She has recommended painting, refinishing wood floors, installing new tile, carpets and draperies, and putting in new bathroom fixtures.
But replacements should be kept neutral, says Sheila Black of White Plains, N.Y.,
Home Highlighting Ltd.
choice as the county's best home stager. "Make it easy for people to visualize themselves in the house," she continues.
If you've been using a bedroom or dining room as a home office or TV room, Black recommends redecorating the room for its original purpose.
"Use a room for what it's meant to be. If they can't see it, you can't sell it," Black points out. "Sellers should create the feeling of going to a hotel, clean and sterile: People can see where to put their things, and how to use the space."
Pet owners must take extra steps to ensure their animals are not seen, heard or smelled during showings.
Buyers may be afraid of them or allergic; even animal lovers don't want to encounter pet stains or be accosted by a large or unusual beast (like a snake or ferret) running loose in the house.
As a final step in preparing the house for a showing, Gilligan recommends leaving the lights on in every room and opening all curtains and window blinds. "The brightness will jazz up a home, that makes people feel really connected," she says.
Can't Somebody Else Do It?
Professional home stagers make the process easier for busy homeowners, either by walking you through what to do, or by actually doing it.
As Veto points out, "A stager could make a difference in the time it takes to sell your home, plus it may get you more money."
Schwarz, the self-described "inventor of the industry," says that for hands-on clients, she goes through the house and prepares a room-by-room report, with specific suggestions for improvements.
"I tell them exactly what to do," Schwarz says. "Move the sofa across the room, swap the coffee table in the living room with the one in the family room, buy yellow roses with ferns and put them in your white vase on the mantel before the showing. They can follow the report and do it all themselves." She says the average consultation costs about $375.
For those who aren't do-it-yourselfers, stagers can be hired to do the actual work for them.
Schwarz starts by examining the house inside and out, and preparing a detailed bid with a fee for the job.
Schwarz notes the average fee for a staging varies by region, the size of the house and the amount of work that has to be done.
The cost of staging a 2,800 square foot house in the Midwest averages about $1,800; the same job would cost about $2,800 on the West Coast and $3,800 in New York. "The investment in staging your home is typically less than reducing the price 5% or 10%, which is what agents recommend if the place doesn't sell quickly," Schwarz says.
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