First impressions more important in a slower market

In a hot real estate market, even homes that don't give the greatest first impression will still sell. However, as the market cools off, the listings that show well will be the ones that sell faster and for a better price.

"Recent economic uncertainty has led to more of a buyers' market," says Dianne Usher, vice president, Royal Lepage Real Estate Services, Johnston and Daniel Division. "In this market, a house that isn't properly prepared may struggle to sell. Staging and preparing a home for sale is more critical now than ever before."

While interior decorating concentrates on making people feel more at home in their interior space, the objective of staging is to make the home more marketable inside and outside. Staging usually involves getting rid of clutter and "depersonalizing" a home. "Most people can't envision themselves in someone else's home," says Usher. "Things like clutter or an imbalance of furnishings or colours that are out of sync with the home can throw them off." As part of their service, REALTORS® need to educate clients about how staging a home for sale can make a huge difference in the outcome of the deal. For some clients, it can be a tough sell to get them to pack away the family photos and bowling trophies.

When faced with a sellers' home that's cluttered, outrageously decorated or in need of a major clean-up, many REALTORS® suggest enlisting the services of a professional home stager. Just as a home inspector investigates and reports on a home's structural and mechanical fitness, a home stager will evaluate a home's curb appeal and saleability. Usher, a REALTOR® with more than 30 years of experience, says there is an increased awareness among REALTORS® of the importance of staging. "More REALTORS® are advising their clients to use this service and some even offer to pay for a stager as part of their value-added service."

Although the cost to hire a professional home stager varies widely depending on the scope of the project, Usher says it's a service that is worth the investment. "In my experience, a minimal investment in the cost of staging can achieve a much higher selling price, even if the property is priced properly," she says. Many REALTORS® have increased their knowledge of staging and can help clients stage their homes for little or no cost. "While it's beneficial for REALTOR® to learn about staging, they should not become a stager," says Usher. "As REALTORS® we need to know when to call in the experts."

Some REALTORS® believe suggesting the services of a professional stager can give them an edge when competing for listings. Many others have earned their "CSP" (Canadian Staging Professional) credentials, a designation that means they've completed a three-day classroom course and hands-on practice "staging" a real home.

An accredited home stager will follow a set of standards and professional guidelines to prepare a home for sale. Staging services range from simply rearranging furniture to emptying a house out and filling it with rented furniture. The cost for staging can range from $30 to $150 an hour with the majority of jobs taking less than a day to complete.

What do buyers want?
Usher says a contemporary and minimalist space with neutral coloured walls and a limited number of personal items appeals to most buyers and ensures the best results when selling a home. "Staging is more than removing clutter, it's also important to have the right furniture placement." She adds that even a brand new home needs staging. "It's particularly important for new condos. Empty rooms seem smaller and people have a hard time envisioning their belongings in them."

When staging a home, she advises REALTORS® to focus not just on the inside, but outside as well. Walkways, paths and driveways should be clear of clutter as well as snow and ice. It may be difficult for a potential buyer to envision a backyard covered in snow so Usher suggests homeowners create a display of framed photos. Finally, she suggests it's important in winter to make sure a client's house is warm for viewings, but not too warm. "A fire in the hearth is a nice touch as are candles, but never unattended," she adds.

To help your clients' homes make the best possible first impression, REALTORS® can also rely upon the information found in OREA's How to Sell Your Home book. This booklet contains a handy checklist to help homeowners prepare their homes for sale. How to Sell Your Home can act as a handy tool during a REALTORS® discussion about what needs to be done before the sign goes on the lawn. For example, the book suggests homeowners take a tour of their home and property with a clipboard in hand noting any areas that need attention. It suggests windows should be clean, the front door should be freshly painted and the interior of the home is neat, clean, well-lit and odour free. Cooking odours and pet odours that homeowners tend not to notice may be offensive to potential buyers.

Whether you suggest hiring a home stager, pay for the service yourself or simply offer staging advice to your clients, the importance of making your listings stand out in a slower market cannot be denied. For more information about home staging in Canada, visit To obtain copies of OREA's How to Sell Your Home book contact OREA at 1-800-563-HOME (4663).

Stephen George

Stephen George

CENTURY 21 Action Power Team Ltd., Brokerage*
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