Design Rewind-Transform a House to Sell With Home Stagers

By Michele Chan Santos

SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN 

Published: 8:36 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010   

If you love houses and decorating or you’re planning to sell your house soon, you’ve probably watched TV programs like A&E’s “Sell This House” or HGTV’s “Designed to Sell.” These shows promise to let you see “simple updates that make a difference – including a bigger bottom line.”

 Unfortunately, not all our homes can be on a TV makeover show. However, there are many qualified home stagers in Central Texas who can help make the interior and exterior of your house more appealing before you put it on the market. Both occupied and vacant houses can be staged. The stagers come to your house, evaluate the appearance of your home and then help you improve it. They store your clutter; rearrange your things; buy or rent new linens, furniture, pieces of art and light fixtures; and generally create a warm atmosphere. And those changes, local real estate agents say, are the key to a quicker sale, at a higher price.

 “We’ve been using stagers for seven years,” says Bob McKenna of Austin Real Estate Partners. “We do so because a staged house will sell faster, for more money. It’s integral to our marketing plan so we can sell quickly. Real estate is not unlike any other market. You have competitors and you must package your product correctly. We think about, how can we position our product so we come out on top?”

 According to the Austin Board of Realtors, area home sales in Central Texas fell 27 percent in September 2010 compared with the same month a year ago. Houses spent an average of 82 days on the market, up 15 percent from the same month in 2009.

 In these economic times, creating a good visual first impression is more important than ever. McKenna and other real estate agents recommend having your house staged and professionally photographed before it goes on the market. With so many houses to choose from, a lot of buyers do their shopping online first, and won’t even drive to a house where the pictures didn’t appeal to them, local stagers say.

McKenna recently worked with stagers Rita Droege Lopez of Tarragona Designs and Conni Sugden of Design Rewind. The most important rooms to stage are the ones within view of the front door, Lopez says. “Most buyers, you have them or lose them in the first 30 seconds,” she says.

  “Staging adds warmth, color and contrast,” says Linda Alderman-Robles, of Alpha Home Staging. “It showcases a home’s features, and distracts buyers from a home’s imperfections. It creates a series of positive first impressions.”

 In addition to creating an attractive atmosphere, the people visiting your home need to be able to picture themselves living there – which means you have to put away your more esoteric stuff. Not everyone, for example, shares your love of Coca-Cola collectibles, ceramic cats or Christmas tree decorations shaped like Texas.

 “You should love your home and live in it the way you want to live, but when you have it on the market, it needs to be more neutral,” says Brenda Spencer of Spencer Staging and Redesign. “A lot of people are shopping right now, but not buying,” she says. “If something speaks to them, then they’ll make an offer.”

Potential buyers are not generally that imaginative, she says. Most people can only envision a room the way they see it presented to them. “Ninety percent of people can’t see it any other way,” Spencer says. In fact, buyers often like the staged home so much they sometimes offer to buy the furnishings and artwork, too, so the home can look exactly the way it did when they fell in love with it, she says.  Most stagers offer a consultation for a fee, generally in the $150 to $250 range, which covers the stager walking through your house, making suggestions and, in some cases, preparing a written report. The stager will give you an estimate of how much it would cost to stage one room or the whole house. She or he can rent you some items or purchase new things for you (you pay for the items and get to keep them afterward), or she can quite often use items you already own in new ways. A list of professional stagers is available at www.realestatestagingassociation.com.  We asked Lopez, Sugden, Spencer and Alderman-Robles to share their stories and pictures of homes they have staged, so our readers could see how easily made changes can dramatically improve the appearance of a home.    

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