SETTING THE STAGE
Seven Sins That Sink a Sale
By Marsha Canright | Photos courtesy of Shelley and Pratt Barndollar
Savvy home sellers know that seven deadly sins can undercut a home’s value and keep it on the market indefinitely. If you are selling your home, beware of the following pitfalls: lackluster listing photos, dirt and clutter, an unkempt exterior, poor lighting, personal items, maintenance issues, and brightly painted wall treatments.
One way to avoid these hurdles is to enlist the help of a staging professional. In a 2018 survey by the National Association of Realtors, 62 percent of agents reported that staged homes spent less time on the market and about half said staged homes drew a higher selling price.
“There’s a misconception that staging means arranging nice furniture and a few accessories to make your home look desirable. That’s part of it, but there’s a lot more to the overall process,” says Pratt Barndollar, a local home staging expert. “Staging is everything you do to sell your house.”
Over the past four years, Barndollar and his wife Shelley have prepped hundreds of local homes for sale via their custom staging company, Showhomes Houston. They still take delight in scoring a quick sale.
While their focus is on luxury homes, the Barndollars do consult with a variety of customers and price points. Recently they staged a vacant home that had been on the market for almost a year. “The house felt cold; it was starting to get a little dirty. It took a day or two to assess the problems and get it properly cleaned and staged but it was fun to bring that house back to life. It went from no activity to ten showings the next week,” says Pratt.
The Barndollars have their own inventory of furnishings and accessories. This gives Shelley, who is a certified interior designer and home stager, all the tools she needs to dress a house. “We stay with creams and grays and white and we add color with pillows, rugs and accessories. Also, we try not to be specific on furniture: By keeping it more open and generic, it appeals to the greatest number of buyers,” she says.
RIGHTING THOSE WRONGS
1. Real estate photos need to be absolutely stunning to get potential buyers into your home. Most buyers who are browsing online will look at the first three to five photos and that’s as far as they go, unless the photos are outstanding and focus on the home’s best features.
“Today’s buyers look at 11 listings before they pick a house to visit,” Shelley says. Photos are the first step in putting your best foot forward.
2. Declutter by packing up half of your possessions, including extra lamps and tables, and send them to storage. This makes it possible for buyers to see the bones of the house and all of its best features. Tidy the closets.
“Last year we staged a home that was owned by a prominent Houston family that were big game hunters,” Shelley says. The residence had a dedicated addition to show their collection of big game trophies, including a giant elephant head. “When we went in to help them, these trophies were literally the elephant in the room,” she says.
The sellers knew they had to get rid of the taxidermy and focus on the nice, airy space, which they did. However, the elephant was too large to move so the Barndollars worked with lighting to draw the focus away from the animal. The final makeover is one of their favorite projects.
3. House colors should be in a neutral tone like cream or gray or white. You can accessorize with color, just not red. “Red is a love or hate color and if your eye is drawn to the color, you don’t see other aspects of the home,” warns Shelley.
Painting a room is relatively inexpensive and it improves the feel of a home. “We worked on a beautiful townhome in Southside that had been on the market three times longer than expected,” says Pratt. “The first two rooms had very bold, distinctive colors, which was limiting the buyers’ pool. Once the rooms were painted a neutral cream color, the house sold quickly.”
Neutralizing includes taking down all the family photos, diplomas or awards. Anything that is specific in terms of cultural, political or religious views should also be removed.
4. Update and repair all the systems including electrical, HVAC and plumbing. If a cupboard is missing a knob, fix it. If a door sticks or a window frame is chipped, a buyer will notice. Your bathrooms and kitchen should be updated, even if that only involves paint and new fixtures. Try to eliminate any item that a buyer could negotiate on. You want to take all that off the table. Buyers will always overestimate the costs of needed repairs and updates.
5. If you cannot keep the home squeaky clean, have professional cleaners come in every couple of weeks. Most potential buyers equate a dirty home with poor maintenance. They see a dirty air vent and think, “Am I going to have to worry about mold in this house or what else has not been done?”
6. Make sure your rooms are well lit and have the same tone of lighting. Check to be sure that all light bulbs are working. Also, take down heavy drapes and get those windows clean. Shutters and blinds are fine, but nothing heavy; you want as much natural light as possible. It’s important to update lighting fixtures, especially in the dining room and kitchen. Old fixtures will date the home and make it seem like grandma’s house.
7. Curb appeal is important. Plant flowers and trim trees and shrubs. A patio and pool may be one of your home’s best features, so make sure these are cleaned, power washed, and free of clutter. If your fence is old and shabby, replace it before you put the house on the market.
STAGING A VACANT HOUSE
Vacant house staging requires more time because more needs to be done. Some home staging businesses offer packages but Showhomes Central Houston only does custom work specific to the property, says Pratt Barndollar. “If a home is vacant, it’s hard for most buyers to visualize how the space will work for them. That’s why vacant staging is so important.”
In a higher end home that’s empty, viewers will stay ten to 15 minutes. However, if it’s staged, they spend closer to 40 minutes. The longer someone is looking at the house, the better, he says.
The Barndollars do professional consultations and makeovers but they also offer a home manager service for people who have already moved from their home and are living outside the city or state. “Having someone live in the home to make sure it’s secure and clean and always available to show is great for homeowners who don’t live in town,” says Shelley Barndollar. “The home manager also pays the utilities. It’s a good option for those who need an onsite caretaker.”
When selecting a home staging consultant, do your homework: Review the portfolio, verify recommendations from previous customers, check certifications, and make sure they are insured for workers compensation so you won’t be on the hook if someone falls down the stairs.
“There’s a lot that goes into staging so your contract should be more than one page. If you are working with someone who is qualified, it will probably cost a bit more, but a lesser price may correlate to lesser quality,” adds Shelley.