There’s a reason why people love looking at photos of homes for sale — it’s rare that we get to see a place look it’s very best, and scrolling through gorgeous room after room helps serious buyers see themselves settling down in those very rooms.
But as any seller (or photographer) can attest, getting a home ready for its close-up (also known as “staging”) is not easy and is definitely not always fun. It involves a ton of cleaning, some furniture removal (or placement), a plethora of attention to detail, and usually a lot of light. This is why professional stagers charge hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars for their services.
If hiring a stager isn’t in your budget or you’re simply more of a do-it-yourself type, consider taking advantage of these relatively quick and easy methods for helping your soon-to-be-sold home appear shiny and new.
1. CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN
Even if you follow every other tip on the list to an exacting standard, if your home isn’t clean, you won’t be reaping all of the benefits that staging could generate for you. There are two big steps to cleaning for staging:
- Decluttering your home
- Deep cleaning everything … everything
First is the clutter. This might be a good time to join the neighborhood garage sale or arrange for your sister-in-law whose kids are a few years younger to come pick up all the hand-me-downs you’ve been promising. It always makes sense to start with things that you don’t want to pack up and move to a new location.
Don’t forget about the furniture — too much furniture in a room makes it look cramped and small, so remove what you don’t need.
Resist the temptation to box everything up and stash it in one room, the garage, a basement or attic — unless it’s not your room. Buyers are going to want to open doors, cabinets, and drawers, and peer into closets and utility rooms, so if you want your home to look its best, you need to keep those areas neat, too.
Some sellers rent storage facilities during the process, and that’s always a possibility, too. If you have family or good friends in the area who can take some of the larger items for you, then you might be able to get a smaller storage unit. (Make sure to pay your loved ones back with a gift or thoughtful gesture when the home is sold!)
When the surfaces are clear and your surroundings are feeling more vacation-home than lived-in, it’s time to deep clean those surfaces. Scrub the inside from ceiling to floors; wash your windows; consider power-washing the outside to brighten it up. Plant new flowers, keep your sidewalks and walkways clear and weed-free and set some inviting chairs with fluffy cushions on your (freshly polished, cobweb-free) front porch.
Once the decluttering is done, it’ll be much easier to get everything looking shiny and new — and easier to hire help, too — so make sure to tackle this step first.
2. LIGHT UP
If you haven’t changed a light bulb in a while, then you might be surprised by how much brighter they’ve gotten — or what a difference a bright bulb can make in a room that you thought was naturally dreary and dim.Changing out your bulbs can be a quick way to give your entire home a quick lift, brightening up every room and helping potential buyers see exactly how well-maintained those original wood floors are, and examine the crown molding close up.
Experts suggest that you obtain 100 watts of lighting for every 50 square feet in your home, and consider using three different types of lighting (not just overhead lighting) to get there. Overhead or ambient lighting is important, of course, but accent lighting (on walls and tables) and task lighting (reading or under-cabinet lights) will help showcase your space in all its glory.
3. REARRANGE WITH AN EYE FOR BALANCE
Most of us don’t live in perfectly symmetrical surroundings, but if there’s a way to achieve it with your furniture, then it’s worth it to try — at least for the photos. Try to balance any shelves, counters, and mantelpieces in the same way, with an eye for highlighting the accessories that will help make your home look like a retreat from a messy world.
You can do the same thing with area rugs and artwork. Arrange your floor and wall coverings to draw the eye down the halls and through the house, which will give touring buyers a pleasant sense of welcome and discovery.
4. ORGANIZE AND ENERGIZE
There are always going to be parts of your house that are made to hold “stuff” — but you can make that stuff look presentable with a little bit of organization.
Some decluttering and color-blocking on your bookshelves can make the display draw the eye instead of distracting from the rest of the room, for example. Kids’ and pets’ toys are another opportunity to organize and beautify with a decorative box or basket, or a fun shelving unit that holds everything with style.
Straighten your shoes on the closet floors and neaten up the hanging areas, then open up the doors when you leave for a buyer’s tour. They’ll enjoy the welcoming feeling of the open doors (and you know they were going to open them up, anyway).
5. POLISH UP THE APPLIANCES
If you can afford it, new appliances in the kitchen can go a long (long!) way toward helping a buyer fall in love with the heart of the house. New appliances tend to help generate high returns for sellers, so depending on the condition and upgrades in the rest of your home, you might want to consider it — you might be able to find some good deals on floor models or end-of-season sales, too.
If not, help your appliances look their best by using stainless steel polish, glass polish, or whatever else you might need to help regenerate the shine on your stove.
You don’t need to take all these tips when staging your home — but don’t ignore them all when you’re selling, either. Taking the time to pay a little bit of attention to staging before a buyer even sees the place can reap big rewards at the closing table.
Most people don’t buy a home every day — it’s a once-or-twice-a-decade activity for many of us as opposed to a day-in-day-out activity.
So when you start getting serious about buying, whether it’s your first home or your fourth, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed pretty quickly. Some parts of the process (like searching for a home) have recently become more accessible through technology, but when every buyer has access to the same technology and resources, it’s tough to stand out in a crowd of showing, bids and contracts.
And there’s a lot more to the journey than just finding the home: You need to figure out financing, negotiate on price and possibly request repairs or make concessions, get the home appraised and inspected, and make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed by the time you sit down at the closing table to sign your name on a stack of paperwork.
That’s why a real estate professional can be an indispensable resource for buyers — unlike most of us, real estate professionals do manage home sale transactions every day, and they can serve as a guide on the buyer’s journey, ushering you from Base Camp “I Think I Want To Buy A House” to Summit the mountain of “I’m A Homeowner,” step by step.
Here are just a few of the ways a real estate professional can help smooth your home buying path.
GETTING PRE-APPROVED BY A LENDER
Instead of paying rent to the owner of your residence every month, as a homeowner, you’ll be paying back a bank for the money you borrowed to buy your own place.
But before you get there, you need to find that bank and secure that loan. Where do you start that process?
A real estate professional is one good place — agents work with an array of local loan officers representing different lenders, and depending on whether you’re a veteran, your down payment size, your credit score, and a number of other factors, a good local agent will know which lender (and loan officer) might be the best fit for you.
The right loan officer will explain your financing options and help you drill down to the real nitty-gritty, like the size of the monthly mortgage payment that’s affordable on your current income, what you should expect in terms of closing costs, and whether the down payment amount you’ve saved is going to cut it.
Agents can also explain what to expect during the mortgage loan application process, what you should know about transferring money during the sale, why it’s important to review certain documents — and they can usually even attest to whether certain lenders have parameters that might be better for one type of home instead of another.
CHOOSING A HOME
Many buyers (mistakenly) think that they don’t need an agent’s help finding a home. They know what they want, and they know how to search the internet — what’s the point of hiring an agent?
Here’s the thing: You might not need any assistance when you’re picking out a car, but there is no consumer report that exists for the specific home you’re about to spend 30 years paying off.
What if you’re someone who thrives on direct sunlight and your “dream home” happens to be located by a hill that’s going to cast it in shadow half the year?
What if you can’t sleep when airplanes are flying overhead and your soon-to-be home is in a major airport’s flight path?
What about the schools? What about the amenities? How do homes in that area hold their value — can you expect this investment to appreciate in the next few years, and by how much?
Cars come off an assembly line; homes do not. Whether it’s the condition of the home or the neighborhood around it, you don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised once you move in.
A real estate professional has seen other buyers make mistakes (and find gems) and can help you find a home that you still love two or three (or ten!) years down the road.
MAKING AN OFFER
This can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the process for buyers. Because even if you love the home and are making an offer at the very top of your budget … there is no guarantee that the seller will think it’s worth accepting. You could wind up starting all over again on the home search process.
Real estate professionals can help you do more than make an unsophisticated stab in the dark when it comes to offers — they can show you data that will help you understand whether you’re likely to be underbidding or overbidding, for example, such as the recent sales prices of similar homes nearby, the price-per-square-foot range in the neighborhood, and much more.
This is really where the home sales rubber meets the road. If your offer is high for the market, the seller may leap at it … but you’ll always wonder if you could have gotten a better deal. And if your offer is low, you should understand that so you won’t feel offended or put-out if the seller comes back with a counter-offer.
You did it! You found a home you love at a price you can afford, the seller accepted the offer, and now all you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the closing process. Right?
OK, that’s not exactly true. Even the simplest real estate sale involves quite a few mandated hoops that must be jumped through — like the inspection, the appraisal, title review, and more.
In some states, a title company manages the closing process; in others, a lawyer is involved. But the negotiation isn’t over yet, not by a long shot.
What happens if the inspector finds an issue with the home that must be addressed before the sale is legal? Who will pay for those repairs — you or the seller?
And what can you expect in terms of finalizing the loan and moving your down payment or earnest money from your account to the sellers? What should you look for during the final walk-through?
An agent can lay out a roadmap from offer acceptance to keys-in-hand and make sure you’re staying on track … which can feel like a lifesaver to a buyer drowning in details.
… AND BEYOND!
When you’re all moved in and settling down, you’ll probably discover some upgrades you’d like to make and work on shaping your home to fit you instead of the previous owner.
Your real estate professional already knows your house (and the neighborhood), so why not reach out when you’re considering adding a deck or redoing a bathroom? They can help you figure out which improvements are timeless and will increase your home’s value versus quickly dated trends that you might have to redo again before you sell.
And that’s not all — your agent probably knows people in the neighborhood, from home service providers like plumbers and electricians to lifestyle service providers like day-care operators and pet sitters. If you need a recommendation, ask your agent!
Buying a home goes well beyond finding one for sale on the internet. Buyers who use the services of a real estate professional find the process more enjoyable and less stressful — and they also have an advocate to negotiate tirelessly on their behalf.