Selling an empty house versus staged house (again)

richard904November 7, 2006

In a recent posting "Selling empty house" many responders favored buying and selling an empty house. Yet, we still see in this forum much hearsay about the potential advantage of staging an empty house (without any good data to backup the opinion). The advantage of staging an occupied house seem to be obvious and without argument. Why would you ever go through the trouble of staging an empty house?

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I would not stage an empty house. Lower your price by the amount the staging would cost you, and in todays market, be sure you are priced lower than your comps.

Staging a empty house implies that you think your potential buyers are so feeble minded that they cannot picture what their stuff will look like in the house.

Staging your own occupied house means that you are so feeble minded that you lived in a poorly designed or decorated house.

As you can see, I am not a fan of staging.

I am a fan of decluttering, cleaning, and painting. Those should be at the top of your list, even if it means storing your things offsite. It is also very economical.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 9:23PM
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I would go with staging an empty house. Here's why: In a totally empty house the buyer comes into a room and sees 4 walls and a window and that's it. There is not much there to engage their brain or cause them to take a longer look. A few well chosen accessories or pieces of furniture cause the buyer to take a longer look at each room because there is more to look at. Their eye will stop at the objects in the room rather than take a quick glance around. The staging accessories can also create a warmer feel to an otherwise bare space. A few pieces of furniture can help the buyer determine scale in the room. A bed in the bedroom helps the buyer see how their bed will fit in, etc. There are many people who absolutely cannot visualize furniture in a space without furniture actually being there.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 11:04PM
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We "staged" the empty house we were selling by putting in oriental rugs in the living and dining rooms and a lot of plants in living, dining and kitchen. (It was winter and we wanted to give a warm feel.) We put 3 good outdoor chairs in the living room, so that if a realtor and clients wanted to sit and talk about the house, they could do it here, and not in their car. We did nothing else in terms of staging. It sold in 2 days.

The house was freshly painted, had refinished hardwood with new carpeting in the bedroom.

It doesn't take much to suggest furniture. Empty rooms generally look larger than full ones and people usually think their furniture will fit, even when it won't.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 7:43AM
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It's not a matter of being "feeble-minded," nor is it a matter of imagination lacking.

An empty house gives the buyer no points of reference regarding scale. While they might carry with them measurements for a custom or unusually large piece of furniture, few buyers will bring a tape measure and the dimensions of their bedroom set, their sofa, dining room table, and other common pieces of furniture.

If I were looking at a house that was entirely empty, it would have to be REMARKABLE re. location, layout, etc. If not, I'd not be inclined to come back. Given a choice between several similar houses, I would not select the one that required a second trip back with notepaper and clipboard to measure everything. Not unless, as I say, it was somehow spectacular in another way.

"Staging" is another matter entirely, in my mind, and a different discussion. But even using a card table and folding chairs in a dining area, for example, will help people - they can extrapolate from that whether the space is adequate for their furniture and their needs.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 8:03AM
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I personally prefers an empty house as I can really see any flaws etc. that furniture and rugs often hide. Also it is easier for me to measure the rooms too. I always have a tape measure with me. Though most places we have looked at I've really needed it because they have been so cramped with furniture and things.

However, I do think the general population has a little hard time visualize things. I mean if they can't see past a certain color on the walls then I can see them having a hard time visulizing things.

There has to be a reason model homes get furnished or why would builders go through the expense.

I'd say what is the market like in your area? If a sellers one then it would seem like it is not worth going through trouble. In a buyers market I could see it could be worthwhile. Buyers will think since the house is empty you need to sell fast and probably offer less.

BTW I thought staging your home included cleaning and de-cluttering and painting.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 8:58AM
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I would "stage" it, but perhaps not completely furnished w/ lots of details.

here's why:

The apartment downstairs from mine is EXACTLY the same size as mine--minus a foyer. But all the other walls are in the same place.

The guy who recently bought it (contract in January; moved in June) came up for dinner the other day, and was saying it seemed that his was smaller than ours.

I dropped down to his place w/ him after dinner, and sort of could see what he meant--but yet, the walls were in the same place. I mean, it's an apartment building.

He said, "I think when you have furniture in it, that makes the rooms seem larger. When I saw this place, it was empty, and I was worried that the rooms seem small. Now that I've got furniture in the rooms, I can see how big it is."

He went on to say, "I think all the bookshelves on your walls, and the piano, and the big table make it clear how large the room is."

I agree that people have a hard time visualizing things. Size of room is one I particularly have trouble with.

But I thought it was interesting that he said, from his own experience, than an empty room looks SMALLER to him. And I actually think he's right.

(but then, I also think the presence of the wall between my LR & DR makes those two rooms seem BIGGER!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 9:35AM
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A few pieces of furniture is helpful determining the size of rooms (and possibly configuration options). My smallest bedroom looks tiny empty, but with a twin size bed in it, it looks much more spacious. A few pieces of living room and dining room furniture can help define those areas, and again, convey the size of the rooms. You don't need a bunch of stuff. Some of the staging I see on those TV shows seems overboard to me.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 9:35AM
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It depends on if you find a buyer who's left brained or right brained. If you find someone emotional, they're going to buy a place that they connect with - and furniture and decorations can be just the trick for that. If you find someone logical, they're going to buy a place based on square footage and potential appreciation, furniture in the way or not.

So for a logical customer, furniture adds nothing, but it doesn't detract any either. For an emotional customer, furniture adds greatly.

If your market is at all competitive, you'll need to give yourself every advantage you can. If it isn't, you can probably get away with not staging.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 9:47AM
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I recently sold an empty home in under a week. The house looked enormous empty, was painted and the floors redone.

We purchased our house last September. It too was empty and sold in eight days rather then the normal 30-45 days for the subdivision. We could see the imperfections, the positives, etc. We put in a bid on one other home prior to the one we purchased - it too was empty.

To me, I much prefer seeing the entire house and not have anything hidden by furnishings. Home-owner-clutter IS distracting. No matter how many people say they can ignore the junk, it is easier to see a room without it being crammed to the gills. That is why so many people emphasize decluttering. Most people need to live in their home while selling. They do not have the luxury of selling empty. I do know we saw a lot more empty homes then I expected while searching NY and NJ. No houses were staged, most jam packed, and the empty houses all seemed to show better.

On all the staging shows we are constantly told that homes with furnishings sell faster. I wish someone would do a truer statistic - Do empty houses that began as empty house-sells truly take longer to sell? Or, are those empty houses that started off selling with the homeowners stuff in it, had other issues, and eventually sold empty after the homeowner needed to move?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 10:00AM
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I purchased a new house so I saw the decorated models. My second home was empty for over a year. Seller barely was there a year so it was mostly white. But is also looked like they did not clean after they left. Bathrooms were dirty, floor and walls were dirty. There were some dished in dishwasher. I can easily look past that. My friend said she could not believe I would buy such a dirty house. It really was not dirty, just dust on baseboards from no one living there.

There are three houses just like mine for sale right now. One is lived in and the furnishings are a real turn off, but again I can see past that stuff where others cannot. The second is empty but is a turn off also. You can see how boring the floors are. Both houses do not look "fresh".

I suggest if you are going to show an empty house the walls should be clean and freshly painted. The floors should be clean and modern. Neutral carpet and pretty vinyl or pergo. When you walk into a kitchen with beautiful flooring it looks stunning. When you walk into a room with beautiful wood/pergo floors it makes you want to move in. It can make the ordinary cabinets and countertops seem pretty.

Another thing is lighting. The standard builder's brass chandeliers are nice but folks really notice a different light fixture. It makes the home seem unique. Get rid of the hollywood bathroom lights and install basic modern fixtures.

Sometimes a bare house makes the seller look desparate to sell because they have already moved on. Personally I would sell bare but update the floors and make paint fresh.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 10:19AM
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I think it depends on what's done in your area. In my area, staging (bringing in furniture & decorative objects) seems to be a sign of desperation...i.e., when a house has been sitting on the market forever and the owners are getting worried, they bring in a stager to improve the visual appeal. This is a signal to me that the sellers are desperate and are probably willing to consider low offers. Most homes here are shown empty if they are vacant.
My personal opinion is staged houses look better in on-line interior pictures and if you're looking online it's easier to tell how large a room feels if you see furniture in teh picture. When visiting a house, though, apart from the issue of any defects staging might hide, I couldn't care less if a house is staged or not, except for judging the "desperation factor" on the sellers' part.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 12:57PM
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I absolutely LOVE walking through empty houses! I can really get my bearings and imagine how my stuff would look in the house. I have even been known to surreptiously "tour" a few houses that were not quite finished being built. As a matter of fact, the house we bought this past summer was empty, and I do think that played a part in our choosing it. We weren't distracted by other people's stuff or decorating ideas.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 3:16PM
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Staging is obviously a regional (I think Northern US) technique. The buyers in that market are not accustomed to looking at empty rooms in all the new construction subdivisions that are in other parts of the country. Also because the houses there are considerably older and the rooms can be a lot smaller staging might help to show the buyer that yes, you can fit a dining room table in here or yes, Your children's bunkbed will fit in this room.

Otherwise like I said, in the south or midwest or whereever there is a building boom, declutter and make the house look, feel and smell as new as possible. I would rather be carefully looking at those blank walls instead of some fancy furniture and might even be more inclined to walk out of a house that had too much of it.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 9:02AM
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Quriky's comments are pretty accurate for my area (previously lived in DC and now am in northern virginia a few miles outside the city). Rooms in the older homes or historic homes tend to be smaller (unless a prior owner has knocked down a lot of walls), and/or have more idiosyncratic placement of windows, doors, heat sources, etc. There also rarely is a floor plan for someone to take home and review. So it can require a lot of imagination to figure out whether furniture can fit, if it's possible to have a tv opposite the sofa, whether a china cabinet could fit in the dining room, etc. For example, I rented a rowhouse in capitol hill for a couple years, and the owner sold it. The realtor was chomping at the bit to show it furnished with my things. I'd spent a fair amount of time figuring out how to make the long narrow first floor space work for both a dining area and living room. It did not sell before I moved out, and once it was empty it looked much smaller. Looking at it empty, you would not think that a full size sofa, tv, dining table, china cabinet, piano, rocking chair, and arm chair would fit without being too crowded. While it was furnished with my things, it was clear that they did.

That said, I don't think staging itself is a particularly common technique here; I've seen lots of homes that could stand to be 'designed to sell.' BUT empty homes are not the norm, and so showing an empty house would not be to the sellers' advantage.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 12:08PM
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As many here have pointed out, lots of folks aren't that good with visualizing. If a home has lots of nice architectural features--great windows, moldings, woodwork, lots of light, lots of openness and flow--in my personal opinion, furniture isn't nearly as necessary. If a home is really basic and boring and the market is a buyer's market, it's going to compete much better with some deft warming up.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 7:41PM
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What Annainpa said.

I really appreciate staging in a loft-type dwelling. It's helpful to see how a huge open space can be divided into living, eating and work areas.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 9:00AM
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Both places I bought were empty. One was a sponsor apartment that had been rented out in NYC. When I was looking then whenever possible I asked for a floor plan and would decide if I even wanted to see it based on floor plan. I tend to think of myself as practical and I am right handed (so left brain) so maybe there is something to the personality idea. As for my house, I first saw it with furniture and that is how I remember it. We refused to bid as much as they wanted and walked. Several months later the relo company bought it and it was empty and we bought it from them. Although I remember the POs drapes (very nice but were not left!) but I remember not being impressed with her cabinets in the living room and I do remember how much I liked it empty (although it tends to look a little too long that way)

To be honest i would rather have an empty room than a card table unless it was nice one. I do agree about small bedrooms, we have a small one and it is amazing what you can fit in there, at one point we had a Twin bed, Two cribs, a changing table and Two dressers and the room is 10 x 14. When I go to sell I will move the cribs to opposite walls (they like being on the same wall now) to make the room look wider

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 12:07AM
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We are in the process of selling our parent's home. It is empty but have many, many updates and looks clean and fresh. Comments have been positive - but the market is extremely competitive and continues now 6 months later. I live 100 miles away and cannot go over as often as I'd like. Is it possible to have a "Wow factor" in an empty house? How can we make our home look "warm and inviting" without adding furniture? Our realator suggests we don't stage because all the new windows "sell themselves." I think we need to add some kind of window treatments to soften the rooms, but it can be rather expensive to address all the windows. Any advice would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2006 at 1:27PM
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Hundredswife, the home I sold empty this summer did indeed have a "Wow factor"; the hardwood floors. I had just refinished them and they gleamed. Stepping into the 21x22 living room from the foyer the reaction (even to me who had seen them like this many times) was "Wow!". The living room flowed into the dining room which was a separate room with no doors so the sight line showed a contiguous flow.

This house IMO would not have had the same wow-factor furnished or staged. The sheer size of the room and the beauty of the floors were best displayed empty. We made certain that people HAD to enter from the front door, not the back door. Since we did not live there, the lock box was located on the front door forcing a good first impression.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2006 at 1:40PM
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We have just put in an offer on a vacant house. No furnishings at all, except for some basic vinyl window blinds. Didn't bother me - I was interested in the layout, the hardwood floors, the sizes of the rooms, etc.

I can visualize how furniture would fit in a room. Empty is much preferable to overstuffed and cluttered, in my opinion. Other people need to see sample furniture and decorating arrangements in order to get a feel for the place - it just depends on the buyer.

And houses like this one (one-story on a good lot) aren't sitting here for 6 months, so maybe the owner didn't feel a need to dress it up. Perhaps in your market a bit of sparkle might be needed. If you think your realtor is wrong, tell him! And ask for referrals to someone who can provide a bit of furnishings at a reasonable cost.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2006 at 3:22PM
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I definitely go with staging in an empty house. There are different staging companies. Go with an upscale company. I have a friend that had a 2,000 sq. foot home; and they only charged $2,500 per month. It sold rather quickly in 3 months.

Another person who had a 3,000 sq. foot home went cheap and hire a staging company to do it for $1,900 a month. It is still on the market and that after 10 months. He paied already over $19,000 for staging with no result ot show for it!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 4:48AM
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"and they only charged $2,500 per month. It sold rather quickly in 3 months."

I guess it depends on your market, but that seems neither cheap nor fast to me. What did the staging consist of?

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 9:38AM
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"and they only charged $2,500 per month. It sold rather quickly in 3 months."

I guess it depends on your market, but that seems neither cheap nor fast to me. What did the staging consist of?

Ditto. I'd want my money back if it cost that much and took that long to sell. Then again, my market is not a buyer's market.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 10:37PM
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