If you've never seen the work of professional stagers -- those magical designer/decorators charged with making your house more marketable -- prepare to be mystified, enthralled, and maybe a bit scared.
Did we say "scared"? Prepping your home for getting the best offer possible means removing every shred of your personality from rooms, walls, floors, and ceilings so that potential buyers can imagine themselves in your place. Stagers favor neutral walls, simple layouts, and minimal artwork. (No purple living rooms or gallery wall allowed!)
"There's a big difference between designing for someone's tastes and remerchandizing a home to appeal to as many people as possible," says Kathy Burke of Sensational Home Staging in Danville, CA. Getting it right is a critical and enigmatic art. Don't panic! We got some stagers to reveal their secrets to help you navigate the process.
1. Don't take it personally
We know you love the way you set up your living room. That eclectic collection of wicker baskets from all your European travels stacked up in the corner? It's the perfect detail for you -- but not for your stager. Not even close.
So here's the thing: When they tell you what to change (and they absolutely will), don't be offended. It doesn't mean they think your style is awful. Not necessarily, anyway.
"It's not about whether I like something or not," Burke says. "It's about how we're going to present it. I know what photographs well and what looks dated."
Her favorite clients are the ones who know tough feedback is coming and don't care: "I walk in and they say, 'You can't hurt my feelings. Do whatever you want.'"
2. Toss your stuff, and disconnect emotionally
For many sellers, home staging will be the first time they realize they're really, actually moving. Family pictures come down, the sofa goes into storage, and suddenly this place you called yours is looking less and less like you.
If you need to do some emotional processing, we understand: It's hard to put your family home on the market. But don't subject your stager to your stress. Detach. Chill out. Help the process, don't hinder or fight it. Keep your eye on the prize: selling your home at the right price, to the right buyers, within the right time frame.
What does that really mean? Try removing as much of your stuff as possible before the stager comes. By tackling spring cleaning you'll not only accomplish some necessary decluttering before your move, but you'll also get used to the idea that this is no longer your home.
3. Move out (if you can)
Both Peterson and Burke find staging a home vastly easier when it's vacant. If you can afford to move out when the home goes on the market, do it.
"It's easier for them, it's easier on their pets, and it's easier on the buyer," Burke says. "We can create one cohesive look and don't have to blend anything."
Occupied houses present more of a challenge (and take substantially more time): Stagers have to accommodate daily living, as well as risk the homeowner not preserving their layout (or any rented furniture).
Occupied homes can even cost more to stage. "It's just a lot more work, timewise, when the owners are still living in the place," Burke says.
4. Stay out of the picture(s)
According to the 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 92% of buyers use the Internet to look for homes -- meaning the pictures posted alongside your home's listing are wildly important.
"Much of what I'm doing is to appeal to people through photographs," Burke says. "I hope that photo will touch people and they'll say, 'That's going on my short list.'"
Peterson aims to be the "last person in before the photographers. We want those pictures to look great."
But no one wants the buyers to be disappointed with the home's real-life presentation after seeing photos online. So here's a bonus: If you're staying in the property, make sure to keep it in tiptop shape.
5. Get your money's worth
Staging isn't a last-minute addition before your home officially goes on the market. Stagers work far in advance and can't always fit in last-minute work. Costs start around $1,250, depending on your state of residence, square footage, and what -- if any -- furniture you rent, according to the Real Estate Staging Association.
That might seem like a lot of money to spend on a home you're about to sell, but both Burke and Peterson say staging is an investment with a very high return. "Anything we put in, we want to make sure you're getting your money back," Burke says.
6. Stay on schedule
Don't dillydally on making the recommended changes for your stager, who can't begin rearranging until you've finished renovating. Usually the requested changes are small (new paint, fixing chipped tiles in the bathroom, etc.).
Not finishing small jobs on time can push the entire project back.
"If we get there and a place hasn't been cleaned, or there's still a painting crew, we can't do our jobs. Then we have to charge them a fee, leave, and then reschedule," Peterson says. "If we're booked out several weeks, it really makes it hard." And maybe even more expensive. So get moving.