Full staging vs. suggestive staging?

jakabedyMay 13, 2013

My mom and her sweet old beagle are moving from her 3/2 garden home to a retirement community. We'll then be placing her home up for sale. Inventory is a bit low in this particular area/bracket, but there are also two houses in her small development that have been for sale for a year+ with no offers. Hers will be the third for sale sign on a short road.

We believe her floor plan, a few upgrades, and landscaped back yard will help differentiate, and we're also more realistic about price than those two listings, so will list accordingly. But we also want to make sure we're presenting the home in its best light. We'll be replacing the carpet in the two small bedrooms (everything else is still-current HW or tile), and the interior will get a fresh coat of neutral paint (exterior was repainted two years ago). Fixtures, hardware and lighting are ca. 2003, but still current in this area/price bracket.

She'll be taking the bulk of her furniture with her (this is a good thing ;)), but there will be some pieces left that will be workable for staging, and I have pieces I can bring in. I won't have any large pieces, like sofas or dressers. So the question is: when staging, do I need to actually simulate a house that is being lived in? Or is it enough to stage sort of suggestively, with a bed and maybe a side table in each bedroom, and a couple of nice occasional chairs and a table in the sitting areas?

There will be no illusion that there actually IS someone still living there, as the closets and pantries, etc. will be empty. My main concern is having it look as good as possible in the listing photos, and for it to look inviting to prospective buyers.

As an aside, when repainting, go with the same neutral throughout? Would it be bad to go a bit darker in the MBR?


UPDATE: We did go the "suggestive staging" route, using a bit of what was leftover and a bit of what I could scrounge from my house and my office. A few pics will be swapped out (I apparently blanked out and didn't put a tablecloth on the MBR side table), and the realtor knows her "blurb" needs to be updated. But overall, we're happy with how it turned out

Thanks for all the input.

Here is a link that might be useful: Listing

This post was edited by jakabedy on Tue, Jun 25, 13 at 12:43

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I personally think staging is ludicrous ... what really sells a house is the location, condition, and price.

Go take a look at the ones that are still on the market: what about condition or price can you beat? If inventory is low, they must be overpriced for their current condition.

Clean the heck out of it, including under all the sinks, fix anything that leaks, sticks, or doesn't close properly. If there is damage from leaks under the sinks, fix it and the leaks.

If you do "suggestive staging", you have to do it enough so it doesn't look like leftover furniture being stored there.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 12:08PM
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You don't need to fully stage it.
A bed and nightstand will be plenty--it shows bed will fit. If the room is too small for said bed, leave it empty, or put a smaller bed in there.

I second having your REA take you to the other 2 houses, if you haven't done so. Make sure you really know what you are being compared to.

Are houses in your price range selling even if the 2 up the street haven't? If they haven't, but are fixers, and yours is pristine clean and "move in ready" because it has new carpet and paint, it will go first.

You don't need to choose same colors on MBR wall as main living areas. You are free to go a shade darker or a totally different color if you want.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 12:38PM
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We've already done all the actual and allegorical math when looking at the comps. Price is #1, and I noted above that we're more realistic there. Once we control for price, we still want to be the most appealing.

The one comp that has been on and off the market for 3+ years (renters off and on) has an additional bed and bath, but an odd lot/garage placement that leaves no possibility for a fenced back yard. It also has unattractive tile floors throughout (not done in our area) and bad wall colors. It's also empty, which underscores it's blankness. I'll admit I may be influenced by how bad that house looks, and may attribute a good bit of that to its emptiness.

The second comp has comparably nice finishes, but not as good of a floor plan. It also has had nothing done to the back yard, while mom's has a rock retaining wall, hedges/trees for privacy, a slate walkway, and planting beds that are easy to work with (nothing to mow in the back). It is still lived in, and decorated a bit fussy. But it's Kirkland's fussy rather than figurine/doily fussy, so isn't overly offensive in any way. It is the closest comp, though, and any prospective buyer will look at both places.

Cleaning from top to bottom goes without saying (including pressure washing the drive and walkways), and small fixes are already done. And there wouldn't be leftover furniture, so to speak. Inappropriate/dated/damaged pieces will be simply removed and sold/donated/trashed. There won't be any TVs. The only things that would stay or be brought it would be contemporary and benign.

Comp #1: http://www.realtysouth.com/homes-for-sale/AL/Irondale/35210/1701-Heritage-Ct-85517858

Comp #2: http://www.realtysouth.com/homes-for-sale/AL/Irondale/35210/1720-Heritage-Ct-85518418

This post was edited by jakabedy on Mon, May 13, 13 at 13:05

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 12:47PM
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I'm not sure that I agree that staging is ludicrous. I think it can be really helpful. People are visual and want to envision their lives in the new place. I look at a lot of listings and am interested in real estate, and goofy staged photos annoy me (wine and a cheese plate -- really?), as do pictures of room with a single chair, which just look silly. But I do tend to find *well* staged houses to be much more attractive. If nothing else, it helps me visualize the scale, potential furniture arrangements, etc. For example, I noticed when I was looking at RE photos that I like pictures of patios, decks and other outdoor spaces better when I see dining sets, etc. -- it helps me understand the blank space better and envision what *I* can do. (And no, I'm no big RE investor, or architect or designer with great vision (clearly, ha ha!), but I don't think most buyers are, either).

I don't think you need a ton of furniture to stage well, at all. I wouldn't think a dresser were necessary, for example, if you had a bed and a couple of nightstands. I'd suggest you do your staging with what you have, and see if it looks too empty. I don't think it needs to look lived in, but hopefully help the potential buyers figure out how they could live in it. Does that make sense?

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I'd go with "basic staging." That's what we did. I found $10 box springs and mattresses on CL, built a couple cheap headboads, and bought some inexpensive couches and chairs and case goods by scouring CL daily. That filled up our uninhabited rooms, and gave those rooms a good sense of size.

We didn't go overboard with the decor (we say our view is the decor), but did enough so that potential buyers can say "this is a decent sized ___ room" based on actually seeing furniture in it, and not get distracted by puzzling over how furniture might be arranged to best effect.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 2:01PM
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Personally I prefer an empty house, but what do I know...

Anecdotal evidence...

I live on a street with 14 houses. We've owned our house for 8 years and in that time 3 houses have come up for sale, 2 of them this spring... one is a repeat:

The house next door is one of them. They put it up 2 years ago and left all their crap in there (they are original owners, and they are in their 70s) and used the awful Realor pics. I recall it well because I laughed when I saw them. I never went through, but online it looked like Grandma's house. They were well priced for the neighborhood, yet never sold. I think I saw 2 lookers in the 6 months they were up, but then again I wasn't exactly staring out the window at their house seeing if they had any showing. Our market never crashed. Two years ago was just as good a market at it is today.

Fast forward two years. They updated their kitchen (not a full reno, but it was updated), and they definitely had their house staged and professional photos taken and used online because I couldn't find a thing wrong with those photos (and believe me, I looked... I am very real estate photo critical). The for sale sign went up on a Thursday, the sold sign was slapped up the following Monday, 4 days later.

Sometimes staging and good photos help, and help a lot.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 2:24PM
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I am with you, xamsx - I also prefer an empty house.

Staging did not catch on in my area (maybe we do not watch enough HGTV!).

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 7:14PM
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The only thing that I could suggest is leaving mattresses with a clean cover or get some blow up mattresses and cover them with a sheet to show that a certain sized bed or two twin beds fit in bedrooms particularly if they are on the small side.

Many people are not good at visual scale. It would also help with scale in the pictures.

Other than that I think you could just make sure everything was superclean.

New houses/renos are the only ones I see fully staged here. The last couple houses I looked at were estate sales, one at $1.3M and one at $1.7M and they weren't even clean--as in solid rectangles of dust where the beds had been removed.

(Not that I good afford them, they were just architectural gems and since they were "old" I know someone is going to go in and completely ---- them up, and I wanted to see them before they were destroyed.)

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:13PM
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Just clean, declutter, repair and neutralize, and then price it correctly. Unstaged homes sell everyday. That should tell us a lot.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:10AM
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Apparently I'm one of those that's not good at visual scale. I looked at an an open house home this weekend that was empty. I came away thinking that the home was smaller than mine. Later that day I looked at the spec sheet, and was shocked to see that it had almost double the square footage of my home! I must really need to see furniture to get a feeling for the size of a room.

Granny furniture, cluttered rooms, most window coverings, and walls that aren't neutral are also big turnoffs for me that I have trouble looking past.

With that said, it sounds like you know what you are doing, and have a few nice pieces that you could leave in the home or bring to it. Just a few of these in the bedrooms and living areas would be helpful to people like me. I don't need to see art work or other staging items.

If you invest in anything I would suggest it be fresh bed coverings. Here's a link with some suggestions for inexpensive bedding that are trendy and classic right now.

I looked at the two homes that you posted. The empty one I would pass on just from looking at the photos. I like the 2nd one. It looks newer, fresher, and more updated. It is much too cluttered, but I would at least want to go and see it. It sounds like once I got there the yard would be a turnoff. If these are the only two comps you have and you are pricing under them, than I think your mom's home should do well. Best of luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.thecreativityexchange.com/2012/10/favorite-sources-for-inexpensive-beautiful-bedding-friday-favorites.html

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 10:01AM
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"If you invest in anything I would suggest it be fresh bed coverings."

WHAT!? Out of all the items that could help a sale and this is it?
Are you a spammer?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 12:14PM
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Sorry, no I am not a spammer. I was thinking of the above post that said maybe stage with an air mattress with a sheet on top. To me that would look low class, so I was thinking that if you left beds in the rooms and didn't have attractive bedding that you could get a nicer look fairly inexpensively. Also, if you put updated bedding on an older bed or even an air mattress it can still make the room look nice. That/s all I was thinking and it's just my opinion.

This post was edited by Homeblessings on Tue, May 14, 13 at 13:15

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 1:13PM
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Thanks, all. I'm going to go the minimal route and see what the realtor thinks. As was mentioned above, part of my concern is that buyers might look at the two smaller bedrooms and just think "small". If I have a bed in at least one of them, it will make more sense and will show they are actually a workable size. It will also make it easier to visualize how furniture will work in the living/dining area, which can appear a bit awkward when empty.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 2:34PM
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Homeblessings... I can live with that.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 5:19PM
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On "Sell this House" the guy that was pumped up on steroids and looked like a Stretch Armstrong doll used white painted mattress boxes in an empty house with zero budget to show that beds would actually fit in the small looking bedrooms.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 6:43PM
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One thing to consider. If your floor plan is very obviously similar to the other 2 houses, then you may be better off to not stage, but to have it clean and empty and move in ready.

The public can see their full houses to see the sense of scale for furniture, and then see your house with its pristine newness, and pick yours.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:10PM
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Just have to say, subject of the posting made me think that maybe for "suggestive" staging you might have a trail of clothing into the bedroom: dress, stockings....

    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 7:58PM
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    Bookmark   May 14, 2013 at 9:34PM
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I just used staging to help sell my house and found it very helpful. It wasn't expensive at all and my house sold for 5% more and twice as fast than the house I considered my closest comp. In addition to what you are doing I suggest dove soap in baths (clean smell helps it not get that stuffy smell non lived in homes get, can also use candles but those can be too strong), new white towels from walmart/target (bath should look like its never been used) and a few items in the closets (looks more spacious than empty closet). Since you are using minimal furniture consider neutral art to help buyers eyes move around the room and notice features and size. Really look at the windows and consider getting them cleaned. It's a nice idea to paint the master a little darker as it will help it feel more restful. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 9:50AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Similar situation over a year ago with late mother-in-law's home. House directly across street, same model, same view had an open house, so I took the opportunity to check out the competition.

They had done absolutely nothing to the home, and it was empty, showing dirty carpets with strange cut outs, for furniture, I assume. The front and back yards needed a lot of work, and they had this horrible greenish corian on the kitchen counters.

I watched people sweep in to the front door, quick glance, and leave with the realtor running after them. I heard many comments that the house would take too much to get it in shape.

Our realtor paid for staging consultants to give us ideas, and we took them all. All woodwork was painted white and walls glidden natural linen. Cottage cheese was removed. Ceilings white. New hardware on all doors. All flooring was replaced with new carpet and laminate. Kitchen got granite countertops and fresh white paint on cabinets with new appliances. Both front and back yards got curb appeal from a local landscaper. We sparsely furnished the house with her furniture, and cleaned it. We made it look like a model home.

The for sale sign never went up. Realtor brought in a qualified buyer in a rush to move, prior to the broker's walk through, and we sold it for $10K more than asking.

The other house eventually did sell, but for a lot less because all anyone could see was the work they would have to do. Depends on your motivation, I guess.

When we interviewed selling agents, one said she knew an investor who would immediately take the house off our hands but for really cheap. We did the math, decided we'd rather make the profit than give it all to some investor who would fix and flip, so we did the work, made a very nice profit, and felt better that mom would know we did a good job on her house.

We wish we'd have done it while she was living, but she wouldn't have wanted the interruptions such things bring...

Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 10:16AM
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Your plan sounds very reasonable and workable. I don't know of any realtor that would recommend that you leave a house empty, versus staging it in a reasonable way. Most people have very poor visualization ability, and a clean, neatly staged house will be more appealing.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 10:39PM
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If possible I like photos to have furniture and décor in place. For one thing, it's not immediately evident that owners have moved out if there is furniture in the photos.

Vacant houses do sell. But, I've been in some looked so sad and tired....and bland. It's not a bad thing to do a couple of decorative things. It might make your house easier to remember.

If there is a mantle, decorate it. Simple and striking.

A bowl of green apples on the kitchen counter. Attractive kitchen towels folded neatly.

Soap and towels in the bathrooms.

A table in the breakfast area and dining room if possible.

I've been in vacant homes with a single queen sized headboard in the master. No mattress. It still gave an idea of size.

I'm a big believer in warm pools of light cast by lamps. A couple of lamps in strategic places.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2013 at 11:24PM
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The key to me in the decision to stage or leave empty is what developers do when they're trying to sell homes. I have never been to a condo or single family development where the model home is left empty. I figure they must know what they're doing.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 7:29AM
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Unless your home has a lot of detail, there is not much but four walls and some windows to look at in many of the rooms. Adding some staging items gives buyers more to look at so that they spend more time in each room. If their eyes don't have anything to rest on they just quickly scan each room and leave.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 12:27PM
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I would definitely be suggestive!

Last summer my home sale fell through just before closing because of a job loss. Unfortunately, we had already moved everything out. In the two months it was empty we got a lot of negative comments about the floor plan and layout of the house. We put a table with 4 chairs in the dining room, placemats on the table, a sofa and chair in the living room, an accent table in the foyer, a chair by the fireplace in the family room, a table and 4 chairs in the breakfast nook, 2 stools by the kitchen peninsula with full place settings on the counter, one picture on the mantle, towels in the bathrooms, pillow shams and throw pillows to suggest bed placement in the bedrooms, a simple desk and chair in an extra room to suggest an office, and a tv stand to suggest TV placement in the rec room basement. In our case some of the smaller areas looked a lot bigger with a little furniture in them. Having something in each room gave it just a little more warmth, and I think it's hard for some people to make an emotional connection to an empty house. Some of the furniture we took out of our new house, some we borrowed, and some we bought at Ikea. After we did the staging we got a lot of "shows really well" comments and no more negative floor plan comments. We talked to one staging company, and they were planning to do only the living room, dining room, breakfast nook, and master bedroom.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 2:50PM
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Homes with good architecture will sell without furniture---they often look better empty because the details of millwork and fenestration can really be appreciated. Likewise, homes with great views don't necessarily need furniture, either. The houses with little or no architectural interest definitely need to be staged so the buyer will have something to look at other than plain doors and clamshell base molding.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 9:02AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I believe in staging, as you know. But, get the smallest sofa you can find, etc.

One house we had sold fast. Then the buyer called and asked how did we fit our furniture in there?

It was a bit of a trick, but sometimes to sell, you must get tricky!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 7:46PM
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Just wanted to pop back in to say we went with the "suggestive" staging, using partly what mom didn't take with her and a few things I brought in. It's not going to win any design awards, but I think it shows off the house fairly well and doesn't draw attention to some of the shortcomings (ex.: hard to place furniture in LR).

The realtor knows her "blurb" needs editing, and we're going to swap out a few photos, but I'm pleased with how it turned out overall. Thanks for all the advice.

Here is a link that might be useful: Listing

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 12:35PM
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Okay, yeah... that "blurb" needs help! I can't understand it.
No sq ftage listed.

And, I don't think the green ottoman/coffee table (picture) is helping your hard to place furniture in the LR situation...

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 4:54PM
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Jakabedy, it looks great! It looks neutral, tidy and well-maintained. I agree with kirkhall that it would be helpful to have some square footage in the listing, but your staging is perfectly good.

My fingers are crossed for a quick sale!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2013 at 5:13PM
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Regarding the square footage, it's not used in Alabama. I don't know the reasoning behind it (probably nobody wants to be liable for a wrong figure, or our tax databases don't list it, different municipalities have different permitting rules for additions, etc.), but it's just never included. You'll never hear a discussion here that involves "price per square foot." I'm sure it makes it hard to compare apples to apples, but it is what it is.

Note taken about the ottoman. I may try some other ideas in that room when I'm over there this weekend.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 11:50AM
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How very strange? So, I assume then that a person can't search for a 2500 sq ft home? What are the search parameters that are used?

(And, how very strange for appraisal purposes!)

*learn something new every day...

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 1:03PM
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I know. It's strange. Search parameters are based pretty much on MLS "area" (translation: city limits; school district), price, and numbers of beds and baths.

Appraisals do consider square footage, however. But I think it's simply a measurement of the outside of the building and some math. Either that or some database of square footage somewhere (for the comps) for which no one wants to assume responsibility for any errors.

If you go to the search page of the largest firm in the state (RealtySouth), you'll see square footage as a query on the "advanced search" page. But it's not functional, because none of the listings include the data. Occasionally you'll see mention of square footage in the the comments, but always couched in terms of "owner says more than 3,500 square feet" or similar.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2013 at 1:56PM
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