Declutter and Toss Junk? Not So Fast!

Sunday, July 22, 2018
If you've read or heard anything about home staging, you know that getting rid of clutter is always recommended as a first step.

You've been told that clutter looks messy.

That it's distracting.

That it's too personal.

And all that is true.

But there is one way clutter can be a home seller's ally.

Home staging, especially in an unoccupied home, can result in a sterile and generic property.

But if you incorporate in your home staging some of what the minimalists call clutter, you can jazz up your home, giving it the personality that makes your home the one buyers remember and want to call their own.

All it takes is an open mind while you are decluttering your home for sale.

There's an additional benefit to using for staging what's cluttering up your home, and that is the economic benefit. So, before you load your trunk with what doesn't suit your present lifestyle or taste and take it to your favorite charity store, before you rush off to Home Goods to load a shopping cart with accessories and furnishings, reconsider the treasures you might already own. They might be hidden in your closets, the garage, attic, storage unit, garden shed, under the bed, or wherever you stash things you don't know what to do with!

Let's Define Clutter

A professional organizer will call all the little stuff  "clutter."

A professional home stager will agree with that definition of clutter. One guideline any experienced home stager goes by is that a home shouldn't display anything smaller than a cantaloupe.

But professional organizers also want you to get rid of anything that doesn't serve a purpose. A common formula for de-junking a home is to ask, "Do I use this item, and does it make me happy?" But for a home stager, the question might be, "Does this item enhance the perceived value of my property?"

Sometimes it's the items that others toss out that are the very items you can use to home stage.
In the name of home staging, we will place props that serve no purpose other than to decorate. Extra pillows on the bed. Shells on the mantle. Flowers in the bathroom.

In other words, if it's pretty, bigger than a cantaloupe and "tells a story" that enhances your home's value, it's not clutter.

This styling photo below shows a Readers Digest Condensed Book (so uncool!) I covered with a DIY white paper book jacket. The center photo shows old Christmas ornaments put to good use in a bowl with other textural items. The third photo shows a teapot that lost its lid that I now use as a vase.

It's a Beginning

As soon as you start to de-junk your house, you're on your way to staging. It makes sense to remove ugly, broken and un-cleanable stuff, and objects that have no personality, objects that everybody else owns, before you actually deep clean and before you decide what rooms have what purposes and what furniture is going to go where.

But let's not get too crazy. Use your imagination when you're ready to toss interesting objects that can add some character to a room.

I used this wooden box as a bathroom prop. The bottle holds Epsom salts. The leftover Christmas candleholder holds a silk peony blossom. If any item is small or something I don't want to disappear (like the natural sponge), I am not above adding a drop of hot glue to hold it in place to discourage "open house thievery."

Some of the projects I've blogged about that used common items found around the house, items that might be discarded in an ambitious purge were tabletop Christmas trees for the holidaysrag wreathsnapkin rings from tin cans,99-cent tray makeover, and handsome props made from assorted odds and ends like grapevines or tissue paper or empty cardboard boxes or rocks or a discarded rubber boot.

Tips for Using Junk

There are a few secrets to decorating with what the minimalists call clutter. One is to mix it up with the classy stuff. You can't have a roomful of castoffs and expect it to look like a model home. 

In the top photo from Jenny Wolf Interiors the big, round mirror, a handsome table and some crazy oversized wooden links give a pass to the less-pedigreed other items -- a few books, a branch, a baseball cap, and eucalyptus leaves.

Look for objects with some age on them. Don't be too quick to toss items made from weathered wood, or rusty objects, or what was once part of something larger. If all you own is new stuff, don't give up. Distressing techniques can often put some age on shiny trinkets.

Remember that you can source decorative elements from nature, like these branches I painted.

We've all seen on Pinterest things like chandeliers made from teacups and tomato cages, but with luck you won't have to DIY your staging props. Ideally, you will find them ready made on that closet shelf of things you intend to re-gift or take to a thrift store. They might be items you've inherited or couldn't sell at your last garage sale when you stuck them back in the garage.

A color scheme will always help tie together a collection of props. This grouping reminds buyers of the enjoyment they will get entertaining, dining and relaxing outdoors at their new home.

Look for objects that are unique. One-of-a-kind props and furniture will help your home stand out. It could be an unusual color,  shape or size that makes an item different. Look for interesting textures and colors that coordinate for a pleasing vignette.

If you want to be creative when you stage your home, you need to surround yourself with articles that will inspire your imagination. The difference between a hoarder and a successful artist or happy crafter is often merely organization. The artist knows what's available and how to access it. It helps to have a space where you can keep all of what might be valuable for staging even if that space is not an actual workshop.

It's not just the currently popular farmhouse look, or shabby chic decor, or cottage style that relies on funky things for interior design. Unusual and rescued things can add some specialness to a contemporary home as well. In fact, the more modern and sterile a property looks, the more it needs touches of funky stuff!

Get more homestaging advice in my $4.99 eBooks on how to stage your home to make it sell fast for a price you like. I've been there, and I can help you stage your own home.

Four Simple Tips for a Quick Summer Sale

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
Summer's a great time to have your home on the market. If your home is listed and you haven't received an offer you like, now's the time to review what makes a home sell quickly.

Gorgeous curb appeal

Home staging sells homes. Home staging starts at the curb. Today's curb is the electronic viewing device. How does your home's exterior photo look online?

Boosting your curb appeal will increase both the perceived and real value of your property, and attract more house hunters, whether their first view of your home's exterior is a printed MLS sheet from their real estate broker, a cell phone image, or what they see from their car window as they survey desirable neighborhoods.

Have you done all you can to pretty up how your home looks from the street? Do you need to tackle simple landscaping, such as top dressing mulched areas, pruning shrubs, and keeping your lawn green and healthy? If you need to add some color, add summer annuals in containers. Potted plants don't convey with the purchase so you can take them with you when you move.

Is your front door the focal point of your front facade, as it should be, and is it an attractive color? If a big old honkin' garage door is your home's focal point, you can paint it the color of your siding. Your home will look larger and more attractive.

Have you decluttered the front areas of your home? Please hide garbage cans, lawn mowers and unfinished projects. I like to see seasonal items like bikes and backyard games that remind buyers of their future lifestyle.

You can rent a pressure washer for a day and 
use it to clean pavement, siding,
brick, stone, and things like garage doors. 
It's a good idea to regularly take a broom to the areas around your front door, especially if it is prone to spider webs or debris that gets blown in.

A fresh coat of paint is a more ambitious project but will pay dividends in the impression your home gives. If you don't want to paint your whole house, sometimes a good pressure washing is almost as good.

Another way to earn points with buyers is to update your windows to energy-efficient ones. It's not that expensive and can be done quickly by a window installing company. A standard window replacement can give you a return on investment of between 73% and 77% of the original cost.

Depersonalized spaces

When a potential buyer walks into a home on the market, he doesn't want to feel he's entering someone else's exclusively private world. Over-personalizing makes it harder for him to envision the space as his next home.

Signs of a home having "too much personality" are posters and mementos of favorite sports teams, overly bright or varied interior paint colors, religious artifacts, displays of hobby crafts and other collections, controversial artwork, medical equipment, and family photos. Ideally, you will depersonalize your home before it is listed. But if your home has been for sale and you are not attracting viewings or offers you like, it could be time to make your home more generic and minimal.

Wallpaper, black trim paint, and 
red walls could be
a turn-off for many buyers. 
Summer's the perfect time to pare down your belongings to what looks refreshingly cool and inviting. Lightweight window treatments, casual slipcovers, cool color schemes, and outdoor entertaining areas are the order of the day.

Furnish your home with fewer pieces that look upscale. If it's time for new  paint inside, keep the color scheme pale and neutral.

Fair price

It's unfortunate that overpricing a property is a mistake too many sellers make. Even in a sellers' market, if you price your home unrealistically, you will limit the number of serious buyers who come to view it.

Buyers know there are plenty of homes for sale. They will left-swipe you, and move on to the next listing that matches their wish list.

Thinking sentimentally about your home when it's time to sell will only mess with your mind. There's no place for nostalgia when you put a dollar value on your home. It all comes down to location and numbers -- nearby amenities, size of lot, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, price per square foot, average days on market for homes like yours, age of your home, age of your HVAC system and plumbing, and on and on.

Best bet: listen to your Realtor and follow her advice. You are paying her a commission not for just listing the home and scheduling showings but for her expertise that helps you make decisions.

A Realtor will be able to determine what's an appropriate price for your home. She will base it on what similar, nearby homes have recently sold for. If your home is well-staged, and competing homes are not, you will gain an edge and can expect better offers. Conversely, if your home is in rough shape, expect to get an offer that reflects its current condition.

Another way to put an accurate price tag on your home, one that will fuel a bidding war, is to appraise your home and then set the price a little under.

At the right price, buyers will jump at the chance to get a good deal, and if there is more than one buyer, you could end up getting more than the actual appraisal value. If you are getting limited showings, it might be time to lower your price.

A local real estate agent will understand the ins and outs of the
home buying market where you live.  

The right time

Finally, timing is everything. In some markets at the right time of year home sellers are getting 10% or more over their asking price. In some cases, motivated buyers are even skipping inspections in order to close quickly.

Timing your home's sale right can help it sell faster. The housing market fluctuates, so it's a good idea to keep your eye on it. You'll want to sell your home during peak buying season, when buyers from all over the country are out looking for new homes.

If you're unsure of the best time to list your home, ask your real estate agent when that time might be. You would be surprised at the difference a few months can make to the sale price of your home.

If you don't get the offer you were looking for right away, don't worry. The average American moves 12 times during his lifetime, and people will always need a place to live. You might decide to wait and sell at a later date if possible. You don't want to regret settling for a price that is below what your home is worth.

You can get even more advice on selling your home quickly and profitably in my $4.99 homestaging eBooks. I want you to be happy with the sale of your home!

How to Save Money When You Stage

Thursday, July 05, 2018
You're selling your home. You decide to stage it. So far, so good.

But when you start to compare how your home looks with how you know it should look to appeal to the typical buyer, you envision dollars flying from your wallet.

It's easy to go overboard when you want your home to be all it can be. Of course you want to attract every buyer who's out there shopping for a house like yours,  priced like yours, and to convince them to offer full asking price or more.

That's how I feel when staging a home I'm selling. I want to start a bidding war!

But, as a real estate investor, I know I have to budget my staging in order to see a profit.

These are my favorite tips to keep expenses down while staging, without sacrificing that million dollar look I want.

Draft a spending plan

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey describes the practice he calls, "Begin with the end in mind." To you it may seem obvious, but to me back in the 80's, it was eye-opening.

To a home stager, the habit Covey writes about translates as, "Begin with a budget that will net you what you want at selling time."

Start your planning with what is a realistic selling price. Deduct what you need to pay the necessities -- a mortgage, your carrying costs (insurance, taxes, and utilities for typical days on the market in your area) a broker's fee, and closing costs.

How much you should spend on staging depends on quite a few factors. There's no rule of thumb because every house and every home seller is different.

Some sellers can afford to spend more to dress their home for the real estate market. Maybe you inherited your home and can justify a big budget to maximize profit, Maybe you're in a hurry to sell so you can take that good-paying job in another state. Maybe you're highly motivated to sell and have lots of equity in your home, and it's gone up in value since you bought it. Maybe you bought a distressed property and fixed it up as you lived there.

On the other hand, you may be in the tiny budget camp. You paid too much at purchase time. Or you live in an area where housing prices tanked and haven't recovered. In these cases, staging with what you have and doing a dynamite job of cleaning and decluttering will be the answer.

One thing is certain: If you spend on what matters to buyers, you will see a return of that money when you sell.

Define priorities

Next, put on your "buyer glasses" and objectively evaluate the best and worst features of your home. Once you know what will help sell your property, and what might be stumbling blocks for a buyer, you're one step closer to knowing where to spend.

Start by studying what other homes that are your comparables are offering. Does your home have a killer garage and workshop that no one else has? Is the view spectacular? Are the closets all walk-ins? Have you just updated your kitchen? What sets you apart?

At the same time, make a list, mental or otherwise, of what you'd want to change about your home. Once you've determined what buyers will love and not love about your house it's easy to decide what to highlight and what to remedy.

Is an awkward floor plan something a problem? Minimize it by rearranging furniture. Get help  with that in my eBook, How to Arrange Furniture, A Guide to Arranging Furniture Using What You Have.

Does your backyard patio lack privacy or shade?  Create the illusion of a private outdoor seating area screened with lattice panels (like this deck by Maria Killam) or potted plants.

Does your home have windows that are small? Hang your window treatments higher and wider.

Do you hate your ugly lighting fixtures? Maybe a can of spray paint is all you need. Visit Pinterest to see what  DIY remedies catch your eye.  New lights from big box stores don't have to cost much.

Is your beat-up sofa not doing you any favors? Microfiber can be painted. How about off-the-shelf slipcovers? You might find a new sofa with a lovable price from Overstock or Big Lots.

It usually doesn't cost money to emphasize what's special about your house. Make sure the focal point and what is immediately visible to people entering each room is a plus, not a problem. Make sure your MLS listing accurately includes the home's best features. Make sure your whole house is clean,  organized and smells great!

Limit your sources

This one is difficult for impulse shoppers, but it's essential if you want to stay on course financially.

Most home staging begs for some new purchases. Some on-trend pieces to dress up the mantel. A stylish lamp for the bedside table. Or just new bath towels.

Decide where you can buy what you need at the best prices. Your answer will depend on the price point of your home, the local real estate market and demographics, and the style of your home.

If your home is going to be listed at $750,000, you can't expect to fix up that spare bedroom with furniture from Goodwill. But if you are staging a cottage as a second home, castoffs you find on the curb and odds and ends your grandmother left you might be perfect.

Once you narrow your list of places to spend money addressing the shortcomings of your home there's less chance of wasting cash. It's like shopping for shoes only at stores that carry the brands priced right for your budget. You won't be tempted to make unwise, impulse purchases.

Don't overfix

It can be tempting to get rolling with staging and not know when to stop. You paint a bathroom and then decide it should have new sheet vinyl on the floor. You freshen your landscape with new mulch and now you want to buy some better shrubs. You make a headboard for the master bedroom and now want to shop for bedding and nightstands.

The question you have to ask yourself is what will buyers expect of a property in your market. Your Realtor should be able to guide you because she shows properties and talks with buyers on a daily basis. Ideally, you'll find that sweet spot between what's necessary to compete with other listings and what makes sense for your budget. You want to wow buyers without emptying your bank account!

You're off to a great start by deciding to do your own home staging. Download my $4.99 eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Fast and For Top Dollar, and you'll get all the help you need to make the right decisions and discover ways to stage on a shoestring.

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