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Staging your home for a sale

California real estate agent Dick Gaylord knows well the ka-ching factor when it comes to staging a home for sale.

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"I looked at a home once in a very hot market. It was an older home that had not been upgraded in quite a long time. I figured it would sell quickly for about $1 million whether they fixed it up or not. But the owners staged it and sold it for $1.4 million," he says. "Staging in preparation for sale, done properly, can really increase the sales price."

If your idea of preparing for a showing consists of lighting a scented candle, baking a batch of cookies and sweeping the front porch, listen up. Today, home staging can involve elaborate redesigns, extensive renovations, and the addition of rental flora, furniture and even a housesitter to give a home that lived-in feel.

Not every staged home can expect to bump its asking price by 40 percent, of course. "What I've noticed in the past is about a 20-percent difference," Gaylord says.

But Barb Schwarz, founder and president of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, or IAHSP, says staging can boost the selling price 6 percent to 20 percent in a moderately priced neighborhood and as high as 20 percent to 50 percent for luxury homes or in a particularly hot market. And she should know: She's staged and sold some 1,600 homes since 1972.

"The average sales time for staged homes is six-and-a-half days right now, and homes that are not staged are at 45 days nationally," says Schwarz. "The average fee for staging is running anywhere between $500 and $5,000, with $1,800 being the average. The public is getting it that staging is the way."

Here's how the growing home-staging industry can separate your house from the crowd.

Natural evolution
Real estate agents traditionally tread lightly when suggesting changes to a seller's home for fear of offending them and losing the listing. Beyond the standard bland advice (neutral tones are least likely to offend prospective buyers, etc.), most agents have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about the color of your foyer or the condition of your floors.

But Carla Seely says that's changing. Two years ago, she and her partner started Redesign Realty LLC in Toledo, Ohio, and its staging subsidiary, Redesign to Sell, specifically to advise sellers on how to profit from a staging makeover. After all, who knows what buyers want better than a real estate agent?

"You have to take your personal tastes out of it. Once you put a sign in the yard, it's a product for sale. What you've done over the years, improvements you've made, really mean nothing to the buyer coming in. They don't see it through your eyes; they see it through their eyes," she says.

When Seely takes a listing, she includes a redesign in the package. It might be as simple as rearranging furniture, organizing clutter and employing tricks-of-the-trade staging techniques. She often rescues "money rooms" such as the dining room that have been invaded by computer stations or big-screen TVs.

Next: "If you're going to spend $100, you should be able to get ..."
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