Sometimes I think it’s a good exercise for a Realtor to look at the home search process more from the buyer’s point of view. And from that perspective, choosing a home that is right for us can be more about art than science.
Sure, we may start the search with a list of preferences in hand. The house may need to have at least three bedrooms, a big yard, or a finished basement. Or maybe it has to be in a certain school district, or close to the highway, or in the same town as the rest of your family. But if these external requirements were all that mattered, you could just plug some variables into Zillow and buy the first home on the list.
More often, however, there is an overriding matter of importance in choosing a home. We are looking for a reassurance that the house we buy can someday truly feel like home. So off we go, visiting one house after the other, in the quest to discover the one we can commit to.
Seen from the seller’s perspective, a smart homeowner will do what she can to help prospective buyers imagine how it would feel to live in her home when they come to view it. The process of making a home look inviting to buyers is well known as home staging, and it can make a big difference in how fast a home sells.
Recently the New York Times ran an article about how home staging has evolved in some of the most pricey markets in the city. Buyers now want to see apartments that look as though they have sprung from the pages of a shelter magazine, but any staging tricks that are too familiar – such as a tray with a coffee cup on a bed – irritates them. For these seven-figure domiciles, paying a stager $30,000 or more can be well worth the money.
Fortunately for the rest of us, a professional home staging will cost much less, and there are also a few do-it-yourself tips available to the do-it-yourselfer.
The first error in home staging, according to the pundits of real estate, occurs when the owners have too much of their style or their personal lives on display. To the greatest extent possible, a family should pare down their decorations, knick-knacks and photos when preparing their house for a viewing. I realize this is hard when you are still living in your home, especially with young children, but the effort made usually results in a faster sale.
No matter how interesting it can be to see another’s home, ultimately the buyer wants to feel as though he is visiting what could be his home, rather than trespassing in someone else’s. The worst example of this – the realtor’s nightmare — is when a member of the seller’s family is still physically present in the home, perhaps watching TV or surfing the web. The prospective buyers often will tiptoe around quickly without giving the house the same attention they would have otherwise.
Although it could be hard to not take it personally, sellers also benefit from homogenizing their style of décor. No matter how tasteful, how creative or how expensive your taste, the next owners of your home will have a better reaction if the interior design is streamlined and airy. You will need to make a personal decision whether or not to spend the money to paint over a punchy wall color that you love, or put your sports gear into storage, but at least you will be making that decision consciously.
Needless to say, clutter in any guise must go. If it doesn’t make you happy to look at it, the buyers will feel the same way.
The second common error is the opposite of the first: you don’t want your home to be completely devoid of personality. If a house is empty, buyers will have a more difficult time imagining living in it than if it is furnished. If the owners have already moved out and did not leave any furniture behind, a home stager may rent furniture to make the house seem more welcoming. The fact that furniture makes an otherwise empty room seem bigger is a bonus.
And if you’ve pared down your belongings to the bone in response to my first suggestion, you may want to put just a few accessories back into the mix. While the streamlined style is preferred, visitors don’t want to feel as those they are visiting a hotel chain.
If my local readers would like some professional help navigating this delicate balance, there are two professional stagers who are very active in this area: Susan Atwell of AtWell Staged Home (atwellstagedhome.com or 914-525-0454) and Denise Hoffmann of Cameo Home Staging (cameohomestaging.com or 914-497-0924).
Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). His real estate site is www.PrimaveraRealEstate.com, and his blog is www.TheHomeGuru.com. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call (914) 522-2076.