By Sandy Dixon— Within seconds of walking into a house, prospective buyers form an impression and know whether they want to buy the house or not. In some cases they won’t even get out of the car, upon looking at the outside of the house. This initial reaction can make the difference between a swift sale and a house that languishes on the market.

So when you are getting your home ready to sell, what can you do to encourage a quick “yes” from buyers? According to Karen Cage, a Realtor with Fuller, Towne & Country West, “To gain the advantage the home must be priced right and look superior to the competition. It needs to be in ‘showcase’ condition, with all the architectural features shown to the best advantage.” For that reason, Karen utilizes staging services as an indispensable tool in her marketing program for sellers.

Home staging is a unique “design to sell” technique using furnishings, artwork and accessories to create a visual experience and a feeling of emotional warmth that will appeal to the widest range of people. Prospective buyers only know what they see, not the way it’s going to be—which makes staging or “setting the scene” even more critical in marketing properties. They want to imagine themselves living in the house, to clearly see the house and its features and not be overwhelmed or distracted by the current homeowners “stuff.”

Staging has become the secret weapon of real estate agents and their savvy clients because the ultimate goal of staging is getting the house sold at the best possible price in the least amount of time. Any house, regardless of price or location will show better when staged. Homebuilders and retailers have been successfully using this technique for years. Creative window and store displays generate interest, as well as increased sales and research shows model homes sell faster than vacant homes and typically sell for more.

Besides the obvious deep cleaning and de-cluttering, the staging process involves moving and removing furnishings – less is best; re-hanging artwork – leave an empty wall in between walls with artwork and hang pictures at a comfortable viewing height from a seated, not standing position. Most artwork is hung too high and is much too small for the wall where it’s hung. Re-accessorizing is another key element of staging. The secret to success is “neutralizing” or stashing away personal items. Your wall of family photographs will not encourage buyers to visualize “their” wall of photographs or artwork. The living room sofa with the torn upholstery doesn’t come across as a “lived in” sofa to buyers. Instead they start thinking “if these sellers don’t take care of their furniture, what condition is the rest of the house in?”

Try looking at your house through buyer’s eyes as though you’ve never seen it before. Walk across the street and access your home’s curb appeal. Some additional staging tips for preparing your home for sale:

  • Clear all unnecessary items from window sills, ledges and table tops.
  • Keep all counter items put away in kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Keep refrigerator surfaces clear of magnets, notes, etc.
  • Downsize what’s in closet: Remove 1/3 of hanging clothes and keep floors clear.
  • Remove all scatter rugs and dried floral wreathes and arrangements.
  • Bookshelves: remove paperbacks, pull all books flush with edge of shelf.
  • Use area rugs to “anchor” furniture groupings and to define room functions.
  • Make certain there is sufficient lighting evenly distributed throughout the rooms.
  • Go around the perimeter of the house and remove all garbage cans, wood scraps, building materials, etc.
  • Prune bushes and trees, keep plants from blocking windows.
  • Clear patios and decks of all small items.
  • Keep children’s and pet’s toys containerized.
  • Check paint condition inside and out, especially front door and trim.
  • Add color to front porch by adding flowers or greenery in attractive containers.

Finally, two fundamental things to remember when preparing a home for sale: (1) The way you live in a home and the way you sell a home are two very, different things, and (2) You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

Now, go set the stage and get it sold!