Home stagers reveal their secrets for a speedy sale

What to pack away, scrub and paint before you put up the ‘For Sale’ sign.

What to pack away, scrub and paint before you put up the ‘For Sale’ sign

(Staging: Avryll McNair; Photography: Birdhouse Media)

Ah, spring… the time of year when a person's fancy turns to real estate. If you find the fresh, invigorating weather inspiring and you're considering selling your home, your timing is excellent. Studies show that the month of May historically boasts the highest number of sales for most areas in Canada and for those in the Greater Toronto Area specifically, homes sold in May, went for the highest price as well.

There are a variety of reasons why spring is a traditional time to buy and sell. The snow has melted so the moving process is less arduous, buyers may be itching to spend their hefty tax refund, kids are almost done school so their studies aren't affected, yards and gardens are invitingly green and lush, and lenders usually offer incentives at this time of year.

If you're selling, there are a few tasks to take care of before you put the 'For Sale' sign on the lawn. You need to find an agent with creative selling ideas who knows the area, research the neighbourhood and decide on the best selling price, and finally, get your home ready for viewing or 'stage' it in hopes of getting a speedy sale and the best price.

Staging may involve doing renos and landscaping, purging, organizing, rearranging furniture and definitely involves a lot of cleaning. If staging seems daunting, and if you can afford it, hiring a professional home stager can decrease the amount of time your home sits on the market and increase its value. For those who can't afford a home stager (and aren't afraid of a little hard work), this Q&A with Avryll McNair, a home stager and realtor, Katie Taylor, a stager and coordinator at Andrew Pike Interiors and stager and decorator Becky Freeman, will help you determine where to invest your energy.

Why do I need to 'stage' my home?

"Staging removes distractions so potential buyers can see the features, details and potential of a space — windows, fireplace etc. Staging also shows off the scale of a room by demonstrating functional furniture layouts. When a space is depersonalized, potential buyers can imagine themselves living in the space instead of feeling like a guest in someone else's home." - Avryll

"The main goal when staging is first to create incredible listing photos that grab the attention of the potential buyer. The secondary goal is to keep that momentum going by creating a space that is true to the photos and presents a bright, clean canvas where the buyer can imagine making the space their own." - Katie

"First and foremost is emotion. It's that four second opportunity when a potential buyer walks through the front door that I try to capitalize on. My goal in every property styling is to create a space that tells a story of the person who lives there — so the buyer walks in and thinks, "Man, whoever lives here has a killer vibe and I want to be like that person.'" - Becky

(Staging: Becky Freeman; Photography: @SilverHouseHD)

What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when selling their home?

"Hands down the worst mistake is using plug-in air fresheners. Overpowering, chemically-scented products for the home can give buyers headaches and nausea. Strong scents also make buyers and realtors suspicious that something is being covered up." - Avryll

"Some agents are guilty of cutting corners by either not hiring a professional photographer or not using the best photographer for the job which may result in grainy photos, poor lighting or awkwardly-angled shots. If a seller is paying an agent to represent their home, one of the largest investments of their lives, high quality photos should be a given." - Katie

"Not spending the capital to prepare the property before listing. For example, some good investments include, repainting the interior walls and ceilings (sometimes exterior details such as the front door as well), updating lighting fixtures and switching halogen bulbs to LED, and storing unnecessary furniture off-site in temporary storage. Unless the market is in a recession, investing in small fixes where necessary always wins. The results are shorter listing periods, healthier offers and often more offers as well. The goal of home staging is simply to remove any negotiating or limiting factor a buyer may find when reviewing the pros and cons of a property. Bottom line, don't give a buyer a reason to negotiate their offer." - Becky

(Staging: Becky Freeman; Photography: @SilverHouseHD)

What are the top five things you do when staging that everyone should do?

"I pack up and move personal, off season and unnecessary items from around the home (buyers are not typical house guests, they are opening cupboards and closets so there's no hiding your stuff). I also thoroughly clean (including windows!) and organize inside and out — the refrigerator, behind the stove, light fixtures, inside kitchen cabinets etc. Adding lights to dark rooms will make your home feel more cheerful and you want to neutralize the decor and freshen the air as well. So, add a fresh coat of paint, particularly in high traffic areas and put away any decor that is dramatic or really personal. Finally, in a competitive market, if the furniture is say, too large or too small for the space, I replace it with furniture and accessories that are more appropriate in scale and complement the home's character." - Avryll

"I add a fresh coat of paint when possible, purge and declutter, replace some of the existing furniture and art pieces with items that compliment the space, layer bedding and sofas with pillows and textiles, and add finishing touches like fresh flowers and plants." - Katie

"I clear out unnecessary items, paint the walls white, change light fixtures, as well as update outdated hardware and electrical." - Becky

(Staging: Avryll McNair; Photography: Will Doyle)

How important is curb appeal?

"First impressions are always important. The exterior of a home doesn't need to be stunning, but it should be well lit, clean and tidy without needing any obvious repairs. A clean and freshly-painted front door, with some vibrant greenery or flowers on the porch is a nice touch." - Avryll

"First impressions are everything. Subtle landscaping, fresh flowers on the porch and small, outdoor furniture pieces tell the buyer that you're serious and may encourage people in the neighbourhood to either pop in to the open house, or look the property up online to learn more." - Katie

"Curb appeal is just as important as the interior though it may not translate in the same way as brand name appliances do. A well-manicured yard and front entrance sets the overall tone for the buyer and signals to them that your home is a well-cared-for property with integrity." - Becky

How important is smell?

"This may surprise some people but smell can make or break a buyer's decision. Smoke, pet odour, cooking smells, body odour and overpowering scented products can all trigger a negative reaction and give buyers an immediate negative reaction. On multiple occasions I've had buyers turn around and leave a house immediately, without even looking around, simply because of smell." - Avryll

"Smell is shockingly important. A great smelling home improves the overall feeling a potential buyer gets as they tour the property. The cliché about baked goods is true — baking a batch of cookies before an open house is not a bad idea." - Katie

"Fragrance is incredibly important. Any hint of mildew, pets or vermin are a cue to immediate warning signs in a buyer's opinion. Plain and simple." - Becky

What should I be sure to clean?

"Light fixtures, light switches, the walls along the staircase, the doors and door frames where pets rub, beside the stove, inside cabinets and closets." - Avryll

"Streaky mirrors, dusty surfaces and those dirty dishes! Believe it or not, dishes in the sink are shocking items that can get left behind and are very noticeable to potential buyers coming though and stick out like a sore thumb in listing photos as well." - Katie

"Windows are most often overlooked. It's best to hire a professional window cleaning company to do the job right, inside and out. Would you sell a car without taking it through the carwash and having it detailed?" - Becky

(Staging: Becky Freeman; Photography: @SilverHouseHD)

How much should someone expect to pay for a stager?

"Lots of staging tasks can be managed by the homeowner. Typically a stager will provide a detailed consult or check list and homeowners who are able and willing to tackle the work can save money by doing the prep themselves. Staging can get expensive if you want someone to project manage the preparations and you are renting a house full of furniture, but when comparing staging companies often you get what you pay for. I provide 'full service real estate' and staging is one component of my overall offering to clients. On a case-by-case basis depending on the scope of the job, the staging elements are quoted and can be incorporated into the real estate commission fee structure." - Avryll

"The price of staging varies and doesn't always reflect the size of the property. It is based on how much work is required and the amount of furniture, artwork and decor pieces that need to be brought into the space. A well-decorated home is typically more cost effective to stage whereas a dated property or vacant space requires quite a few more rental pieces. I sit down with the agent and seller and help them set a budget and tweak the design concept based on what they can afford." - Katie

"There are two levels of fee structures when I prepare an estimate for my services. If a property is vacant my fee is higher because I am bringing in more inventory to fill a vacant space. If the property is occupied, it most likely means that I will be using some of the owner's own furnishings, beds, etc. thus reducing the cost of rentals they need to borrow from my inventory. A good ballpark is to estimate around $500 per principle room (bedrooms, living rooms, dining, basement) if a property is occupied, whereas a vacant property can cost twice that. Kitchens and bathrooms are not calculated as they are rolled into the total flat per-room fee." - Becky

What is the single best piece of advice you would give any Canadian about to sell their home this spring?

"Decide on a realtor early in the process and take advantage of their expertise and resources. I often meet clients who spend months preparing a home for sale and sometimes they focus on finishing projects on their personal wish list when these items are not relevant to a buyer. You are not obligated to sell a perfect house and a realtor will help prioritise where to spend time and energy that will give you the best return." - Avryll

"Do your research and find the best agent and staging team possible. A knowledgeable team can guide you through the listing process, eliminate as much stress as possible and sell your home efficiently for the best price." - Katie

"Ask friends and family for a referral to a realtor who specializes in your area as every agent's market knowledge is specific to their chosen region/neighbourhood. Then research together with your realtor what comparable properties are selling for in your neighbourhood in order to understand what your property needs to make it stand out above the rest." - Becky

These interviews have been edited and condensed. 

Portia Corman is the executive producer of CBC Life.