RESA 2016 Top 10 Home Staging Team of the Year

Ditch the Old (and Other Sales Tips)

CECELIA POLANSKI'S three-bedroom ranch in Valley Stream was brand new when she and her husband, Rudolph, now deceased, moved into it 64 years ago. Over the decades, they never did any major updates. Now Mrs. Polanski, 90, is moving to an assisted-living facility. Before her four children list the house in the high $300,000s, it is getting an overhaul.

"It is aged out," said Dominick Mupo, executive sales associate for the Huntington-based Chelsea Home Remodeling, which is sprucing up the place for sale with about $45,000 in improvements, including a new kitchen, electrical upgrades, a new back door and a playroom in the basement. "If you fix it up, you have a fair chance of selling it. If you don't do it, it is not going to move."

Fixing up and staging homes is garnering a new urgency in the Island's dismal real estate market. With a glut of homes for sale, buyers often brush past those in poor repair or not picture-perfect. Sellers therefore declutter, neutralize, organize and beautify, starting curbside with freshly painted front doors, shiny light fixtures and trimmed hedges, trying to help their homes stand out and appeal to buyers.

According to studies done in 2007 and 2008 and released last month by the Real Estate Staging Association, a trade group, staging in a down market has a significant effect on the speed of sales. In the 2008 study, which looked at 60 properties, occupied homes that sat on the market unstaged an average of 57 days were then taken off the market, gussied up and relisted. On average, six days later, they sold - the difference amounting to 89 percent less time on the market. Of the 100 analyzed properties in 2007, when real estate was still selling briskly, it took a staged home 44 days to sell, versus 106 days for an unstaged home - or 46.6 percent less time.

Last October, just as the market was steeply declining, Charles O'Donnell listed his three-bedroom Farmingdale house with Loraine Burke, a salesperson with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Babylon. Mr. O'Donnell, a contractor who is going through a divorce, was afraid he was going to get stuck with the house, given the state of the economy.

At Ms. Burke's urging, he moved furniture out of crowded rooms and stowed it in the garage. "We had room for six in our dining room but only left four chairs," to make it look larger, he said.

He also replaced a cracked concrete patio with bluestone; painted the living room, dining room and hallway; steam-cleaned the carpets; and replaced missing moldings.

When potential buyers showed up, loose mail was hidden in a drawer and the toaster oven put away. A flower arrangement dressed up the dining table and Ms. Burke made sure the window treatments were open and light was streaming in.

"We were able to get an offer within three weeks," Mr. O'Donnell said. (The asking price was $429,000, though he declined to reveal the final price because the deal has not yet closed.) "We didn't even have a sign on our front lawn." He added, "It happened so fast I was very happy."

We Set the Stage for Your Successful Sale!

There isn't much you can do by way of landscaping during the winter months, but these tips from Northport home stager Val Allocco might make your house more inviting:

  • Keep the sidewalk shoveled.
  • Make sure the walkways are never icy.
  • Put a welcoming wreath on the front door.
  • For a manicured look, buy two inexpensive, small evergreen trees and place them in planters on either side of the front door.

Some sellers are employing still other measures to hedge their bets. Marc Crosier, manager of Richlin Real Estate in Selden, said that with money tight, they are not anteing up to augment curb appeal, but rather, "increasing commissions and offering selling bonuses to entice their property to be shown over other properties."

Another tactic is the pre-inspection. Buyers traditionally have homes inspected by an expert before they go forward with a purchase, but Matt Kaplan, an owner of Housemaster Home Inspections, a Commack-based franchise, has noted a slight increase in the number of sellers scheduling pre-inspections before listing their homes ? to increase buyers' comfort level.

"When it's pre-inspected," Mr. Kaplan said, "negotiation time should go down." He charges $450 to $650 to check out a 3,000-square-foot single-family residence. A good report card distinguishes a home - and if it isn't so good, he added, dry vents can be fixed, mold eliminated and antiquated heating systems updated before potential buyers show up. Or, if the sellers would rather not take on such repairs, they can lower their asking price commensurately.

During a recent consultation in Dix Hills, Val Allocco, a home stager and owner of the Northport-based Staged 2 Sell NY, advised the homeowners to pull out the burgundy carpet and a matching entertainment unit in their living room. They spent $2,500 on neutral sofas and tables on Craigslist.

"It is not interior designing for personal taste but designing to get that house to sell," added Ms. Allocco, president of the metropolitan chapter of the American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners. "It's property styling; it's real estate styling."

Of course, the first order of business, said Stephanie Healy Cullum, a certified stager and an associate broker and manager of Coach Realtors in Garden City, is for sellers to price their homes "at the market."

But then keep in mind that "you are staging this for someone else to live in ? not for you to live in anymore." This means removing clutter and stowing family photographs to neutralize the home. "It can't have too much personality," was Ms. Cullum's general caveat.

On a similar theme, Barbara Brock, president of the state and metropolitan chapter of the Real Estate Staging Association and owner of A Proper Place, a Manhattan staging company, said art on the walls should be minimal, because "the less the eye sees, the more a buyer remembers."

According to Jeanne Hulse, a stager and agent with Century 21 Bay's Edge in Sayville, staging consultations run $200 to $250, and homeowners generally spend $2,000 to $3,000 above that to stage their homes. "It's a lot less expensive to stage than the first price reduction of the home," Ms. Hulse said.

Rob Scarito, an associate broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman in Smithtown, is encouraging sellers to do all of the above: pre-inspect; toss a beat-up couch or "30 years of National Geographic"; give the home a face-lift, not just lipstick.

"In today's market," he concluded, "it's the houses where there is a noticeable difference that are getting sold. You want to be the shiny penny in the jar."