how much counter, closet, basement, and garage space your home has.  A decluttered home looks larger and more inviting; it is one potential buyers will remember fondly. 

The second "D" of staging is Depersonalize.  Simply put, this means removing as many - ideally all - items which make the house appear like it is uniquely yours.  The main objective of staging is to create an environment which is warm, welcoming, and inviting to a potential buyer so that they can imagine themselves living in your house.  Seeing pictures of YOUR family, YOUR kid’s trophies, or statements of YOUR political, religious, or social sentiments disrupts that illusion.  

The average buyer initially spends less than 30 minutes in your house.  In that time, they have to determine if the home meets their technical requirements.  They must decide if it is located in an area that works for their personal and professional lives.  They have to take in a sense of neighborhood and match that up with the current or future family circumstances.  They're looking at the age of the home, the appliances, HVAC, roof, and every other aspect of the home that ages and needs to be replaced.  During all of that, they are also trying to determine if they can see themselves living in your house.  They are imagining doing the dishes in your kitchen, building a tree house in the backyard, watching TV with their friends, hanging pictures of their family on the walls.  The more of YOU they see while doing that, the less of themselves they can see.

Depersonalizing a home is one of the most difficult things for a seller to do.  It's hard to come to terms with the idea of turning back time to when you first moved in.  The house was cold, empty, and lifeless.  Since then, you've made the house you bought your home.  Keep that in mind, however, while making the decision to depersonalize and how much to take down.  Put yourself in the shoes of the potential buyer.  Not only does the house not feel like theirs yet, but with all of your personalization everywhere, it feels very much like YOUR home.  By depersonalizing the house, you remove barriers for the buyer.  You make it easier for them to visualize the house as theirs.  You make it easier for them to do their job which is to buy your house.

The final “D” is Decorating. Decorating can be a challenge.  First, not everyone has the same sense of style.  In fact, when considering how to decorate the home you live in, the choices are endless.  Fortunately, when staging a home, the objective isn't to decorate in a style you like, but one that the average buyer will like or, at least, not be distracted by.  More importantly, you want to remove decorating elements which are divisive.  Black or red walls may look great with your furniture and lifestyle, but they are definitely not to everyone's taste.  The main objective of staging a home for quick, high-priced sale, is to make it appealing to the masses.  The home should present as warm and inviting.  You should decorate in such a way so as not to distract from the home itself.  Avoid drawing attention to or creating the illusion of deficiencies in the home.  For instance, avoid oversized furniture in small rooms or tiny furniture in enormous rooms.  When your home is properly staged, buyers will remember your house, not necessarily for the decorations or the technical aspects, but for the feeling of "homeyness."  They will remember feeling as if they could live there.

The first rule of decorating a home for maximum salability is to keep things neutral.  That doesn't mean everything has to be beige and white.  One of the easiest ways to create a neutral made-for-the-masses decor is to paint the interior of the house a neutral color, preferably a modern neutral color.  In the late eighties and early nineties that was white.  Today there are quite a few neutral colors.  Muted grays, blues, and soft off-whites are common.  Accent walls should be avoided; they work best when integrated with furnishings and living flow.  This is something that is generally unique to an individual which is the opposite of what staging is meant to achieve.

Add color through decorations like couch pillows, throws, and paintings.  Avoid furniture which is a strong (i.e. distracting) color.  It may be beautiful and work perfectly for you, but a giant purple couch in the middle of the living room will distract most buyers.  They will remember your house as "the purple couch house."  Adding a sense of texture can be achieved by adding word art, or three dimensional objects like decorative clocks.  However, you should use care in selecting the words in your word art.  Make sure they are not offensive.  When choosing three dimensional art, avoid nudes and other provocative subjects.  Remember, most buyers shop for homes with their families (i.e. children and parents).  Keep things G-rated.

Regardless of the style you choose, your decorating should be consistent.  Create a subtle but flowing theme throughout the house.  It's obviously OK to have more than one theme, but not more than two or three depending on the size and configuration of your house.  However, avoid creating a different theme in each room.  Also, no theme should be too strong.  When we refer to themes, we're really talking more about color schemes and styles.  You should avoid themes like "the beach" or sports.

Following the three D's of staging, Declutter, Depersonalize, and Decorate will increase the dollar value of the offers you receive and it will decrease the time your house is on the market.  Staging will not overcome serious deficiencies like mold, or a lack of indoor plumbing, but it will help buyers see the home as a place they would feel comfortable raising their children.  Twenty-three percent (23%) of Realtors surveyed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that buyers were willing to overlook flaws in homes that were properly staged when compared to those which were not.   Buyers remember homes that are well staged.  Keep in mind, buyers, on average, spend less than 30 minutes in your home and they look at upwards of twenty (20) homes over the course of 7 to 10 weeks before they decide to make an offer.  That's a lot going on for the buyer; the 30 minutes they spent in your house is a mere blip on their radar.  If you want them to buy your house, that 30 minutes better be memorable; it has to really stand out.  Finally, consider that only about twenty percent (20%) of seller’s stage their homes and those homes sell faster and for more money.  Staging your home will ensure it looks its best and is more memorable than eighty percent (80%) of the homes on the market today; leading to faster higher-priced offers.

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