Staging and showing for success
By Karen Wehrstein
Before we look at staging your property and showing it – the final steps in offering a property for sale – let’s review the previous steps leading up to this point, which were covered in the last two issues of Cottage Home & Property Showcase.
First, choose a real estate agent who has a good reputation with proven results. It’s also advisable to talk to more than one agent, to see who will market your home or cottage best.
“I always approach a listing appointment with the understanding or belief that I am in competition,” says Ellen Wiley, broker of record at Coldwell Banker Wiley Real Estate in Dorset. “This way, it keeps me sharp, making no assumptions and assuring that I explain everything and not leave any leaf unturned.”
She strongly recommends using an agent who is familiar with the area where you are selling.
“Someone who does not work in your area will most likely not have the same information available to them. Always choose agents who are local to your area,” Wiley says.
It’s also essential to make sure the agent does their homework when setting an asking price.
“I don’t tell the seller what they want to hear, but rather take great care in making sure that I have carefully considered other recent sales which are comparable to the subject property and then do a proper comparative market analysis to determine what value is indicated by these recent sales,” says Wiley.
But, be careful not to ask too much because getting greedy can backfire.
“If it is priced too high when it first hits the market,” she cautions, “it will not sell, will most likely need to have a price reduction, and then by that time, the excitement on behalf of potential buyers has been lost and you chance receiving less for your property than if it were priced properly in the first place.”
Setting a price that isn’t too high means being realistic about the worth of what you have.
Things that add value, depending on the size of your overall package, include having a minimum of three bedrooms, screened Muskoka rooms, second bathrooms, boathouses, ample docking for multiple boats, frontages large enough to provide a degree of privacy from neighbours and exposure (ie: west, south, northwest). According to Wiley, year-round water, full septic systems and basements are also components most buyers look for in order to maximize their use.
A property without these things, she says, can “cause a potential buyer to either move on to something else, or consider how much it will cost them to change it, and therefore they will offer less money.”
After choosing an agent and setting a price, the next step is staging and actually showing the home or cottage to potential buyers.
Leslie Henderson, a sales representative with Century 21 in Dorset, estimates that when it comes time to sell and show the home, about 80 per cent of houses require more tidying than the homeowners usually perform. More than just making the home neat and clean, getting it ready for a showing requires simplifying the space.
“People think they’ve de-cluttered when they haven’t,” she says. “They’re personally attached to their stuff, and they think everybody will love it. But people want to be able to walk into a room and picture their own things there. It’s more difficult to do that if they’re inundated with knick-knacks and extra furniture; besides, it’s a lot more difficult to keep things clean when there are a lot of knick-knacks."
Even your storage areas should be relatively, if not entirely, empty, says Henderson. That lets the buyers see how big they are.
“It’s not good enough to pile boxes in the basement,” she adds.
“Generally speaking, a mess gives the wrong impression. That first impression, walking into a place, is so important,” says Gord Henderson, also a sales representative at Century 21 in Dorset.
“I suggest to people living in the house it has to look a little lived in, but there shouldn’t be dirty dishes lying around,” he says. “It should be in order. It’s best if it looks like it’s comfortable, which means it doesn’t have the appearance of being overwhelmed with clutter.”
In other words, think of potential buyers as guests you are trying to impress.
“To me it looks like how it would look if you were going to have visitors,” Henderson says.
Those who find de-cluttering to be a particular challenge should hire an expert to help with the task. That’s where people like Julie Hammond come in.
After the real estate agent she worked for saw her potential as an organizer, she launched My Organizer full-time in May of 2005.
“I started out by helping them with messy closets, messy garages, or that one room that people throw everything into,” Hammond says. “Everyone’s got one.”
As a complement to her organization abilities, Hammond took a home staging course and now offers organization and staging services to sellers.
“I come in before it’s listed to make it more appealing to a broader range of buyers,” explains Hammond.
Armed with a 50-odd page checklist, she inspects the house or cottage and then offers ideas for design, floor plans, colours and, of course, de-cluttering.
“They live there, so they don’t notice some of the little things,” says Hammond. She quotes Albert Einstein on the benefits of a different perspective: “One cannot alter a condition with the same mindset that created it in the first place.”
One of the most challenging aspect of staging, she says, is helping people emotionally detach from the home and remove personal affects.
“A lot of people have a hard time, with things that are theirs,” she notes. “They’ll say, ‘They’re buying the house, not my belongings.’ They’re very upset that people can’t look through that and envision their stuff there. But when people walk into a home, you want them to feel like they’ve walked into their own home . . . they feel at home, they’re comfortable.”
While presenting a good impression of the interior of the home is crucial when selling, the exterior of the home and the surrounding property is equally important and must not be forgotten.
Crucial to selling a house or cottage is curb appeal – whether the place is “pleasing to look at when people drive up,” says Leslie Henderson, “and stands out in terms of appearance to the other houses on the street.”
Some people, like Adam Wallace, a broker at Richard Wallace Real Estate in Port Carling, think beautifying the land might in fact be more important than the house itself.
“I feel the land is the most important aspect for most of my clients. I always say, ‘You can change the cottage, but the land will always be the same,’” says Wallace. “When a potential buyer steps onto the land you want them to feel comfortable and not have them immediately think of major changes that have to occur.”
So, everything is set, the property is listed, and now it’s time for showing. What’s the best thing for you to do while your agent gives prospective buyers the tour of your beloved place?
“Leave or make yourself scarce and let them do the job you’ve hired them to do,” advises says Sandy Tyers, a real estate broker with Royal LePage in Huntsville.
Hanging around the house could lead to a botched showing.
“It becomes a little awkward to let the buyers freewheel while the seller is there,” agrees Gord Henderson. “They might not like the colours or design. The seller could get off on a tangent about how I built that rec-room, or how do you like that fish-tank, or even some obscure comment that could put it right off the rails.”
If you can’t slip out for some reason, disappear into one room rather than accompanying the agent and the prospective buyer. When interacting with a buyer, advises Leslie Henderson, “don’t offer information that isn’t asked of you. You might send them in a direction they hadn’t thought of going or didn’t want to go.”
Most showings will happen within 10 days of the listing becoming active, so don’t drag your feet when it comes to preparing for showings.
“The salesperson should discuss the showing procedure with you and ask for your input. The amount of notice given will depend on the requests of the seller and we do our best not to inconvenience the seller, but accommodate the buyer also,” says Tyers.
“Showings in cottage country can be immediate if the buyer is just up visiting a friend for the day and sees the For Sale sign,” Tyers says. “So, the answer is, be prepared!”
Appointments for most residential showings are made a day or two in advance; the agent will phone or leave a message on your answering machine saying who is requesting a showing and when. They should also give the seller a checklist of things to do before a showing.
“Open drapes and/or leave lights on), turn on low, soft music or none at all, gas fireplace going (in season) and make sure the toilet lids are down,” Tyers says, explaining the atmosphere should be quiet and comfortable.
A last minute check of the property can’t hurt either.
“It’s a good idea before any showing to do a quick scan over the outdoors to make sure everything is in place. An owner wants to make their land look lived on but not cluttered by children’s water-toys, rakes or unorganized outdoor furniture,” Wallace advises.
Follow these guidelines to maximize your property’s attractiveness, and make sure everything goes well while prospective buyers are experiencing it, and you’ll maximize the attractiveness of the offers you get.