Home selling theatrics

What a home stager can do for you

When trying to sell a home in today’s strained economy, homeowners easily check their egos at the door just to get their properties sold. That is why Beth Hawkins barely blinked when her realtor suggested employing a home stager to spruce up the Kingfield home Hawkins was trying to sell.

“I think she thought I might be affronted that some of my things weren’t showable, and I totally wasn’t; I have old ratty furniture because I have small children,” says Hawkins. “I thought that given the slowdown in the housing market it was probably a worthwhile investment in showing my house to its best advantage.”

Enter expert home stager Jay Nuhring, owner of ReSee in New Prague, who stages homes throughout the metro area.

“The focus of staging is to make a house more marketable by creating the most appealing home to the greatest number of prospective buyers,” he explains. Often, that means doing more than just getting out the vacuum cleaner and feather duster and instead looking at the home as a product.

“A lot of people think staging means getting rid of everything,” says Nuhring. “I’m more of the mindset of working with things the owner already has and maybe adding a few pieces, or bringing in new bedding.”

In the case of Hawkins’ three-bedroom craftsman-style home, Nuhring wanted to draw attention to a number of the home’s charming features — including a beautiful mission fireplace and plenty of natural woodwork — by shifting furniture, eliminating clutter and bringing in pieces from his own collection to complement the existing décor.

“That was a huge advantage,” says Hawkins. “I might have been convinced to buy a new couch, but he had a bunch that he could choose from.”

Nuhring made changes in several rooms of the home, including adding a large decorative sailboat to Hawkins’ bedroom dresser, as well as heaps of pillows to the bed that quickly entranced her younger son.

“He thought the sailboat was the most elegant, awe-inspiring thing he’d ever seen, and he became obsessed with the placement of pillows on the bed,” she explains. “It inspired him to make his bed, though that was short-lived.”

Other than moving and adding furniture and decorations, Nuhring didn’t alter the Hawkins home with paint color or anything dramatic or permanent.

Once the home was properly staged, Hawkins’ realtor had photos taken for the house’s listing. Then the job fell to Hawkins and her two children to live as pristinely as possible in the new environment so the home would show well for open houses and drop-ins.

“There’s always a challenge to stage a home when the family still lives there — it’s tough on them,” says Nuhring. “If they’re not used to making their beds every morning or emptying wastebaskets it can be a disruptive lifestyle change. But it’s absolutely crucial that the house sparkles.”

According to Hawkins, the family ensured the highest amount of sparkle possible by laying down some ground rules: “We had to figure out a strategy for keeping the home in showable condition without losing our minds, and we adapted. Toys stay in the basement playroom, and we do more day-to-day pickup.”

A home with history

One thing that surprised Hawkins about Nuhring’s transformation was the fact that it didn’t require depersonalizing the home. After watching HGTV, Hawkins expected the stager would begin by removing family mementos and photos to erase any evidence that an actual family still lived there. Nuhring describes the depersonalization stereotype as a staging urban legend.

“There’s a fine line between a house looking staged and just looking sterile. A house that has life and a history has good energy,” he explains. “You’re buying into a lifestyle, and no one wants a lifestyle of artificial champagne glasses with fake fruit on the table.”

While Hawkins’ home is still on the market, she says the feedback from realtors and potential buyers has been more than convincing when it comes to the value of having her home staged.

“I thought staging was something people who had expensive showcase homes did and not something regular middle class people with middle class mortgages did,” says Hawkins. “But having seen my home staged, I would do it again. The difference was huge and dramatic. My mother walked in and said ‘I can’t believe this is your stuff, it looks so much better!’ and she was right.”

DIY staging tips

— Update or do heavy-duty cleaning of all your kitchen appliances. Clean up your range, empty your refrigerator and really wash it out. “Everything should sparkle!” says Nuhring.

— Clean out your closets. Potential buyers always open closet doors, and a stager isn’t going to tidy up such personal space. The less clutter in your closets, the bigger they appear. “A great way to feel good about that is to give things you don’t need to charity,” says Nuhring.

— Don’t overlook the garage. “One of last places sellers will think of making look nice is the garage,” says Nuhring. “If the house looks 110 percent and the garage is a B+, or worse yet a C-, it can really be a dealbreaker for a buyer.” Throw a fresh coat of paint on the walls, clean out clutter, and never underestimate your garage’s influence on a potential buyer.

— Wash your windows (inside and out). Windows that shine can improve the appearance of your home remarkably. “Dirty windows are a downer,” says Nuhring. “Dirty windows to a buyer translates to deferred maintenance, which translates to something wrong with house. It sounds dramatic, but it’s true.”

— Dress up your utility room. It’s all about the power of suggestion: “If your utility room is really dark and dingy, a buyer will think the house needs a new furnace,” says Nuhring. He suggests cleaning and painting, and even leaning extra filters against the furnace to show that you’re regularly maintaining it.