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Dress up your house for a successful sale

Homeowners have two primary goals when selling a house: Do it quickly and for the highest amount possible. They are obvious objectives, but not always easy to achieve.

House hunters are increasingly savvy and, with the huge popularity of home makeover shows and decorating magazines, expectations are getting higher and higher when it comes to the design and maintenance of a prospective house. Does yours have what it takes to pique interest and spark a bidding war?

Not everyone is born with great taste or the vision to create a model home, but everyone wants to make top dollar when it's time to sell. That's where professional house dressing or staging comes in.

The practice -- which involves everything from tweaking décor to completely reinventing a house with new furniture, paint and accessories -- wasn't prevalent a decade ago, but today stagers, primpers or fluffers, as they're also known, are the demigods of real estate, as homeowners seek higher returns on their biggest investment.

Kathy Wardle, a realtor with Bosley Real Estate in Toronto, swears by house dressing. "Sometimes it's added up to $100,000 (to the closing price). For others, it just makes it sellable."

When clients haven't the time or inclination to ready their own houses for the market, she directs them to Jeffrey Trafford, owner of Toronto-based Dressed To Sell.

"People are putting more and more into selling their homes," says Trafford, who has charged anywhere from $1,000 to $18,000 for his services.

Not only does he advise on what needs to be done, but he also does the work, whether it's purging a cluttered interior or renovating a tired kitchen. "I've never had anyone say to me, 'I didn't get a return on my money.'"

Set the stage
"That first 15 seconds upon entering a home, people will form an impression," explains Brenda Paul, an agent with Irena Bell Real Estate in St. Catharines, Ont. "In a slower market, staging will help sell a home more quickly. In a busy market, it'll help sell for more money."

Paul knows of what she speaks. She also owns House Primping, a Niagara-area realtor-to-realtor staging company, and is writing a book, House Primping: The Art of the Real Estate Deal.

"You're selling more than a house and four walls," she says. "You're selling a dream and a perception of a lifestyle."

Using decorating techniques and a variety of tools, from stock furniture to experienced handy people, primpers bring the dream to life and set the stage for potential buyers to envision themselves and their belongings in a house.

However, ambitious sellers can adopt a variety of trade secrets to make their house more marketable on their own.

Prepare to purge
The objective is to neutralize the space in order to widen its appeal. House hunters are not interested in sellers' bowling trophies, family photos or antique teacup collections. Eliminating clutter is key to readying a house for the market.

"People can get distracted by who the owners are and not see the house," says Wardle. "It's not about dulling it down but giving it more of a universal appeal."

Sometimes preparation is as easy as cleaning up the basement or purging items long destined for the garbage. But often, family heirlooms, over-the-top art and that comfy, but rather shabby, couch are banished to a storage locker.

(continued on next page)
-- Posted: Dec. 10, 2004
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