Reader Asks: Should I Spend Money on Home Staging?

There are two kinds of home staging: 1) vacant home staging where you rent furniture and accessories; and 2) rearranging your furniture and other “stuff” to make the home show its best.

The jury is out on the former (which can cost a lot of money), but the latter is essential and doesn’t need to cost you anything. At Golden Real Estate, we provide staging consultations free to our sellers. One of our broker associates, David Dlugasch, is a Certified Home Stager®. Like all our associates, I can give general advice on staging your home, but I hire David to provide a full staging consultation free to my sellers.

Sellers Ask: Should I Wait Until Spring to Put My Home on the Market?

About this time of year I like to remind readers why winter can be the best time of year to put their home on the market.

First of all, there is less competition because, frankly, most sellers don’t know that homes sell well year-round. If your agent says you should wait until spring, get an agent who understands this!

Second, buyers continue to get alerts of new listings year-round.  You know this yourself if you’ve been looking at listings. Nowadays every serious home buyer has asked their agent to set up an MLS alert matching their search criteria, or done it themselves on Zillow, and these alerts are generated 24/7/365 — even on Christmas morning!

This is a change from years past, when buyers depended on their agent to monitor the market and find listings that matched their buyers’ needs and wants. No more! Buyers do their own searching, even if it’s on Zillow, and call their agent when they want to see a listing which appears to meet their needs and wants.

Third, you won’t be bothered by lookie-loos.  Only serious buyers, ready to make an offer, will be asking to see your home in the winter. The buyers who just like looking at other peoples’ homes are less inclined to go out at this time of year.

Fourth, you’ll have your agent’s and mortgage broker’s full attention.  With less traffic in the winter, these professionals can give you their undivided attention.  Others, including title officers and home inspectors, are also less busy in the winter, which is to your advantage.

Fifth, you can light your fireplace. I love going into a warm, cozy home when it’s cold outside. Unless your home is drafty and cold, this makes for great staging!  And if you have a wood-burning fireplace, it’s even better. I love the smell of a wood-burning fireplace, don’t you?  Also, put some cider on the stove, with cinnamon sticks in it and have a ladle and cups next to it with freshly baked cookies, and you’ve made my day! Your visitors will feel like they are in their new home!

Sixth, holiday decorations are good staging, too.  Most stagers will urge you to depersonalize your home, including removal of crucifixes or other religious symbols, but this is Colorado, and people of all religions enjoy our Christmas holiday decorations. Again, like the fireplace and hot cider, holiday decorations can add a welcoming, homey feeling to your home.

Remember, buyers need to move year round. The concept of selling during the children’s summer vacation may be valid for a limited segment of the population, but even in that case many families move locally, and the MLS allows us to set up searches based on school district or even specific elementary, middle or high school service areas. Other moves are triggered by job changes, health changes or seniors moving to be closer to grandchildren, and these needs arise year-round.

Call any of us at Golden Real Estate — our phone numbers are below — if you’d like a free market analysis of your home or for any other reason.

Jim Smith, Broker/Owner –  303-525-1851

Jim Swanson — 303-929-2727

Carrie Lovingier — 303-907-1278

Kristi Brunel — 303-525-2520

Chuck Brown — 303-885-7855

David Dlugasch — 303-908-4835

Andrew Lesko — 720-710-1000

Carol Milan — 720-982-4941

Before Putting Your Home on the Market, Take Care of the ‘Little’ Things!

I show a lot of homes to a lot of buyers each week, and I’m shocked at some of the conditions I see, many of which could have been taken care of at little or no cost. Here’s a list of the “Dirty Dozen.” Do any of them ring a bell for you?

1. Windows need washing. No home should be put on the market without washing the windows inside and out. I’ve seen homes with great views, but the dirty windows left a bigger impression than the views!

2. Screens are damaged. With our strong winds and sun, window screens don’t last forever. As they age, the damage from wind and sun really gets the attention of buyers, even more than those dirty windows. And replacing screen material is less expensive than you might think. I’ve taken mine to Ace Hardware and had them rescreened at low cost.

After rescreening your weather-beaten screens, I suggest removing and labeling them (with masking tape), and storing them in the basement or garage. Even if screens are not damaged, removing them is as effective as washing your windows.

3. The home is cluttered.  We all have too much “stuff” in our homes, so selling your home is a great time to thin out your possessions. Rita and I aren’t thinking of selling our home, but she’s on a decluttering kick, which I love and support!  Most things go to Goodwill or the Christian Action Guild or the Habitat ReStore. Others go on Nextdoor.com as giveaways or “for sale.” (On a personal note, call or email me if you’d like some great wooden shelves which cost $600 new but which we want to give away now that we have donated most of our books to a book drive.)

Some things, of course, go in the trash can or get added to our box truck the next time we do a dump run for a client.

5. The yard needs clean-up.  We all have bushes that need trimming or seasonal cutting back, or weeds in our gravel areas that need pulling or killing. This is especially important in the front yard, where they can make a bad first impression. If your yard needs a large-scale fall cleanup, I recommend the  Vietnamese family which performs that service for Rita and me.  It costs more, but it’s worth it!

6. Wall-to-wall carpeting needs stretching.  This is a task for which you need to hire a vendor , but nothing generates a bad impression quite like ripples in wall-to-wall carpeting.  It will set you back a few hundred dollars, but it’s money well spent.  If the carpet itself is old and worn and terribly out of style, consider replacing it. The few thousand dollars you spend has a good payback in that your home will actually sell instead of sitting on the market turning off visitors! We recommend buying neutral color berber carpet.

7. The home is dark.  A bright, well-lit home sells!  I applaud you for replacing your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, but CFLs are obsolete now that LED bulbs are available and inexpensive.  Last week I went to Batteries + Bulbs, and they were having a special on 60-watt equivalent LEDs. I left with 12 LED soft-white bulbs (same shape as traditional bulbs) for $4! Even if you pay more at Lowe’s or Home Depot, go ahead and splurge. I replaced all my home bulbs with LEDs, including the can lights in my vaulted ceilings. LEDs last forever, so it’s nice to know I won’t have to pull out my 8-foot ladder again anytime soon!  Many LED bulbs are now dimmable, too, unlike CFLs.

CFLs take a while to reach their full brightness, but LEDs are instant on.  In my garage I’m replacing two 8-foot fluorescent fixtures (drawing 300 watts) with a couple 2’ x 2’ flush mount LED fixtures which draw 9.2 watts each and provide equivalent lighting. I splurged on a motion sensor, so every time I enter the garage, the lights turn on until five minutes after I leave. Sweet!

Also, open your drapes and shades to maximize sunlight.

8. There are too many personal things.  This is rule #1 of staging a home for sale. Your family pictures, snapshots and refrigerator notes may make your house a home for you, but they create a distraction for visitors. Take them down.

9. There’s too much furniture. I showed a home last Sunday where the furniture had been thinned — but it was crammed into the garage. We couldn’t even enter the garage. Looking through the door, my buyer muttered “small garage.” In fact it just looked small because it was so full. (This is a basic principle of staging — a full closet, book shelves or whatever conveys a lack of space, whereas a partially full closet, etc., conveys abundant space.)  The stuff that you know you’ll take with you could go in a storage unit or into a POD. For the rest, see item #3 above. Note: I know a storage place that gives the first month free without requiring a contract, if they have vacancies.

10. The toilet lids are open. Closing your toilet lids is easy! It’s good Feng Shui, too.

11. Plug-in odor devices are in use. Every time I see one of these, it makes me wonder what the seller is covering up. Smoke? Cat smell? The “pleasant” smell is also unpleasant to many, myself included, so why use them?

12. The alarm system is armed. Some showing instructions include disarming and re-arming an alarm system. Do you want buyers to think your street has a burglary problem? In most cases, it doesn’t, so why raise the question?

Remodeling Your Home to Help It Sell May Not Be the Moneywise Approach

Before putting your home on the market, it’s natural to ask for advice on what should be fixed or upgraded before doing so. Here’s how we re-spond when asked.

First, you need to know that every study we’ve seen shows that sellers almost never recoup 100% of the cost of remodeling, so you should only do so for your own enjoyment, years before you plan to sell. Don’t make updates expecting to get a higher price for your home..

Rita and I, or example, recently spent $40,000 to update our kitchen, and we love it! (It was done by Bonnie Kitchen Design in Golden, and we strongly recommend her!)  But that doesn’t mean our home increased its value and selling price by $40,000 or more. We made that improvement for our own enjoyment, just as we did when we spent $20,000 on our master bathroom several years ago.  Yes, it will increase the attractiveness of our home when we eventually sell it, but that will only be after years of happy enjoyment of those two improvements.

We’ll probably make additional improvements in coming years, but it will never be to dress up the home for sale. On top of not recovering the full expenditure upon sale, it’s a huge disruption of one’s life to engage in major renovations.

The most recent study I’ve read about cost vs. ROI (return on investment) was made by Remodeling magazine, as reported by RISmedia.

According to that report the 5 projects with the highest ROI in the mid-range cost category are:

Manufactured Stone Veneer (94.9%)

Minor Kitchen Remodel (80.5%)

Deck Addition (Wood) (75.6%)

Siding Replacement (75.6%)

Entry Door Replacement (Steel) (74.9%)

The 5 projects with the highest ROI in the upscale cost category are:

Garage Door Replacement (97.5%)

Window Replacement (Vinyl) (73.4%)

Grand Entrance (Fiberglass) (71.9%)

Window Replacement (Wood) (70.8%)

Bathroom Remodel (60.2%)

Lastly, here are the 5 projects with the lowest ROI in the mid-range cost category:

Backyard Patio (55.2%)

Master Suite Addition (59.4%)

Bathroom Addition (60.6%)

Roofing Replacement (Metal) (60.9%)

Major Kitchen Remodel (62.1%)

Master Suite Addition (50.4%)

Bathroom Addition (58.1%)

Major Kitchen Remodel (59.7%)

Bathroom Remodel (60.2%)

Window Replacement (Wood) (70.8%)

So, clearly you should only remodel when it’s intended to be enjoyed by you for years to come. If you know you’ll be selling this year, we advise our clients as follows.

First, only make improvements that eliminate a defect or an issue which will turn off prospective buyers.  I call these “eyesores,” things that stand out like a sore thumb, and not things that are simply “dated” or out of tyle.

Here are some examples:

Do refinish hardwood floors that are seriously and obviously in need of refinishing.

Do replace carpeting that is seriously old, such as 1970’s shag carpeting, or carpeting that is seriously worn or stained. (Again, think “eyesore.”)

Do replace damaged countertops.

Do repair damaged walls and replace damaged doors that can’t be repaired.

Do replace those 1990’s glass-and-brass lighting fixtures. (They’re so unappealing that Habitat’s thrift store won’t accept them as donations!)

Do replace burned out light bulbs.

Do repaint (inside and out) where there is peeling or discolored paint.

Do replace rotted timbers on your deck, then power wash and re-stain or repaint as necessary.

Do improve curb appeal (always the first impression), including weeding and pruning and freshening the front door. (It’s true that red doors sell homes…)

Do have someone with “fresh eyes” walk through your house and identify other turn-offs. (Our stager performs that function.)

Do not replace undamaged countertops or bathroom fixtures just because they are “dated” — even those pastel colored bathtubs and sinks. (I tell buyers “You can’t buy these anymore!”)  The exception would be the toilets. A white chair height low-flow toilet can be replaced for a couple hundred dollars and installed by our handyman for $50 (but he only works for our clients).

Beyond the above advice, I tell my sellers to be strategic about major issues which they know need to be done. If these are likely to become inspection issues, don’t fix them prior to listing your home if they’re not the kind of eyesore which would deter a buyer from making an offer.

For example, I have a listing, currently under contract, which had damage to the concrete driveway. The seller was thinking he should repair it before putting the home on the market. We knew it would be an inspection issue, but by leaving it undone we could use it as a bargaining chip. Sure enough, we got under contract (well above listing price because of competing buyers), and the inspection demands included repairing the driveway. Because it was such a big expense, the buyer didn’t ask for a bunch of other repairs.  If the seller had fixed the concrete prior to listing the home, you can sure the buyer would have asked for those other repairs, but instead they were delighted that the seller agreed to pay for the concrete repair.

I have used the same strategy to save other sellers money on inspection items. For example, one seller knew that radon needed to be mitigated, but we knew that this issue (which we properly disclosed) would not deter buyers from competing for the home. Yes, it became an inspection demand, and the buyer was delighted that the seller agreed to mitigate it.

Your situation will be different, of course, and we are happy to meet with you in your home and discuss what’s needed and strategic to fix before listing. We consider such advice part of the free staging consultation we provide sellers.