Smart Guide: Fluff your house for resale

Home staging tips and tricks to help you sell faster

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You want to sell your home, and fast. So how big a deal is the flaking paint on the windowsills and the stained carpeting in the basement, really? It depends. If you want to make top dollar, those cosmetic deficiencies can amount to thousands below your asking price. Worse, a house that falls short of near-perfection will draw fewer buyers, protracting the painful selling process.

Without question, house staging, or restyling a home’s decor to impress potential buyers, is critical to a successful sale. In fact, staging gives new meaning to home theatre: A little razzle-dazzle and some smoke and mirrors can amount to getting a quick, profitable sale. Clive Pearse, host of the popular show Designed To Sell on HGTV and contributor to Designed To Sell: Smart Ideas That Pay Off, sums it up this way: “In the some 100 episodes of the show, 98 of the houses we’ve staged have sold over the asking price.”Sold?

Okay, so you know you need to spruce up before you sell. But how much money do you pour into the house you’re vacating? According to a 2005 study conducted by Maritz Research for Royal LePage, 54 per cent of Canadians believe that $2,000 or more is the magic number. And they’re right. Toronto-based real estate agent Michele Chan says most well-maintained homes merit $2,000 to $2,500 in small fix-ups, though Tim Badgley, designer and co-owner of Acanthus Interiors in Port Hope, Ont., argues that even a meager $1,000 goes a long way in paint and throw pillows. Listen to home editor Virginie Martocq as she breaks down by price just how far $1000 can go.

Selling and staging your home will require you to stop seeing your property as a family home and start seeing it as a commodity, one that you need to regard with detachment and impartiality, says Pearse. In other words, Grandpa’s stamp collection isn’t special to anyone but you, and if you can’t bear to take it off the wall in your rec room and part with it for a couple of weeks, maybe you’re not ready to part with your home, either.

1. Create curb appeal. Before a prospective buyer books an appointment to view your home, they’ve likely driven by it a few times. If they don’t like what they see out front, they probably won’t step foot inside. So put flowers or greenery in planters, hide the garbage and recycling bins, stow the kids’ bikes and sweep the porch.
Tip: Do a drive-by shooting. Drive past your own house, taking a few photos as you go. Would you buy this house?

2. Rent a storage locker. You’ll need it. Whether you’re a certifiable pack rat or not, the “less is more” principle is well-applied to house staging. “Buyers want to see the house, not your belongings,” says Chan. “And when belongings are stripped to a minimum, the house looks bigger.” So clean off countertops in the kitchen and bathroom, put away at least half of all your clothing so closets appear more spacious, and pack up personal knick-knacks. “Remember,” says Chan, “people aren’t buying four walls, they’re buying a lifestyle. They need to be able to see themselves in the house and they can’t do that if it’s filled to the brim with your personal memorabilia.”

3. Paint and make minor repairs. No one wants to buy a project. Fixing leaky faucets and faulty grouting now will save you money down the road. And if you haven’t painted in a few years, a fresh coat is an inexpensive way to freshen up your home’s appearance. Neutrals such as cream, taupe and grey are non-offensive to most, but can be boring so consider creating an accent wall. Scared of colour? “You can’t go wrong with earthy tones which calm and soothe most people,” says Pearse.
Tip: Badgley’s favourite shade this season is chartreuse.

4.Modernize. According to Badgley, most of us see our home’s decor through dusty rose-coloured glasses, blind to the outdated shades and shams. “No one’s house is ever as current as they believe it to be,” he says. Consider renting a piece of modern art, buying a contemporary mirror, or introducing new shades and textures in throw pillows.
Tip: If you have a friend with a fabulous furniture collection, borrow a piece and store your own saggy sofa.

5. Don’t neglect the basement. The dank space at the bottom of those rickety stairs can be a scary place. Store all the boxes and bags in a storage locker, paint the cement floors and install bright lighting.

Myth If I want to sell my home, I’ll have to put away all my happy snaps.
Reality Family photos make a house a happy home, one that is seductively welcoming. Keep your photos grouped together in a single spot or two, preferably a bedroom or den and never in the entryway.

Myth The sweet smell of baking cookies is a surefire way to seduce prospective buyers.
Reality Buyers are likely seeing more than one home a day, and the cloying scent of baking cookies is actually a surefire way to nauseate them. Perfumey scents can be similarly annoying, especially to people with chemical sensitivities. “Fresh flowers are a better bet,” says Chan. “And nothing beats the smell of a clean house.”

Myth I’ll need to paint my crimson walls beige.
Reality “People love colour,” says Badgley, “provided it’s done right.” “Right” means wall colours that are complementary to the furnishings and art work. But, warns Badgley, there are certain shades that won’t work with anything and if you are colour-blind, neutrals may be a safer bet.

How long your transformation will take depends on how much you intend to tackle, true. But even seemingly manageable makeover lists can be daunting when the stakes are high. Chan and her husband Gordon, also a real estate agent, both recommend beginning the staging process before you decide to sell. “Some people do the editing and cleaning and fall in love with their houses all over again,” says Michele. “They decide to stay.”

If a move is definitely in the cards, getting a head start takes a little bit of the pressure off in an already pressure-filled situation. “My preference is for clients to give themselves a full year,” adds Gordon Chan, “but at a minimum, think ahead at least one season. That way, if you need to paint the exterior, winter weather won’t foil your plans. Besides, taking it slowly makes the process less overwhelming.”