Setting the stage

CURB APPEAL, AFTER: Freshly cut grass, freshly planted flowers to give color, newly framed door and freshly painted door, mail box and light fixture.

Ask pretty much any real estate agent the No. 1 tip on getting your house ready to sell and you’ll get one word: declutter.

Sometimes that’s easier said than done when you have kids, pets and 10 years’ worth of “stuff.” But if you’re putting your house on the market and want it to sell fast, it has to be showplace ready.

“Once you decide to put the home on the market, it’s now a product for sale,” said Michelle Melton, real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in West Ashley.

That means cleaning up, rearranging furniture and removing knickknacks and personal items along with taking care of obvious maintenance issues that can make buyers wonder if the house is truly in the best condition.

Melton realizes this can be sensitive topic for sellers who are emotionally attached to their home, but it’s critical if they want to sell the home quickly and at top dollar.

The “2015 Profile of Home Staging” from the National Association of Realtors found 32 percent of buyers’ agents believe staged homes increases the dollar value buyers are willing to offer by 1 percent to 5 percent.

Right now Charleston is a sellers’ market with lots of buying interest and low inventory. That means, Melton said, putting a staged home with nice landscaping on the market will lead to multiple showings and, hopefully, multiple offers.

Whether it is curtains, carpeting or collections, everyone has different tastes and styles, but real estate agents and professional home stagers recommend neutral, open and clean.

The idea is to make the home as appealing to as many people as possible. Buyers should be able to envision themselves in the house without being distracted by your wedding photos or a hallway filled with photographs of the kids and grandkids.

Lorelie Brown is the owner of Showhomes, a professional home staging franchise with an office in Mount Pleasant. She stresses the importance of de-personalizing the house.

“Go ahead and detach yourself emotionally from the house,” she said. “Consider it sold and no longer yours. You have to get into that mindset. Put away grandma’s quilts and the photographs that make it a personal home. It really needs to be something that is very neutral and someone else can picture themselves living in.”

Terry Haas of River Landing Realty Group on Daniel Island suggests treating your home like a hotel. “Less is more,” she said.

Haas, a previous real estate expert on HGTV’s “Designed to Sell,” co-authored an e-book with colleague Julie Chalupsky on just this subject. “Make Every Buyer Want Your House” is a room-by-room guide to making your house irresistible to buyers.

An important first step outlined in the guide is to ensure the house has good curb appeal. Haas said buyers will form a first impression of the house in 7 to 10 seconds, likely before they ever even come inside.

Agents and stagers recommend cleaning up flower beds and even adding some colorful new plants. Mow and edge the grass, make sure the porch is clean and paint if needed. Repaint the front door and replace the hardware if it looks dated or worn.

“When they touch the front door, you want that first impression to be great,” Haas said.

At Showhomes, Brown works with real estate agents and homeowners all around the Charleston area to transform a space into a market-ready home. Sometimes that requires quite a bit of work and other times it’s just making some tweaks.

She encourages homeowners to address any maintenance items before the house goes on the market. That might include anything from household repairs to a fresh coat of paint in the living room or new carpeting.

“Go ahead and take care of any maintenance items that buyers are going to notice,” Brown said. “They are going to take more off the offer price than what it will cost you to do it yourself.”

Brown also recommends assessing the home’s traffic flow and arranging furniture around a focal point, such as the living room fireplace. Make sure people aren’t running into furniture and that hallways and entryways are clear. Homeowners may very well need to remove some furniture as part of the de-cluttering process.

Potential buyers are always looking for ways to reduce the offer price so the goal is to eliminate any complaints.

Brown said staged homes generally sell 45 percent faster than nonstaged homes, so it’s worth putting in the effort before the “for sale” sign goes in the yard.

“Your buyer is walking in within the first 30 days,” she said. “They may not buy (immediately) but the first 30 days are critical. If you wait, you’ve lost a potential buyer.”