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How... to Stage your Home to Sell

Featured in the Courier-Post

by Kim Mulford

When Adrienne Iannuzzi looked around her four-bedroom, 2½-bath home, she knew she needed help to prepare it for sale.

"We've been married for almost 30 years, and in our house for 20 (years) with four kids," the Cinnaminson resident said. "You do accumulate a lot of stuff. It was so overwhelming."

So, a few months before putting it on the market, she hired a professional organizer and home stager. Nancy Underwood, owner of Organized for Life LLC., assessed Iannuzzi's oatmeal and burgundy walls, crammed closets and furniture arrangement with a critical eye before wading into the fray.

"It was a beautiful home, but it was hidden under outdated (decor)," said Underwood. "There was a border paper in the living room. You can't have that anymore."

With Underwood's help and a well-priced listing, the homeowners accepted an offer just 10 days after putting it on the market. Their settlement date is in a few weeks.

Historically low interest rates and a warming real estate market mean more people will be preparing their homes for sale. That means more competition. Real estate agents are the busiest they've been in five years, said Rosanne Gentile, a broker at Weichert Realtors in Moorestown who handled Iannuzzi's sale.

Back in 2004, "if it had a door, it would sell," said Gentile, who has been selling homes for 23 years.

But the market has changed since then. Once, brokers posted a single exterior photo of a home online. Now, it's more common to post 25 photos, since buyers are shopping online before coming to see a house in person.

"The homes that are in good condition are selling," Gentile added. "The ones that need a lot of repairs are not selling. They are sitting and just collecting dates on the market."

To show your home off to its best advantage, Underwood and Gentile suggest the following tips:

• Get unbiased, professional advice to judge your home's appearance. Start with a real estate agent, who can walk through your home and offer some advice on making obvious repairs.

A home stager can offer specific suggestions on how to improve your home's looks, from fresh, modern paint colors on the walls to bright annuals in the front yard.

Staging prepares a house for the market, said Underwood, "but it's really creating moods when you walk into a room," especially a sense of warmth and belonging.

Potential buyers can form an opinion within 15 to 18 seconds of walking in the door, Underwood said, so it's critical to make a good first impression.

• Once the experts weigh in, follow that advice. If a stager or real estate agent suggests you remove that ugly, overgrown houseplant your mother-in-law gave you, then do it. The same goes for any suggestions on repairs and color schemes.

The initial investment will be returned in quicker sales and better home prices, said Underwood.

"The majority of my homes sell under 10 days," said Underwood. "In the long run, it pays to stage."

• Clean up and clear out. Trim bushes, clean the gutters, and cart away the clutter. Donate, throw out or pack up what you don't need. The idea is to make your home inviting.

Things should be clean, said Gentile.

"That's a simple thing and it doesn't cost a lot for the house to be very clean and clutter-free."

Iannuzzi discovered she didn't need most of the things stored in a large wall unit in her laundry room, when Underwood helped her clean it out. They removed the unit and installed an ironing board hanger so it could be put away when not in use.

"The room is huge, and now it looks huge," said Iannuzzi. "I walk in my house now and I'm relaxed."

• Choose modern paint colors. Iannuzzi's living and dining rooms were re-painted in golden hues to show off her hardwood floors, and the kitchen's dark burgundy walls were brightened up in a clean neutral beige.

New curtains were added, too. In her son's old bedroom, where a Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" painted mural took up one wall, a frame was added to show off the artwork.

"It made such a difference," said Iannuzzi.

• Consider the furniture. Move it, if necessary, to improve traffic flow. If it's outdated, consider putting it into storage or moving it out of sight.

In one home with an outdated dining room table, Underwood replaced it with the homeowner's kitchen table instead. In another, she used the homeowner's office furniture as a credenza elsewhere.

"I really try my best to use what they have and enhance it," she said.

• Focus your efforts on the living room, kitchen and master bedroom, suggested Underwood.

Potential buyers love granite countertops in the kitchen, and beautiful, hardwood floors, said Gentile. Buyers also like open floor plans. Removing a few pieces of furniture can sometimes make a visual difference.

Consider a buyer's first impressions, and make sure the front entryway is appealing, neat and clean, said Gentile.

• Interview three real estate agents to find the best fit for you.

In general, start preparing four to six months in advance before putting your home on the market. Make sure repairs are done, since an inspector will catch them anyway and you'll be forced to renegotiate the price.

A real estate agent's job is to price the house properly and market the home, said Gentile. Because lenders are tightening their practices, the price is dependent on many factors out of the homeowner's control. The pendulum has swung the other way, she said.

"It really does matter what the banks think," said Gentile.

Reach Kim Mulford at (856) 486-2448 or

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