Best Advice for Selling a Home You Inherited

Thursday, April 08, 2021

When my friend Emily inherited the home her mother lived until her death, it raised a number of issues. Besides the emotional toll of losing her mother, Emily is facing all the decisions required of an heir with no siblings and as executor of her mother's estate.

She thought she would be selling her mom's house, but she's taking some time to decide how best to proceed. She knows there are advantages to working with a cash buyer. She briefly considered moving in herself. Another option was to turn the property into a rental investment she could manage for a cash flow. 

Because she lived close to her mom's house, because it's a seller's market now, and because she had profitably sold a home of her own five years ago, she's pretty much decided to work with a local real estate company to sell the house.

Once she's made that decision, these are the steps she'll take. If you want a handy cheat sheet for selling a home you've inherited, here's your list! 

Tap into other brains

Emily tends to approach situations intellectually. She's big on doing her homework, researching everything online, seeking expert opinions, and brainstorming with friends. Since I live in North Carolina and she lives in Washington State, there isn't much I can offer in terms of labor, but we've certainly discussed possibilities. 

We both agreed that research is always the best beginning. You can google your questions, and you can also meet face to face with experts. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with the kitchen, but since the 
neighborhood has improved over time, some money spent on 
upgrades would bring the property up to neighborhood values.  

Educating yourself about the condition of an empty house is easier than examining an occupied one. That's a distinct advantage to prepping an empty home for market, whether you inherited it, or bought it to flip, or moved out already. Even though you may have spent your childhood in this property, there are bound to be surprises. Inside, look for uneven flooring, leaks, mold, mildew, and evidence of rodents or insects. 

Outside, you can look for foundation damage, water ponding in the yard, and roof damage such as missing shingles, gutter damage, or loose gutters. If you're going to repaint the house, you'll need to tackle these repairs. Emily knows a good local handyman who could handle some of these repairs, but you can ask neighbors, and read online reviews. Some contractors, like electricians, need licenses to do work. 

You can get free examinations of your home from a pest control company. You can get estimates on plumbing, electrical work, painting, and roof repairs. I find that if I talk to more than one of each of these types of service people, I can make a more informed decision. You don't want to waste their time, but tradespeople realize that they will be giving some price quotes without eventually getting the job. That's just the way business works. 

Repairs like these are worth your money. In order for any house to command both a good listing price and a good selling price, you'll need to take care of any of the little things that get black marks on any home inspector's report.   

Budget your project

A home inspection is one thing. A home appraisal is another. Although you can probably fix much of what the home inspector didn't like, some of what the appraiser didn't like can't be changed. Examples would be the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the size of the lot, construction materials used in the house, age and general condition of the house and its important systems, square footage, homes in the neighborhood that have sold in the past few months, and amenities in the area (such as beach access, hiking trails, businesses, and schools).    

Once the home is in your name you can feel secure about spending some money to get it ready for buyers. Professional home stagers like to quote the guideline that the money spent on staging a home for sale should be calculated as 1% of its listing price. But one of the benefits of DIY home staging is that you will save the money a stager will charge for services. 

I've advised Emily to work her math backward from the selling point to determine how much she should budget for repairs and home staging. If she works with a savvy Realtor, they'll be able to determine the best listing price. It's a hot market there, so she might even get offers above asking. But it would be unwise to count on that happening, so she'll spend sensibly, and only where there is a reliable ROI.    

I've blogged about how to save money when you stage your own home, how to stretch that home staging budget, and which home improvement projects give you the best return on your money

Emily will be using some of her mom's furniture to stage, much of it updated with a fresh coat of paint. I doubt she will have to buy anything new to stage because she can use some accessories from her own house temporarily. 

You can prune or replace overgrown shrubs
to make an older house look younger. 

Stage with all buyers in mind

It's never a good idea to assume a certain kind of person is going to buy your house. 

Is it a retiree? An extended family? A first-time homebuyer? A single woman? There are different reasons each group buys a home. But some home characteristics make favorable impressions across all demographics. 

You can't change the appearance of your neighborhood, but you can create a sense of a getaway with your staging. You can't change the square footage measurement, but you can stage to make rooms look more spacious. You can't change the age of your home, but you can stage it to look spotless and a little trendy, the way new homes look, and the way HGTV depicts homes getting remodeled. 

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, most Realtors say that their buyers are influenced by what they see on television's home buying and decorating shows. Also, 82% of agents say their clients found it easier to visualize a staged property as their future home. These statistics emphasize the importance of home staging and making a home look fresh and fashionable.

Staging an empty house has its advantages over staging an occupied one, but there are still challenges Emily and others in similar situations are facing. No matter what kind of home you plan to stage, you'll benefit from my eBooks on homestaging. You can download now and begin planning and staging today. 

Four Ways Your Home Can Reflect Today's Lifestyle

Monday, April 05, 2021

People are demanding more than ever from their residences. They want more old-fashioned comfort but also modern conveniences. They want room to spread out and places to come together. And they want Instagram-ready style! 

If you're preparing your home for sale, the closer you can come to matching the wants and needs of today's market, the sooner you'll be able to cash out, and move on. 

No home is going to check all the boxes on a buyer's wish list. And it would be impractical to spend money on upgrades that don't return the investment when you sell. But there are home staging techniques that can win over these demanding buyers.

Get with the times

The wheels that are driving changes in real estate are propelled by the covid-19 pandemic as well as changing demographics.  

The pandemic demonstrated to employers and employees alike that a good deal of work can be done at home offices and other remote locations for businesses. 

Currently, more millennials than boomers are buying homes. According to the National Association of Realtors, 86% of younger millennials and 52% of older millennials are buying their first home. This means there is a growing market for affordable homes, and homes that are move-in ready. It also means that urban areas aren't necessarily a must for the young working professionals who qualify for mortgages. They're free to choose suburbs or rural areas -- good news for people selling homes in these locales, and selling prices have risen in many of these areas. 

Let's take a closer look at the preferences these house hunters have, and the ways that sellers like you can satisfy them with minor upgrades and smart home staging. 

Incorporate a place for workouts

People have learned that if they have a place at home to work out, gym memberships might not be necessary. Sales of home gym equipment have skyrocketed, and people need space for that treadmill or bike. For lots of reasons -- convenience, health, sanitation, personalization, privacy -- those millennial buyers and boomers alike want some space so they can exercise at home. Even a basic home gym will increase the value of your property. 

A fitness area is appealing to many of the current homebuyers,
but it needn't monopolize an entire room. It can be part of a
bedroom, basement, or garage. Photo: Cain and Company

You say you have an empty room to stage? Consider setting it up as a home gym with basic equipment you can find inexpensively on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, things like a treadmill or mini-trampoline. Second-hand stores are a good source for benches, hand weights, and mirrors. You can always sell these things before moving.

Even if you can devote only a corner of a bedroom, home staging comes to the rescue. You can plant the idea of space to exercise in the minds of people on a home tour, or with people viewing photos online. Stage a place with smaller equipment like a floor mat, resistance bands, a stability ball, and weights.

Where there isn't the floor space to make a fitness area, 
there's always the wall. You can purchase ready-made units
or create your own with shelving to hold weights,
bands, mats and towels. Photo: Ashley Winn

Stage for a comfy look

Buyers prefer a home that feels safe because of the latest security technology, and yet warm and fuzzy and friendly. Although younger buyers seek out the latest in appliances, home entertainment systems, and in all their personal devices, when it comes to kicking back or entertaining, they want more traditional accommodations. 

To achieve this cozy atmosphere, stage your most comfortable furniture with fluffy pillows and soft throws. If you have a fireplace, stage it as the focal point of the room and a gathering spot. Stage a center kitchen island with place settings.  

The other market group that is buying homes is multi-generational families. They are looking for larger homes to accommodate more people, a bigger kitchen, good parking, and outdoor areas for recreation and meals. Are you making use of all the square footage in your home? Is it time to finish that room over the garage? Or to remodel the basement as a media and game room or as an extra bedroom? Basements lend themselves well to the open concept floor plan many buyers are drawn to.  

Hunkering down at home has become more normal. Buyers want
comfortable rooms for relaxing. Photo: Remodel Washinton DC.

One of the features that always impresses buyers is 
a room that is flooded with natural lighting. 
This room capitalizes on that with undressed windows.
Plenty of soft furnishings make the seating arrangement
extra inviting. Photo: Joyelle West via Meredith

Find room for an office 

Surveys show that buyers look for places in a home that will function as a home office. It's vital for employees working from home, students, crafters, entrepreneurs, teachers, job seekers, and independent contract workers. 

Most people cannot dedicate an entire room as a home office. Often a guest room, FROG, or dormer room gets pressed into doing double-duty. Two other spaces that can be staged as a work area are oversized landings and hallways. Sometimes kitchens built in the 90s and later included an alcove or built-in desk as a home management center. 

Staging a home office is easy. A Zoom Room is a real bonus for many people who work from home, so if you already have an area that you use as an office, keep it clean and organized for Zoom-readiness. Make it pretty with a unifying color scheme for desk accessories. Remember to hide personal information and valuable electronics out of sight. I have staged with a handsome but defunct, closed laptop which if opened is obviously missing the keyboard and innards so I know no one is going to walk off with it.  

A very small home office can be as simple as desk and
chair and a few props, just enough to suggest a place 
to take care of homework or hobbies or household
management. Photo: Elliot Meyers Design 
A cozy "office" can usually be tucked into a corner
somewhere in your house. A setting like this one gives
you a chance to create a vignette. The furniture  
doesn't have to be traditional office style. Photo: ispydiy

Use the right furnishings

House hunters will judge the spaciousness of your home. Of course, they will study the square footage, and room measurements, and floor plan, but what you choose to use as furniture and how you arrange it can make the most of all the space you do have. 

I am not going to tell you to buy or rent new furniture just to stage your home for sale. Most real estate agents say that most Americans have too much furniture in their rooms. It's time to take a critical eye to what's necessary and what's superfluous, devaluing, or distracting. 

I've blogged about how to avoid the most common furniture arrangement mistakes, about how to choose furniture that makes rooms look larger, how to make rooms look more stylish, and how to arrange furniture diagonally to fool the eye

Here's a good example of the kind of combinations that
would attract younger buyers because it combines
the latest appliances with a traditional and comfortable
seating area for meals in the kitchen. Photo: home

You can put some of your current furniture in storage and rearrange what you have to make your rooms appear more like what buyers appreciate. It will probably take some paring down, imaginative thinking, and a sacrifice or two, but you can make your home look more like what buyers see on HGTV shows, in furniture showrooms, on the pages of shelter magazines, in Instagram feeds, and on Pinterest Boards. People buying a home want to feel like they are moving up the social ladder, and being on-trend goes along with that idea.

If your bedroom is crowded with two or more dressers, find a way to use your closet more efficiently, store out-of-season clothing off-site, or downsize your wardrobe altogether. If you have small footstools and extra side tables in your living room, cut back to what looks less cluttered. If your garage is packed with so many belongings, there's no room for a workspace or a car, it's time to do some decluttering and reorganizing. If your hall or bedroom walls are covered with lots of small framed pictures, pack them up and use one large framed artwork or handsome mirror instead. 

Your mantra can be, "Use the best and store the rest." 

Get the look, get the book

The past year has brought changes to the way we live our lives and some of those changes are here to stay. The more you make your home for sale match the needs of today's buyers, the quicker it will sell, and the sweeter the final price will be. Sensible, smart home staging alone can move you closer to those goals without the major investments that don't return money at the closing table. 

Don't leave here without checking out the three homestaging eBooks I have written to help homeowners prepare their homes for market. Download now and get on your way to making your home sale go smoothly, quickly, and profitably. 

Top photo: Robert Elliot Custom Homes

Here's How to Help Your Realtor Sell Your Home

Thursday, April 01, 2021

When I was fresh out of college and starting my first serious job search, a friend who was a hiring manager offered to help me write my resume. He told me to list everything as an adult I had done that I was proud of, to list what I enjoyed doing, any jobs, awards, clubs, activities, hobbies, and special interests. It seemed silly, but he narrowed the list down to what would impress an employer, and it landed me a job I might not have landed otherwise. 

I suggest that you begin that kind of list about your home. You know what you love about your home, the many ways it serves you and yours. You know why you bought it and what you've changed about it to make it better. 

Be part of your selling team

Now that it's time to sell your house, it's up to your listing agent to convey to homebuyers the best points of your home. But it's up to you to communicate those selling points, all of them. You're not telling her how to do her job. You're just giving her the tools to do it well. A good Realtor will narrow down your list for the MLS listing, the way my hiring manager friend did for my finished resume. 

And just the way my friend knew what employers look for in a job applicant, your Realtor will know what your potential buyers look for.  

You could begin your mission by walking from room to room and making notes of what's important, what's useful, what's unique. You could ask friends, family members, and even neighbors what they like about your home. You might be surprised to learn that your cousin thought the stone fireplace in your basement family room that you hated, to her was to die for. Your next-door neighbor might confess that she's always been jealous of your large backyard patio. And your husband might reveal that the best thing about the garage was the utility sink.

You might get some negative comments as well, especially if you probe people and assure them you won't be offended if they offer criticism. Your best friend might admit that she finds the fake ivy on top of all your kitchen cabinets to be terribly dated. (She's right.) One of the benefits of home staging done well is that it helps a seller distance herself emotionally so she begins seeing her home more as a business to be sold than her personalized nesting place.  

If your Realtor says she doesn't see any benefit to home staging, find another Realtor to list with. You need to be surrounded by supportive people who understand salesmanship in today's market. You are paying her to work for you, so be courteous and businesslike, but be honest and forthright as well.        

Peek at your competition

Your Realtor should show you either printouts or online listings of other houses in your price range and area that have sold recently, and the ones that are still on the market. The unsold ones are your competition. 

With the addresses, you can look at these homes online. You can even drive by each and get a sense of its curb appeal and the neighborhood.  

Bedrooms can be staged to look luxurious
and elegant, but still uncluttered  
Take your cue from the ones that sold. Your Realtor should be able to provide info on what the asking price was for each one, what it actually sold for, and how long it stayed on the market. Ask yourself how your home compares. This will help you set a realistic listing price, along with advice from your agent. Know your bottom line so you are prepared to negotiate. 

If you are doing your own preliminary research to decide if you even want to sell, just enter your address on Zillow and you will see Zillow's estimate of its market value. Not all real estate experts agree with these Zestimates, but  Zillow will show on the same page homes in your neighborhood that have sold and at what price. You can view the photos and see how your home is similar and how it is different. 

It's helpful that Zillow lets you edit your home facts, so review things like number of bedrooms and baths, square footage, age of the home, and other pertinent stats to be sure they are accurate and up to date. 

Educate yourself 

You can learn from the homes that have been on the market too long. Your agent should tell you what the typical days on the market are for a home like yours. The ones that sit unsold can teach you some of the things that buyers see as hurdles, and what they are willing to pay. 

You can also learn from viewing new homes. Building contractors are in tune with trends. Especially local custom builders know what luxury touches today's buyers want.   

Part of your observations should be which houses were staged and how home staging might have made a difference in the sales price and how quickly it sold. Don't believe that a quick sale indicates an overanxious buyer. Realtors work with serious buyers who are ready to pounce on preferred properties as soon as they hit the market. The longer a home remains unsold, the lower the perceived value is.

In staged homes that sold, and sold quickly at a good price, observe in the photos how they were staged. You can imitate the look of well-done staging in your own home, especially after you have read my eBook, DIY HomeStaging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and for Top Dollar.    

Highlight unique features

Be sure your Realtor knows details of your home that may not be apparent to everyone. Perhaps you installed solar PVC panels as electricity backup or for your main power source. Make sure your Realtor knows all the benefits of having solar energy options like yours. 

If you installed luxury vinyl planking, let your Realtor know the brand and the thickness. If you have warrantees on any of the appliances that convey with your house, let your agent know. Brag about the age and quality of the roofing, the HVAC system, the electrical system, the newness of the carpet. The more specific you can be, the better. 

Make sure the listing of the school district is correct on the MLS form. With the rise of magnet schools and charter schools, your home may be in one school district but families may have other options for where their children go to school. Kids might be transported to a school in another district. This will matter to families who have school-age children. 

Some sellers actually prepare a photo album of their home that shows the building and grounds in different seasons. I think this is a grand idea, because most landscapes change with the seasons. That lovely bed of tulips that boom beneath the pink dogwood tree every spring won't be visible come June. And the autumn foliage in your neighborhood might be spectacular every autumn but look quite ordinary all summer. Make a brag book if your landscape merits it.

Every inch of your home's landscape won't look its best all year, but the front 
needs to have plantings like these small shrubs that look good in every season. 

Focus on that initial impression

We all make snap decisions. It's just the way our brains are wired. There are three important ways to get buyers at hello. 

The first is to have stunning curb appeal. If the front of your home -- most likely the view buyers see as the profile shot in your MLS listing -- doesn't impress them, you're not off to a good start. It has to look clean and cared for. 

If you need advice about shrubs and other plantings that are perfect for your locale and yard get advice from a local nursery

I've blogged about how to choose a front door color, how to get your shrubbery in shape, how to paint an overhead garage door, and other quick tips to nailing your curb appeal.

The second way to grab buyers' attention in the best way is to have professional photos taken inside and out of your property. Poor quality photographs never flatter your home. Cell phone pictures are not professionally lighted, composed, and edited to merchandise your home as a complete package. If your Realtor does not include this service in her commission, spring for the cost yourself, or negotiate with her on sharing the cost. It could be the best investment you will ever make! 

You might even request to see a listing that shows photos done by the photographer your Realtor will hire. Stand your ground and ask if there is another photographer available if the photos you see disappoint you based on what you see of your competition's photos.  

The third way buyers make quick decisions is the first sensation they have when they enter your home, their "gut reaction." Does it smell good? Is the entrance area roomy and clean? Is there a view into an adjoining room that looks inviting? Is the temperature comfortable? This is one of those times when advice from a good friend can come in handy, since we all become overly accustomed to the sights and sounds and smells of our own homes.      

Get the look, get the book

Your home's online specifics are like its resume, summing up all that is noteworthy about the property.  It takes some energy and know-how and expense on your part and your Realtor's part to get your home market-ready, but the time and money you invest will pay off for both of you at the closing table. Download my DIY homestaging eBook so you can get started today making your home more valuable.

All photos: Robert Elliot Custom Homes

How to Make a Coffee Station Part of Your Home's Staging Strategy

Sunday, March 21, 2021

DIY Home Staging Tips
With so many people working from home now, one sweet spot that's bound to be noticed as part of your home staging is a place for fixing a cup of joe.  

A coffee station adds a degree of charm and character to a house on the market. It looks welcoming. It helps people remember your home because it's unique. It gives you a chance to dress up some unused space of a room like a home office or game room. 

While some people might be put off by a bar cart stocked with bottles of alcohol, a coffee cart is likely to appeal to everyone. 

Another way a coffee spot can improve your home staging is that you can use it to highlight local attractions or places of interest. A menu from the nearest coffeehouse, or mugs from a local tourist attraction will remind people on a home tour of the nearby amenities. 

Lastly, if you own a fancy coffee-making machine, here's your chance to brag about living the good life in your home. A common expression in home staging circles is, "People buy the lifestyle." 

Creating a coffee station is simple. Here are a few suggestions to get you on your way.  

The essentials

What goes into creating your coffee bar depends on whether you will be using it yourself, or just designing it simply as a vignette to set a mood. It doesn't need to be so supplied that people on tour can brew a cup for themselves. In fact, I don't recommend that. 

You can stage your coffee corner to look like what anyone would expect at an upscale coffeehouse, or you can limit it to the bare essentials that simply suggest. It depends on the space you are using, the market your home is attracting, your budget, and how much fun you want to have with this little project. 

You can skip the fancy accessories with your set-up.
A tray and a simple, strong color scheme make this arrangement look finished. Photo: House on the Way.  

To qualify as a memorable coffee-making spot, a group of assorted cups on a rinky-dink mug rack won't impress today's caffeine-crazed Americans. A basic setup would be some matched cups, a few coffee-drinking essentials, and some kind of coffee pot or carafe. Add whatever frills you think are appropriate to your space and the style of your home. 

A tea-making display is even easier to arrange
than a coffee station, and it's just as appealing.  

As an alternative to a coffee bar, you could stage a tea service area. An assortment of tea bags, a pretty teapot, some teacups with saucers, a sugar bowl, maybe a creamer, and you are all set. 

Note: Whenever I stage with items that are small enough to be stolen, I am not above using a dot of hot glue to attach them to something too large to disappear. 

There is no shortage on the market of coffee-making accessories, from grinders and roasters to measuring scoops, tumblers, and flavorings. Stage with what you already own, and keep small items to a minimum or replace them with disposable look-alikes like the dollar store spoon in my tea tray photo. A big coffee canister and a few cups might be all you have room for. Aim for some things that are especially attractive or unusual.  Dress it up with a tray, plant, napkins, or coasters. 

Don't own an impressive espresso machine or the latest Keurig? No problem. A simple French press or pour-over carafe works just as well. If you are staging an empty house, you can find cheap coffee makers at thrift stores and big-box discount stores. And if your home decor is kitschy 50s style, a vintage percolator might be an interesting prop.      

This arrangement is the perfect size for most
kitchen counters. Photo: Funky Junk Interiors

Where it goes

The most logical place to stage your coffee station is the kitchen. A home office is also a natural spot. If the master suite is big enough to accommodate a coffee station, that would make a lovely addition to bedroom staging. If the family room is also a game room or media room, that's a possibility too. 

I've blogged about how to stage a bar cart, and many of the same principles apply: Use large objects that have some personality, and avoid clutter. Most kitchen coffee stations will be part of the built-in cabinetry, but in other rooms you might be starting off with a cart or a table. 

The current trend in high-end kitchens now is away from walls of cabinetry and more towards stand-alone cabinets, tables, and other furniture for a curated look. So, a shelving unit or cart dedicated to coffee making could be just right for your kitchen if it doesn't crowd the room.   

If your floorplan includes a built-in bar where shelves are lined with liquor bottles, why not convert it into a coffee corner for a safer, more family-friendly setting? If you have an armoire that once housed your television, or a china cabinet or hutch that you inherited and want to update -- these are candidates for handsome coffee stations. 

What to avoid

You do not want to create a nuisance for yourself. The coffee station you arrange should make it clear that this is not a self-serve station (unless you want it to be). Single-serve coffee makers are so popular now that it would be easy for you to arrange disposable cups and paper napkins, but that is not the look of smart staging. You're not marketing your home like it's the breakfast bar at Comfort Inn. 

Keep the setup small, unless the room you are staging is large or you need to fill a big, empty area. 

Promote your local coffee cafe
by staging with their cups.

There are literally billions of coffee cups available with entertaining messages printed on them. Because they might be too distracting to people touring your home, I would keep cups with jokes and quotes and silly pictures to a minimum. Don't use souvenir cups from your travels. Instead, use cups embossed with your own town's name or its claim to fame. Of course, you won't want to include cups with any quotes or images that might be considered vulgar, religiously themed, or politically charged. There are too many other generic but gorgeous designs out there! 

If you don't find coffee cups with the name of your town, or its local attraction, or the best coffeehouse in town, you can have whatever message you want printed on your custom coffee mugs. Because it benefits you in negotiations and for safety reasons, it's best if people shopping for a home don't have information about you as the seller. So, I would not print any family name on the cups. 

If you set out cookies or other edibles, you are implying that coffee is available, so limit the display to make it clear this is not snack central. Don't use fake foods like plastic muffins or croissants. Don't laugh. This was a popular home staging practice in the last century. 

A tray or basket always works to neatly corral
a grouping of items. You don't need 
to supply everything needed for a 
 full-fledged coffee break. Photo: Driven by Decor

I really like this coffee station. It's dramatic
and clean, but packed with details. It doesn't take up
much space but manages to squeeze in three
different coffee pots, cups, beans and 
condiments. Photo: Jenn Woodhouse

This tidy, colorful setup would be perfect for a staged 
kitchen or home office. Photo: Apartment Therapy 

Get the look, get the book

If you want more ideas and inspo for staging a coffee spot in your house, you'll want to visit my Pinterest Board for coffee stations, where I have over 50 photos to get your imagination perking! And for everything you need to know to get your home sold quickly for a price you like, download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar.  You can begin today increasing the value of your home using what you have. I've done the homework for you! 

How to Appeal to Home Buyers' Physical Senses

Friday, March 05, 2021

Most buyers are not willing to buy their next home sight unseen. They want to see it IRL. And they want to smell it and feel it and even hear what it sounds like.

So, when you prepare your home for sale, use your own senses to knock your home staging out of the ballpark!  

How do you look?

The first input people will receive about your house is visual. And we tend to think that home staging begins and ends with how a home looks to buyers.

Well, that's just the beginning! But it is the visual impression that is the initial hook to reel in a buyer. 

It starts at the curb and today's curb is online. Make sure your photos flatter your home without being deceiving. Your Realtor should be dealing with a professional photographer. Do not accept ordinary cell phone photos for your listing. If you have to pay for pro photos yourself, do it, because it could be the best investment you ever make.

All the usual pieces of advice apply when we're talking about a home's appearance. Make the interior of your home sparkle, declutter ruthlessly, clean like crazy, and then stage beautifully with your best pieces of furniture. Store the extra things that don't contribute to the look of luxury. Arrange your furnishings so your rooms look inviting. 

My home staging eBooks tell you everything you need to know and all the right steps to take, and in what order. I make it easy for you. 

Do the nose test

The influence of scent cannot be overestimated. In earlier times, the suggestions for home staging included advice like baking cookies and lighting scented candles. Today, buyers expect a clean, fresh air scent. I've blogged about how artificial fragrances are bad for your health, and I've suggested ways to use products like essential oils as alternatives to chemical sprays and plug-ins.


Why stage with fresh flowers when you can make arrangments 
that are this convincing from faux flowers?
With real flowers come maintenance, expense, and
fragrance that is bothersome to people with chemical
sensitivities and allergies. Photo: MonicaWantsIt 

Of course, you'll need to remove any offending or "off" smells. The worse offenders are the lingering scent of nicotine, evidence of mildew or mold anywhere, and any unpleasant pet aromas. Deal with the source of these problems instead of trying to mask them. 

Scent-wise, basements and crawl spaces, baths, and kitchens are the important ones to get right. Good air circulation and dry air solve most problems. Do you need a dehumidifier under the house? Do you want to add some naturally scented soaps in the bath that will make buyers subliminally feel confident of the cleanliness? How about a DIY citrus pomander in the kitchen that will delight the olfactory senses of people on a home tour? 

This is the diffuser I use. I keep one in our bedroom and one in the living room, and use them daily, alternating different essential oils for differing fragrances. This model and others are handsome enough to be part of any staging decor. 

My diffuser can be set to send up a fine scent at intervals, or to 
run until the water and essential oil mixture is used --
a few hours. Sweet orange oil is my favorite now.
Do not confuse beneficial essential oils with 
chemically produced fragrance oils.

Create a feel-good home

Buyers are not as objective in their thinking as they like to believe. We're all influenced by the subjective messages of the senses, including what our skin tells us. 

One of the most important things to test is your HVAC system. Before you open your home to prospective buyers, make sure the temperature is always going to be comfortable. Is it too hot? Too cold? Check your heating and cooling systems to guarantee they are in good shape and reliable. Furnaces are made to function well for 15 to 20 years, so if your system is older, buyers will take note. 

Todays's buyers won't be content with air conditioning that doesn't meet their demand. Typically, AC units need about 20 BTU per square foot of space, but it's best to talk with a professional to figure out your exact requirements. 

Anyone entering this bath is going to want to run
her hand over this cool, pristine marble vanity top.
Photo: Brianna Michelle Interior Design 

There's another way buyers use their skin to "get a feel" for a home. They will use their hands. They will run their palms over a countertop to feel if it is nice, cool granite, marble, or quartz. They will feel the edges of doors and the fronts of cabinets to see if they are smooth. They will feel under sinks to see if there is evidence of moisture from leakage.  

What about the sounds? 

I know I'm not the only one who factors in the physical sound of a house when I'm considering a purchase. Is the house near a busy highway? Do the neighbors host raucous weekend parties? Do floors squeak? Does plumbing make noise when faucets are turned on or toilets flushed? Dogs barking next door? Heavy construction in the neighborhood? 

A bookcase, even one that's not built in, but filled with books,
offers soundproofing benefits. Photo: Annette Tatum 

Good wall insulation and newer style windows help keep outside noises to a minimum. Solid wood interior doors are better noise insulators than hollow core doors. Quality carpeting muffles indoor sounds. A floor plan that places different bedrooms at opposite ends of the house gives parents a bedroom or a  home office that's a quiet retreat. If your home has these features, be sure your Realtor is aware enough to promote their advantages. 

You can also educate your Realtor about situations that might seem problematic, but are not, such as the fact that the noisy neighbors are moving, or the dog barks only at strangers, or the construction is almost complete.

Sometimes white noise like that from the rotating blades of a ceiling fan can be a distraction from the steady hum of traffic outside.  

Homes that are staged always sound better than homes that are vacant, which create echoes and tend to sound creepily hollow. Draperies, rugs, and furniture like beds, couches, and upholstered chairs absorb sounds instead of reflecting them -- just one more reason staged homes sell faster and for more money than unstaged homes. has researched how music can be used to help sell a home. I think there's a strong case for using the right kind of music to be part of your background sounds. 

Get the look, get the book

Don't leave without downloading my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Home Fast and For Top Dollar. You may also want to check out my ebooks on no-sew window treatments perfect for home staging, and on arranging furniture in your staged home. I've done the homework for you to make your home selling go smoothly and profitably. 

Are You Overlooking These 3 Ways to Get More Money When You Sell Your Home?

Monday, February 22, 2021

When you talk to a Realtor about selling your home, the first question you'll probably ask is, "How much can I get for my home?"

The accuracy of the answer you get will depend on whether the Realtor has toured your home, and whether she's studied nearby homes like yours that have sold recently. 

But both your listing price and your actual selling price are determined by multiple features. These include square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the neighborhood, the quality of things like cabinetry, countertops, and flooring, and the age of things like HVAC, plumbing, electrical system, roof, and appliances. 

Everything in your home has value in the marketplace. Let's look at three specific areas often overlooked as sources of additional monetary value.     

Outdoor living areas

Do you have a porch, a deck, or a patio? Showcase any of these features because each one is a perk that people value more than ever. More people now work from home, a trend that many employers and employees both favor. Also, the number of households that are multi-generational is rising, so families need room to spread out. 

Every home-buying demographic group appreciates useable exterior spaces that can be used for relaxation, entertaining, and recreation. Be sure they are staged so they can't be ignored, and so they ignite the imagination of people looking to buy. 

While some outdoor amenities like swimming pools, hot tubs, vegetable gardens, and extensive (high-maintenance) landscaping may not be high on the wish list of every buyer, there are some outdoor luxuries that definitely score points with most buyers. 

No matter what the season is when you actually list
your home for sale, and no matter where you live, 
if you have an outdoor fire pit, it's a bonus and should
be staged and be part of the MLS photo package
of your property. Photo: Epic Garden Design

Privacy comes naturally to a narrow sideyard
bordered by buildings. Instead of ignoring the space, these
homeowners emphasized its assets with the addition 
of plantings, pavers, and seating. Photo: Elle Decor
There is something sweet and nostalgic about a 
front porch, especially one like this that
capitalizes on its charm by being staged with potted
plants and two porch swings. Photo: Southern Living

What could have been merely an empty area has
become a cozy corner to relax, read, or enjoy
morning coffee. And all it took was a load of gravel
and a bistro set. Photo: Garden Studio Design

Room over the garage

Real estate listings will usually specify if a home has a FROG -- a finished room over the garage. But when I peruse online listings, I see it's common to use this room for random storage. They are sometimes furnished with a mixture of cheap, unloved furniture. Or they serve as a storage site for memorabilia, luggage, and out-of-season clothing, sports equipment, and seasonal decorations.  

But a FROG is a valuable asset that can be staged as a playroom, home office, gym, or craft room. If the room meets certain legal real estate industry standards, it can be counted as a bedroom. To do so it must have qualities like adequate headroom, two exits, appropriate means of heating and cooling, and other requirements. Local codes can vary, so talk to your Realtor about whether any FROG that is part of your property qualifies to be listed as a bedroom.

If your home has a finished room over the garage, be sure the listing mentions your FROG and includes it in the online photos. Both families and retirees especially value these kinds of bonus spaces and will pay for them. Buyers want space for hobbies like painting, sewing, scrapbooking, gaming, and collecting.  

A fresh coat of paint in your FROG will make a big difference in how it looks and feels. On average, interior painting has a 107% ROI. But if your home was built before 1977, there's chance it contains lead-based paint, which is a serious health danger if ingested or breathed as flakes or dust. You'll need to determine if it does by testing a sample. Today, here is an easy way to remove lead paint

Home offices are increasingly popular. A finished room
over the garage is a natural spot for getting homework or
office work or crafting done. Staging like what's done in this
example, would be economical to do. Photo: HearthWarming
If your FROG legally qualifies as a bedroom, it will
be easy to stage it as one with a few
pieces of furniture. Photo: Home Bunch
Another possibility is to stage a FROG as a glamorized
storage room. What woman wouldn't love to
have a place to store her wardrobe items that are
temporarily out of circulation, or even as as a
dressing room all her own. Photo: Woodworking Network 

Finished basement

Finishing a basement has an incredibly high ROI of 77.6%. It may seem like a daunting task because it sounds like such a big project, but you don't need to do anything fancy. You could insulate the walls (or leave them as is), hang drywall (or just paint the existing walls), and add a floating floor or carpeting (or just paint the concert). All these improvements can build up your home's equity. Just be sure to check your local building codes and restrictions before you get started if you plan anything structural or electrical. 

And when your home has an existing basement, be sure to stage it to show it off! 

Make sure the entire area is dry and stays dry. If the walls show signs of water damage or mildew, fix the problem that's causing the moisture. Clean any stains from mildew with a mildewcide and when thoroughly dry, use a stain-blocking primer before applying any other paint to the surface. Use a dehumidifier if dampness is an ongoing concern. 

Basements characteristically suffer from a lack of natural light sources. If there are windows in your basement, make sure outdoor landscaping or indoor window treatments are not blocking any sunlight. Check your overhead lighting so that the room is illuminated as much as possible when the real estate agent throws that light switch on a home tour with clients.

If you want to let in more light and create exterior exit, Family Handyman shows you how to install a basement window that satisfies egress codes. It takes some skill and tools and strength, but would make a dramatic difference. 

Sometimes a basement is just a basement, and it's not worth spending lots of money to make it something it's not. Maybe it wants to be a no-frills room for Netflix bingeing or gaming, or a space to get in a workout, have a party, or serve as a man cave. As long as it is clean, well lighted, smells fresh, and is simply staged to give buyers an idea how it can be used, you're good.  

The ultimate bonus room is a downstairs family room
 or extra living room. If there is appropriate plumbing,
it might even be a separate living space for
an adult child or parents. Photo: Next Luxury

A more budget-friendly staging solution would be carpeting,
some comfortable seating, a television,
and a table with chairs. Photo: Source unknown

Even though they finished the flooring and walls,
these owners decided to leave the ceiling exposed,
resulting in an industrial loft vibe. At one end there's 
a workout space, bar and television, and
at this end is a relaxing area that includes
a built-in aquarium. Photo: Penquin Basements  

Bright lights and white paint make this basement bedroom feel
big and clean -- just what buyers like! Although Ashley Kix used a real
bed here, I blogged about how to create a fake bed for homestaging

You can still home stage a basement on a shoestring. Paint the concrete floor.
Hang large artwork. Add a big mirror. Bring in a pool table
(look for a second-hand one) or a ping pong table instead if you
want to be more frugal. This room even manages
to incorporate a small corner bar. Photo: Sorce unknown 

Get the look, get the book

If you have a finished basement, a FROG, or a porch, patio, or deck, do what it takes to attract attention to its possibilities for prospective buyers. Declutter, repair, clean, stage. These are the steps that will earn you more money at the closing table.

Whether it's a buyers market or a seller's market where you live now, staging all your rooms will help your chances for a quick sale. For much of the US now, it's a buyer's market, but many buyers are submitting offers above asking price as soon as they become available. And what home seller doesn't want to kick off a friendly little bidding war? 

To find more ways to make your home more valuable, download my homestaging eBooks and discover how easy it is to do your own staging, on your own schedule and with your own budget and your own furniture. You can begin staging today.

Top Photo: Country Classics

Why Sellers Struggle to Stage Their Own Homes

Monday, February 15, 2021

I've talked to so many people staging their own homes that I've finally learned why people resist staging or have trouble with DIY home staging. 

I'm seeing three common stumbling blocks to getting a home staging project started and finished. In this post I want to offer multiple, simple solutions to each of these three hurdles so that you can stage your home in ways that are efficient, effective, and economical. 

Trouble visualizing staged rooms

Most of us get so accustomed to spending time in our rooms that we become blind to their shortcomings. When that happens, we're not considering what changes would make them function better or look better. Home staging calls for some fresh thinking. Even if you don't think of yourself as an imaginative person, you can tackle this easily by just experimenting. 

Experimenting means you will try a few different furniture arrangements. I'm a big fan of pushing furniture around on gliders to see if there are ways to make a room look bigger or make it easier to walk through. Make the task uncomplicated by first removing things like small tables and floor lamps, and then try some different rearrangements with the larger pieces before bringing back the small things you need and like. 

Live with a rearrangement for a few days to see how you like it. One advantage to staging your own home is that you get to tweak it before listing or photographing it. 

Imagine people coming to tour your home and how a videographer will shoot your home. Visualize how they will enter the house and enter each room. Notice what they would see first in each room. Ideally, it will be some open space and an attractive focal point. 

Keeping rooms simple has distinct advantages. They look
more modern. They look cleaner. They look larger.
And they can be more economical to furnish. 
Photo: Alyssa Rosenheck

Also, go from room to room in your home and ask yourself if there are pieces of furniture that would make more sense in another room. 

As an example of this kind of rearranging, I recently helped a woman stage her home where one bedroom was completely empty. But in her sunroom she had three different steamer-truck-style chests, and her furnished room over the garage housed both a futon bed and a loveseat. We brought the futon bed and the largest trunk into the vacant bedroom, and moved in a floor lamp from another bedroom. We found a dresser and a rug she was storing in the garage, and some framed prints in her attic. A plant from the sunroom was moved to the bedroom to finish the look. Presto!

You can also take advantage of apps that will do the legwork for you. VisualStager is one you can use on iPad, Apple computers, and PCs. Here is a fun, 1.11-minute video that demonstrates the possibilities VisualStager offers. 

While this service isn't free, it can be a huge help if you are staging a vacant property. It will save you the cost of renting furniture for staging. You simply upload and stage photos of empty rooms on the site by dragging and dropping pieces of furniture that you want to add to the photo. You don't have to worry about data transmission or storage security, because there's no software you need to download to your computer.

Check out this list of apps that experienced home stagers, DIYers, and decorators use in this review of apps that help you make paint color decisions

Determining the perfect furniture arrangement, props, and paint colors for a room isn't a talent some people are just born with. It's something anyone can learn by experimenting and by using today's tech tools.  

Difficulty dealing with excess stuff

Most Americans admit to having too many belongings. It becomes obvious when it's time to pack and move. I always advise home sellers begin their staging by deciding what furniture, window treatments, wall art, lamps, and decorative items have the quality look that impresses buyers. 

That's a good beginning to whittling down what needs to be part of staging and what needs to be stored off-site or fixed or donated or sold, or just plain discarded. Besides furnishings, things like clothing, luggage, sports equipment, tools, small appliances, and home gym equipment need to be judged with a critical eye. Often it takes a non-nostalgic mindset to decide what to do with things like collections, trophies, or hobbies of no monetary or sentimental value to any family member.

I've blogged about how to clean a closet, what kinds of unwanted belongings can still be used for staging, and how to maintain an uncluttered home.

Before you get rid of all your unwanted books,
vases, and other assorted tchotchkes, consider
how some of them may be useful when you stage your
bookshelves and tabletops. Photo: Centsational Style

Finding the money to stage

Perhaps the most oft-repeated complaint about DIY home staging is that it requires money that could go towards that next home purchase, or moving expenses, or fixing or furnishing the new home. I've always focused and written about the many ways to economize on staging. 

Besides sticking to a staging budget and spending money wisely, you can look for ways to expand that budget. Now is the perfect time to hunt for sources of untapped revenue and consider ways to make extra income. 

Do you have items you don't need or want that are worth money to someone? Sell them on eBay, Craigslist, neighborhood listserves, Facebook Marketplace, or Letgo. 

Consider cashing in valuables you don't use, like jewelry, cameras, musical instruments, coins, electronics, or sports equipment at a pawnshop.

Host a yard sale. 

Consider skills or time that you have that others don't. Can you sell your services such as a dog walker, housesitter, tutor, or babysitter? To earn extra cash at different times in my life I have cleaned houses, waitressed, made jewelry, and catered lunches. What can you do that other people can't or won't?      

Look for holes in your budget where you can eliminate or reduce spending. 

Don't ignore dollar stores and discount outlets as good 
 places to buy pretty but inexpensive containers and other
props for home staging. Photo:Organizing Junkie  

Older pieces of furniture you've inherited
or that you can buy second hand are 
prime candidates for upcycling with a coat
of fresh paint. Photo: Whimsy and Wood

Do you have unused gift cards you can use or sell? 

Use a credit card with no annual fee and that gives you discounts on things like gas, groceries or home improvements. Don't pay just the monthly minimum. Instead, pay as much as you can, ideally the entire balance monthly. Avoid high-interest cards like those at department stores.  

Have you received your W-2 or your 1099 forms? I have learned from experience that there's a big difference in doing your own taxes and having a professional prepare your tax return. Using a professional means a greater chance of getting all the refund you are due, money that can go towards your staging costs. 

If you received a government stimulus check, perhaps that can support some staging costs. 

Always remember that doing your own staging is going to cost you less than hiring a professional stager. Chances are a legitimate business owner will have costs like warehouse storage, furniture rentals, staff payroll, insurance, taxes, office expenses, and the profit she has to make after purchasing a pricey staging course and joining a professional group. 

Get the look, get the book 

You don't need an expensive home staging course to stage your own home. You'll find all you need to know about getting your home ready to sell in my home staging eBooks. They're designed to make your staging easy and to turn your home into all that it can be in buyers' eyes. Download now and start your staging. It's never too early to plan your home sale.  

Top Photo: At Home in Arkansas

Popular Posts