All the home’s a stage in local resale market

Staging a home for resale has become as vitally important as listing it with an agent or signing a final contract. The increasing number of professionally decorated new houses on the Northern Colorado market has raised the expectations of prospective buyers, forcing sellers of existing homes to compete with designer showplaces.

The popularity of home decorating shows like The Learning Channel’s “Trading Spaces” and HGTV’s “Designed to Sell” has also catapulted home staging to a nationwide phenomenon. Potential buyers expect to see decorated homes when they open the door, even when the house is vacant.

“Staging will be more important in the future because people can’t see past dated decorating because of the significant amount of new construction,´ said Bruce Willard, broker with Austin and Austin in Greeley. “People also don’t have the cash anymore to change a house after purchasing it, so they want projects completed before the sale.”

Dan and Cynthia Linstedt of Fort Collins discovered this market trend when they sold their investment townhouse in August. The Lindstedts hired a limited-service agent to list the vacant property on the Multiple Listing Service. After two unsuccessful attempts at selling the property, the Lindstedts hired a real estate agent who in turn hired a professional stager to make the townhouse aesthetically pleasing.

“When the place wasn’t staged, all people had to look at was bare walls,” Dave Linstedt said. “It doesn’t look lived in and looks like nobody cares about it.”

Stager Jamie Koenig of Loveland’s Get it Together brought in dinnerware and bathroom linens and a small table to stage the property.

“We got a full-price offer a month and a half after listing it and we got two offers on the same day,” Linstedt said. “In my mind staging is important because in a buyers’ market it gives you that advantage.”

Staging a home for resale may include simple touches like furniture rearrangement, paint touch-ups and opening curtains to allow light in. Or it may involve updating the feel of a house to compete in the current market by replacing carpet, painting walls or remodeling outdated areas of the house.

A 2003 HomeGain survey of 2,000 real estate agents nationwide found that moderately priced home improvements, ranging from $80 to $2,800, made in preparation for sale actually yielded the highest returns when a house is sold.

First impressions

Koenig, who has been a professional stager for eight years, understands how important the first impression on a potential buyer can be.

“The first impression is everything – it takes less than 30 seconds to impress a buyer,” she said. “If they don’t like it from waking in the door they tend to not like it much better when walking through the house.”

She says her goal with each home is to make every room look as big as possible with furniture, color and light.

“A majority of homebuyers are buying up and don’t want smaller. The key is to present the illusion of space and cleanliness,” Koenig added.

In vacant homes, she recommends adding simple touches to help buyers picture the home as theirs. Small kitchen appliances, rugs, pictures and bathroom linens help achieve this purpose.

“In Northern Colorado, the average is 50 percent of the listed homes are vacant,” Koenig said, “and 80 to 90 percent of people are visual and can’t picture a home’s possibility if it is vacant.”

At the end of 2006, Northern Colorado had 6,563 residential properties for sale and of those, 3233 were vacant.

“We don’t have statistics listing how many homes are staged in the market, but my experience has been that those that are staged, sell. If homes are left vacant and empty they take forever to sell,´ said Jan Bertholf, broker with The Group Real Estate in Fort Collins. “I have been using a stager for three years on every house I list.”

Real estate agents agree that 2006 was a buyers’ market but are optimistic that in 2007 home supply and demand will become more balanced. Even with the number of available homes dropping and buyers increasing, however, home staging appears to be here to stay.