Think of house to sell as a product: Pare it down, spruce it up

Whether it’s to dazzle the in-laws coming this summer or to wow would-be buyers, turning a house into a showplace really can be as easy as the experts on those TV home shows make it appear. Just how far the transformation goes depends largely on the owners’ budget, but whether that covers a $30 gallon of paint or a kitchen remodel worth thousands, the objective is the same: Make a smashing first impression.

Though real estate experts agree that the current metro market heavily favors sellers, that doesn’t mean buyers aren’t finicky. Getting them into a purchasing frame of mind often means helping them picture their furniture and their family in the house — which requires getting beyond the owners’ favorite photos and memorabilia collections.

“It’s really about letting go,” said Pat Shankle, owner of Georgia Home Staging, a Marietta-based company that works with homeowners to make their spaces picture-perfect. “We help owners realize it’s no longer their home; it’s a product. And just like selling your car, you wax it, make it spotlessly clean and then sell it for top dollar.”

Shankle has been helping homeowners and builders make their abodes more appealing for 10 years, after her knack for staging had a personal payoff: “I staged my own home and sold it in one weekend,” she said. “I decided to leave corporate advertising and do something I love.”

In her work, Shankle talks to real estate agents, builders, investors and homeowners about sometimes subtle but effective ways to make a space more appealing. Along the way, she keeps refocusing them on the end result: a sale.

“It’s hard to think that the wallpaper and the personalized colors you choose and love may not appeal to the masses,” she said. “That’s why painting is the number one thing you can do to sell more quickly and get top dollar. It doesn’t need to be boring, builder beige; it can have a little color to it. The new, fresh grays with a little bit of beige, for instance, are really beautiful.”

Tasha Moody, owner of the Brookhaven-based Simply Staged Atlanta for nine years, agrees that scuffed-up, dirty or bold paint colors are a turn-off. “But I don’t think white sells either,” she said. “I use neutral colors from a list of 27 shades like gray and light, sandy beige that I’ve put together for Realtors to pick from.”

While a fresh coat of paint may not be expensive, other pre-sell projects may be. “Most buyers probably don’t have $10,000 to spend on improvements,” said Moody. “You have to think about where to draw the line. If you have to pare it down, start first in the foyer; it’s the welcome area of the home. Follow that with the family room and kitchen, the heart of the home, and go into the master bedroom and bath. Put your money in that base first.”

In the kitchen, buyers have gone bonkers for granite so much that it’s now showing up in the starter- and affordable-home as well as luxury market. But if new counters are beyond the seller’s budget, Moody suggests other options.

“Changing the hardware and light fixtures makes a big difference,” she said. “Paint the cabinets. Then do the same in the master bedroom.”

Both Moody and Shankle point out that staging is more than just cleaning up.

“A lot of people think you put your medicines and toiletries away, declutter, and go,” said Moody. “There’s more to it than that!”

The most common mistake the experts see revolves around the furniture: Too many worn out or dated pieces jammed into a space so that they impede traffic flow.

“In the bedroom, get a queen bed sitting on boxes rather than a king that takes up the entire space,” said Moody. “Just scaling down can make a big difference.”

Getting rid of pieces or putting them in storage, the basement or the garage can open up a room. “Remember, you’re selling the floor space, not your stuff,” said Shankle. “Don’t block the windows. Don’t put the sofa in the middle of the room. Be sure to leave at least 36 inches of walk-around space for good flow. Sometimes it’s hard for a seller to see beyond what they have or how they have it arranged, so that’s where we come in.”

Small changes to highlight a home can make the selling process go quickly, said Moody. “It’s a great market right now, but you also need to remember: Everyone is staging. You want to do that, too.”