Home staging 'a must' for quick sale
Updated 4:38 pm, Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Competition to sell a house can be fierce across Fairfield County, forcing homeowners to go to great lengths to make their properties look as attractive as possible, including getting professional, unbiased advice.
It isn't easy for a real estate agent to tell clients they should sometimes invest several thousand dollars to hire a home stager to upgrade their property to make it more appealing to potential buyers.
But statistics have shown that investing in the appearance of a home can result in a quicker sale and often at a higher price than previously anticipated.
"If you don't fix a house up, it will be on the market for a longer time and you'll get a reduced price," said Debra Kandrak, a veteran real estate agent with the Westport office of Raveis Realty and a professional home stager. The average time a house spends on the market from listing to sale is 90 to 120 days, she said.
The owners of the last three properties she represented received a deposit within a week after they were put up for sale, Kandrak said, and they closed in about a month.
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She doesn't put the properties on the Multiple Listing Service until the upgrades are finished and does not charge homeowners a fee if she is representing their property.
Kandrak said that her real estate peers must be honest with their clients when representing their homes because of the time and potential monetary gain involved.
"I'm shocked about how homes are presented. Some Realtors say they are afraid to say something to the homeowner," said Kandrak.
Kandrak, who started Westport Home Renewal, a home-staging business, nearly two years ago, said a 28-year-old home she is representing in Easton required a number of changes, including replacement of Formica countertops with granite, bathroom improvements and new lighting -- at an estimated cost of $30,000.
Her business has a relationship with Durakote Finishing Systems in Shelton, and she often recommends that her clients work with Durakote. Payment is made directly to Durakote, not Kandrak, who does not share in Durakote's compensation.
"Easton was a real big project," said Kandrak, adding that landscaping improvements were made, the master bedroom carpet was replaced and much of the interior was painted white. "I tell people -- don't go with something trendy. Go with something neutral. I wanted a clean palette. It just screamed 1980s. Now it doesn't."
The 3,300-square-foot home with an in-ground pool on three acres is listed for $639,000 -- the market price for Easton -- but it would have been listed for less than $600,000 had the upgrades not been done, said Kandrak, who has a two-year certificate in interior design and has taken interior design courses at Norwalk Community College.
The cost of home staging can be only a few hundred dollars, using some of the furniture or accessories in a house, or it can be thousands of dollars.
But Bob Kuhl, owner of the house at 65 Hunting Ridge Road in Easton, realized that the work was necessary to attract potential buyers.
"The house needed a number of improvements that would bring it up to the current era and give potential buyers the `wow' effect when they came to view the house," said Kuhl, who has lived in it since 1985. "She (Kandrak) also mentioned that these improvements would reduce the time that the house would be on the market, which was an important factor. The house looks great, and potential buyers have made similar comments."
The house has been on the market about two weeks since the improvements were completed.
The fact that home sales across the country rose in August to the highest level since February 2007 should encourage Kuhl that his house, with Kandrak's improvements, will quickly attract a lot of attention.
Home sellers are realizing that they have to make their property as attractive as possible, and increasingly they are hiring stagers like Kandrak and Birgit Anich to make upgrades.
"It's becoming more and more a standard," said Anich, owner of Birgit Anich Staging & Interiors in Norwalk. "Barbara Corcoran (New York City real estate mogul) says staging is no longer an option -- it's a must. It's an investment. It's not an expense."
Good stagers know how to improve the appearance of a house to target the right audience of prospective buyers, said Anich, who has been a stager for four years.
"Staging is a marketing tool, not just making a space look pretty," she said.
Home sellers who spend 1 to 3 percent of the listing price for a house on staging can expect to garner 6 to 10 percent more on the sale price, according to Anich, who gets many of her clients through referrals from real estate agents.
"I think it's critically important to have a house staged. It should be done by someone who understands the sales process," said Cheryl Scott-Daniels, owner of CSD Select Homes in Westport and president of the Mid-Fairfield County Association of Realtors. "There's research that says that homes that are properly staged sell faster and at higher prices."
A 2012 study done by the Real Estate Staging Association revealed that 89 homes that were not staged sat on the market, on average, for 166 days before the homeowners gave up and called in a professional home stager. Those same homes were staged and received their first offer, on average, 32 days after being professionally staged, according to the national organization. Nine of these homes had multiple offers.
Though she is not a stager, Scott-Daniels has used classes she has taken in staging to advise clients based on the money they have available to make changes.
Any small, inexpensive improvements can help in making a house more attractive to potential buyers, she said, like painting, removing wall paper and replacing cabinet hardware.
"I advise them to hire a stager when a house needs a lot of help," she said.
Potential buyers typically want a house that's move-in ready and doesn't need many upgrades, said Betsy Pankulis, broker-owner of Best Realty in Danbury and president of the Northern Fairfield County Association of Realtors.
Many don't have the vision to look beyond the dated appearance of the house, she said, and don't appreciate its potential. Thus, a stager's touch might be required.
When a house shows well, it alleviates potential homebuyers' concerns that there might be hidden problems, Pankulis said.
It is difficult to put an exact number on how many home stagers there are in the United States, but Kathy Nielsen, executive vice president of the Real Estate Staging Association, said her group has about 900 members and it is growing.
Nielsen, owner of Georgia Interior Solutions in Atlanta, said her business is increasing.
"It's my busiest year ever. We're seeing a lot of investors," she said.
The National Association of Realtors has said that rising mortgage interest rates could dampen home sales in 2014 as the number of homes on the market decline.
The average rate on a 30-year mortgage around the nation is hovering around 4.6 percent.
An increase in mortgage interest rates will increase the demand for home staging services because home buyers will have less money to make improvements and will desire move-in ready homes, Anich said.
"It will be necessary for the seller to make upgrades so their homes will stand out," she said.