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June 18, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, June 18, 2004

Staging an empty home Staging an empty home (June 18, 2004)

It's easier to sell a house that looks lived in

By Kit Davey

Sometimes homeowners can't avoid placing their vacant home on the market -- they have a sudden job transfer, or they've already bought another home. Most real estate agents agree that selling an empty home is much more difficult than selling one fully furnished.

But if you must leave your home vacant, take the edge off that hollow, lonely feeling and create a few eye-pleasing distractions to help the potential homebuyer feel more at ease. Do what's called "staging" -- setting the scene -- so that you have a greater chance of selling your home more quickly at a higher asking price.

Curb appeal and yard maintenance

Most potential homeowners will not stop to look at a home with a foot-tall front lawn, a leaf-strewn front porch and a walkway blocked by tree branches.

Make sure, before you move out, that the exterior of the home has "curb appeal" and appears well-tended. This involves making sure that the house's paint is in neutral colors and is in good condition. The front door should be cleaned or painted with a new welcome mat at its feet.

The yard must appear manicured: Trim overgrown bushes and trees, edge and fertilize the lawn, fix the fence and gate, add "beauty bark" and lots of blooming flowers. Don't expect your real estate agent to water your plants and mow your lawn after you move out.

If you live too far away to maintain the yard yourself, hire a gardener to visit the property weekly until the home is sold.

For a welcoming touch, leave a dried-flower wreath on the door and if space allows, a wooden garden bench on the front porch.

Once inside...

Once potential homeowners step inside, it is essential that they be greeted with a spotless, ready-to-move-into home, offering a neutral canvas for their furnishings and decor. This is especially important in a vacant home, as there is nothing for the potential homeowner to focus on besides the blank walls and floors. Outdated finishes, nail holes, cobwebs and cracks will be obvious to the observant buyer.

Completely clean, or freshly painted walls in a light khaki or tan, and spotlessly clean or brand-new carpeting in a light, warm neutral are a must.

Hardwood floors must be in excellent condition and dust-mopped weekly while the house is on the market. Any floor tile should be in a light neutral, with no cracks and with healthy grout lines.

To add emotional warmth and help the potential homeowner "see" him/herself in your home it is important to imply that your vacant home is occupied and well-loved.

In the kitchen, leave out or two or three items from the following list:

* a silk Boston fern on top of the fridge

* a teakettle on the burner of the cooktop

* a silk plant on the windowsill

On the countertop:

* a basket of French bread wrapped in a brightly colored new dish towel (the bread will not mildew and will last forever!)

* a tray with a teapot, two matching tea cups, a folded Wall Street Journal and a vase with a silk flower in it.

* a plate, vase or porcelain coffeepot.

If you plan on staging the entire house, furnish the eat-in kitchen with a small, round table covered with an attractive table cloth that flows to the floor and add two chairs. Place a silk plant in the middle of the table.

In the bath try several of these suggestions:

* Place a silk plant on the tank.

* Remove outdated window coverings and replace with a simple valance.

* Cluster sweet-smelling soaps in a basket or bowl.

* Mound potpourri in a dish.

* Hang mountains of fresh towels that match the room's color scheme.

* Do not display any personal hygiene items, cleaning implements, trash can, tissue paper, area rugs or toilet-seat warmers.

* Remove or replace the shower curtain.

The living room

If your home is a high-end property located in a highly desirable neighborhood, you'll create more impact by staging the living and dining rooms of your home. In other properties you can get by without doing this, but you'll increase your chances of attracting a buyer if you do. Let your time schedule, your pocketbook and your intuition be your guide on this one.

You can create vignettes in these rooms using your own furniture or by renting. If you decide to use your own, the furnishings must be in style and in excellent condition. Ask yourself if you can live without these pieces until the house sells.

In the living room, you will want to suggest a comfortable seating area that helps the potential homeowner feel at home. Do this with as few pieces of furniture and accessories as possible. The arrangement and number of pieces will depend on the size and shape of the room, but keep these guidelines in mind:

* Upholstered pieces should be in coordinating fabrics.

* Color-coordinated pillows must be clean.

* End tables and coffee tables may match, but don't have to.

* Table lamps should match, or at least be of the same height.

* Hang one to three pieces of art that coordinates with the room's other furnishings.

* No clutter -- leave three to five large-scale accessories out on the coffee table (don't bother with the end tables), such as a blooming orchid, coffee-table book, candlesticks, bowl or vase.

* Use a few silk plants (with no flowers).

* Clean out the fireplace and lay a few logs in it.

Other areas of the house

If you have a large back yard or patio, add warmth by leaving out a table (with matching umbrella, if you have one) and four chairs -- but only if they're fresh looking. A smaller yard looks inviting with a pair of matching chairs and a small end table between them.

Most realtors agree that bedrooms, utility rooms, garages and hallways need no special staging. Save your energy for the kitchen, bathrooms and living room!

Taking the time and spending some money to stage your vacant home is a worthwhile investment. Thoughtfully choosing what to leave behind as you pack, and perhaps even renting a few pieces of furniture could mean the difference between a quick sale of your home, versus a lingering stay on the market.

Kit Davey, allied member, ASID, is a Redwood City-based interior designer who redecorates by rearranging what you already have. You can call her at 367-7370, e-mail her at [email protected], or visit her Web site at

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