Selling or renting out your home is a pretty stressful situation no matter how you look at it. But in a world of economic uncertainty and fragile property markets, home owners are finding it increasingly difficult to seal the deal. With banks less likely to offer credit, high unemployment rates, falling house prices and rising rent prices, investors are not as forth coming as they were in the boom years and first-time buyers in particular have become an endangered species.
Those looking to sell or rent out their property are faced with a market that is more competitive than ever and for that reason they need to go to lengths that were simply not necessary a few years ago in order to make their homes stand out in a crowded market place. Improving a property’s appeal by transforming it into an attractive and welcoming home that appeals to the widest possible audience has become the order of the day and more people than ever are seeking out professional help to ensure that their homes are the ones that buyers are snapping up. Home Stagers, or Property Stylists as they are also called, are increasingly being called in to help people give their home the best possible chance of sale or rental.
But how exactly do these professionals work their magic? What are the benefits to engaging the services they offer and what are the dangers of going it alone? To find out, Freshome has approached two professionals, from both sides of the Atlantic.
Samantha Giddens is a London-based Interior Designer and Property Stylist and owns Mink Interiors. She also co-edits Design Lovers Blog along with San Francisco-based Interior Stylist Jill Brandenburg. Jill spent many years working alongside Ann Maurice in London on the production of the UK’s Channel 5 House Doctor program as well as running her home staging training courses with her. Here, they answer all our home staging questions.
What exactly is home staging?
JB. Home staging is the process of preparing, packaging and presenting your home for sale, in a way so that it appeals to the widest possible audience and sells for the highest possible price. Stagers generally try and work mostly with what the home owner already has in order to reduce the overall spending. This process usually involves depersonalizing the space by clearing clutter; rearranging existing furniture to maximize space and light; cleaning the house top to bottom and inside and out; painting rooms in a neutral color palette and replacing carpets or floors if necessary; making any necessary repairs and updates inside and outside the house; and lastly bringing in new furniture and accessories to dress the space to create a warm and welcoming environment. With staging you are trying to create an inviting home that the buyers will fall in love with. Staging is more about creating the Ahhh factor, whereas interior design is more about the Wow factor.
Is home staging different to property styling or house doctoring?
JB. Yes, however this really depends on who you speak to. In the UK, home staging is often referred to as property presentation, dressing to sell or house doctoring, a term that was borne out of the British TV show “House Doctor” which followed Home Stager Ann Maurice as she transformed properties throughout the UK. House Doctor is now a registered trademark belonging to Ann Maurice.
However, in the USA it is mostly just referred to as home staging and sometimes dressing to sell. Home Staging is about editing furniture and accessories to eliminate any strong personal identity.
Property Styling on the other hand, is more about styling homes for the home owners to live with and enjoy. It is the final layer of dressing/accessorizing (the fun part) of the interior of a home. Often this comes at the end of an interior design project. Property styling is about adding real personality to a home and this should be reflective of the home owners personal interests and taste.
The turn around time of a staging projects is also usually a lot tighter than Property Styling where one can take their time to find the perfect items. Home owners are impatient and expect staging to happen in minimal timescale.
Is there a difference in how how staging is carried out in the UK and in the USA?
JB. Yes, there is a huge difference. Home staging in the UK usually involves spending the smallest amount of money possible, to get the highest return on investment. Often only 1% of the price of the home. In order to keep the budget down, Home Stagers work mostly with what the home owner already has, only bringing in new soft furnishings and accessories where needed. This is possibly due to the fact that space is so valuable in the UK so rental furniture companies are limited, or due to the way the concept was introduced to the UK via Ann Maurice, TV’s House Doctor.
In San Francisco however, it is typical that most of a home owners’ contents are packed up and stored offsite while the stagers bring in a truck load of beautifully selected rental furniture and accessories to stage the home with. This is then paid for on a monthly rental fee. This certainly allows for more dramatic results but depending on how long it takes to sell the house, can result in a higher fee to the home owner.
Why is home staging so important when you are looking to rent out or sell your property?
SG. With the downturn of the property market in the past few years, competition is greater than ever. You want your home to sell or rent quickly and for the highest possible price by attracting the largest potential buying audience. Buyers need to be able to mentally visualize themselves and their things living in your home rather than than yours/existing owners.
Staging works because:
- Buyers are unimaginative – they need you to show them how the house can function for them. Rooms must have a clearly defined purpose.
- Buyers are busy – the majority don’t have the time to tackle large repairs or updates, so will be put off by homes that need a lot of work.
- They’re paying a lot and expect a lot for their money – if they spot any red flags (uncompleted tasks) they will most likely move on to another home or ask for a price reduction. Either way, slowing down the selling process.
- Buyers are buying a dream – they want to feel as though they are moving into their new home, not your old home and lifestyle. They need to be able to imagine them and their things in the home.
What are the benefits of hiring a professional to help you stage/style your home before you put it on the market?
SG. There are many benefits to hiring a professional home stager. Firstly they see your home through fresh eyes – the eyes of a buyer. Home owners definitely become blind to their own surroundings and often neglect things that are staring them in the face. The broken door bell, the chipped paint at the top of your stairs, the dripping tap. Seeing your home and your belongings through a fresh pair of eyes makes it easy for them to identify problem areas and decide where money is most effectively spent.
Homeowners get used to their furniture and accessories being laid out in a particular way and often it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see how it could be rearranged to create a more inviting, light and airy space.
Home Stagers are not emotionally attached to your personal belongings so this enables them to work quickly. They do not get bogged down with the trip down memory lane, a hurdle which often paralyzes homeowners when sorting out their belongings. The benefit to the homeowner is that by sorting out and clearing away many of their things with the assistance of a Home Stager they are actually already on their way to preparing for the upcoming move.
Home Stagers have the resources and the experience to get the job done professionally and quickly.
What are your top 5 tips for staging or styling your home if you are planning to put it on the market?
JB. First impressions: Don’t give the drivers an excuse to just drive by. You want to make sure that the curb appeal is inviting enough for people to want to see inside the home. Make sure all entrances are uncluttered, warm and welcoming. Invest some money in your front garden or potted plants by your front door. Define the path to your front door, give the door a lick of paint and shine the hardware. Make sure the house numbers are clearly visible and that you have good lighting in case you are showing in the winter months.
Pay close attention to the kitchen. It is one of the most important rooms in the house for most buyers and its condition can often make or break a sale. Buyers often dread the expense of a kitchen remodel, however in many cases an inexpensive cosmetic face-lift can make it look nearly new. This can be achieved with a fresh coat of paint or replacing the cabinetry doors, updating the flooring, lighting and window shades, and adding fresh new tea towels, floor mats and accessories.
Neutralise your walls: Potential buyers won’t be able to visualise themselves living in your home if the walls are bright, patterned or in some cases, just plain ugly. Paint them in light, neutral colours and introduce splashes of colour with rugs, cushions, throws, table runners and flowers.
Clear the clutter and clean: Daily mess all too easily becomes familiar junk, which we are used to having around. It makes rooms look smaller and distracts buyers from seeing the beauty of the space. Buyers can easily become distracted by your story, so pack away family photos, excess books and clothes. This is a good time to take as much as possible to the nearest charity shop or dump, so you don’t have to take it with you to your new home. Once you have decluttered, clean like you have never cleaned before. Elbow grease can add more value to your house than almost anything else. Dust every surface, ornament and window inside and out.
Maximize space: As well as certain carpets making rooms feel smaller, too much furniture, or furniture which is too big, will also make a room feel cramped. Too many disparate pictures on the walls make a room feel cluttered. Move your furniture around and remove unnecessary pieces to get the most spacious feel.
What are the 5 worst mistakes that people make when preparing their homes for rental or sale?
SG. Over neutralizing. People often mistake ‘neutral’ or ‘neutralizing’ your home as meaning everything must be beige or white or bland. All colors have a neutral – there are neutral yellows, neutral blues, neutral greens etc, greys etc. These neutral colors should be selected for the larger surfaces (walls, floors etc) however pops of color are very much needed in the smaller accessories (throws, rugs, flowers, pillows,artwork etc) to bring the home alive and give it personality.
Poor / shoddy workmanship. Homeowners make the mistake of having people without the necessary experience or qualifications (i.e. themselves or friends) tackle the repairs and handy work, but a poorly laid floor, badly tiled bathroom or a cupboard that doesn’t close properly is just as much of a deterrent as one that hasn’t been fixed. It gives the buyer further doubt as to the state of workmanship in the rest of the home.
Overspending. Some people spend too much money for what they can recoup on the value of the home. Be realistic about the overall value of the home. You do not want to spend the same amount of money on a 2 bedroom cottage as a 6 bedroom house in the same area.
Over staging. Staging always involves bringing some new things into the home, but I have seen many staged homes that have been too stripped of personality and end up looking like a room set at Ikea or like a vacant property. Avoid shelves with rows of empty vases on them. This can look extremely contrived and not give owners that Ahh factor they are looking for. It is also important to mix in some vintage pieces with new items. If you can’t afford to buy them, ask friends or relatives if they have something you can borrow. New and old pieces mixed together give the home a real – lived in feel, attractive quality.
Lack of organization. Deal with what’s behind the façade. Most buyers are looking for space so they will open your cupboards. Make sure that what is behind closed doors is as organized and what’s out on view. Nothing is worse than seeing a home with a lovely bedroom only to open the cupboard and see clothes rammed in so tight they fall out on top of you. Buyers are buying space, so don’t let them think “not enough space”.
Freshome would like to thank Jill and Sam for sharing their expert tips and advice with us. We’d love to hear about your experiences good or bad with selling or renting a property? Please leave us a comment below.