As a writer and editor who has covered real estate for the better part of a decade, I can assure you I was ready for my house to be ripped apart by my home stager. Though this is my first rodeo at actually selling a house, I've written about this scenario many times before: Seller wants to list the house, and a stager comes in and tells you to remove every personal thing in there. This means no photos, no political paraphernalia, and anything generally unusual or offensive needs to be put away. In other words, it's your stager's responsibility to take you out of the house.
The whole idea behind this, of course, is so a buyer can walk in and visualize themselves watching hours of murder mysteries on the couch (or, you know, whatever other educational programming one may want to watch) and generally envision their whole life in the house. This is more difficult to do if you have an oversized leopard throne in the center of your living room, bright lime green walls, and/or piles of clutter everywhere.
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This is not just guesswork. Staged homes, on average, sell 88 percent faster and for 20 percent more than unstaged homes, according to the National Association of REALTORS. And as much as I love the eclectic way I've decorated my home over the past five years, the plan was to listen to whatever she suggested.
So, imagine my surprise when my home stager — Jody Lovitt — toured the house and told me it was okay to leave my office a deep, gothic shade of Tricorn Black. I just assumed she would have me paint it a soft sage-y green to match the other bedrooms in my house for fear of it being too intense for most buyers. But thanks to the amount of light in the room from the west-facing window and some colorful art, it will work just fine. If, however, the room had felt cave-like, it's likely she would have made me change it.
Another surprising thing? She told me it was okay to keep a renaissance-inspired portrait of my dog up in the living room (why yes, you can get that on Etsy).
"I think every house needs something a little quirky throughout," she told me.
In fact, a big mistake many make before selling their homes is taking out too much of its personality. "If you're going to have a home stager, wait until they get there to decide what to take out. Sometimes [homeowners] take down too much. They'll take down all the artwork and then I have nothing to work with," she tells me.
Of course, there were things I needed to take down and/or rearrange to appeal to the masses — like my Ruth Bader Ginsburg embroidery, my husband's gigantic pile of books on his side of the room, and my daughter's plastic ocean of Peppa Pig toys scattered on the floor. But most of my staging appointment consisted of helpful suggestions like moving plants to fill empty spaces in rooms and centering lamps and tchotchkes on tables and shelving. Above all, it was just about making it feel home-y, and not just my home.
Another crucial staging tip Lovitt shared with me? Don't leave your house empty.
"People think you're desperate when it's vacant," she says. "Statistically a house that is unstaged, buyers spend six minutes in, but a staged house, they spend 40 minutes in."
When a buyer walks into a house that's empty, they see all the things that need to be fixed, and they are actively subtracting from the price thinking about things they need to do.
"When you stage the house with furniture with the help of a stager, it creates the emotional connection to the house. They automatically pay more faster because they don't want to lose out on the house. Essentially, it creates a sense of urgency," Lovitt says.
And at a time when the market is shifting toward buyers, urgency is exactly what I need for this sale.