A longtime real estate broker shares what she’s learned from working with stagers, cleaners and feng shui experts to make a house more hospitable.
—by Babs De Lay
I’m a person who chose not to have television for a decade. But when I went out with clients shopping for homes, they loved talking about what was on television and especially the real estate programs on cable. I was really curious. Because the service was part of our HOA fee and my newly arrived wife liked to watch it, I decided to bring TV back into my life.
Now I watch Million Dollar Listing LA/ New York, Tiny Houses, House Hunters, Flip or Flop, The Property Brothers, Love It or List It and Rehab Addict and see why they are so popular: They have turned ordinary people into house porn addicts, voyeurs looking into the digs of other people and hoping/dreaming of living better than what they currently have.
In my humble opinion, these shows have eliminated the creative parts of people’s brains and raised the bar for sellers and their brokers.
Simply put, buyers expect homes for sale to look terrific inside. The reality, though, is that most homes on the market do not even slightly resemble what you see on television.
What you read online as ‘light open spaces’ of a dream mid-century modern listing turns out to be boxy little rooms with larger windows. The bungalow with an ‘updated kitchen’ was most recently modernized in the 1990s with brass faucets; the ‘basement rec room’ is a catch-all of worn furniture and shelves of video tapes and CDs from the last 20 years; and the ‘soaking’ tub in the master bath is a ‘80s jetted fiberglass kidney-shaped thing with moldy components hidden underneath the tub surround. Real estate agents can be creative when it comes to advertising but have rarely been known for their staging abilities.
If you were to put your home on the market in the near future, what would you have to do to get it ready for the hordes of buyers? Sure, you’d have the carpets cleaned and you’d tidy up more than usual. But in the world of TV-soaked buyers, they want to walk in and see themselves making dinner tonight, taking a shower and going to sleep in their dream bedroom. They don’t want to walk down a hallway full of yellowed 1970s high school photos of the kids who have left the house, your collection of barely alive or overgrown house plants and your closet full of games from the last three decades. Your nest, your sanctuary, will most likely be over-personalized and only the most creative minds will be able to see past your treasures to envision themselves living in your space.
And there’s the big question: Are you at your happiest living among outdated clutter? Does your stuff serve you, or are you a slave to your stuff?
Whether you plan to sell or just hope to start having friends and family socialize at your place more often, there are simple things you can do to make your home more inviting. I’ll sum it up into three words: Think hotel suite. When you check into a hotel suite—be it a $99 room or a $999 room—you notice that there’s simple décor and no knick-knacks. The walls are clean and smooth. The bed covers match the pillows and there’s not too much furniture in any room. Here are a few rules to live by:
1) De-personalize. Pack and purge at least twice a year—spring and fall. Put away your winter things now, change your color scheme to reflect spring and fall with even a simple new front door mat and kitchen towels. Clean and store winter coats and footwear.
Closets should have 50% less in them than what you’ve got in there now. Do you really need to display all the books you’ve read in the past five years or can you store or donate them? Don’t have enough room for all your remaining stuff that you really want to keep? Rent a climatized storage unit—they are cheap and abundant these days. Take down those old photos, scan them and make a Shutterfly book of memories.
2) Update. The rule of thumb I live by is that a home should be updated every five years. That means do a minimum of a fresh coat of paint, and new linens and bed covers. For a few hundred dollars you can update your overhead lighting fixtures with newer designs and more energy-efficient bulbs. It’s a subtle change but makes a difference in your look and your power bill.
If you can’t put your finger on what to do, call a professional stager, interior decorator and/or a feng shui reader. Recently, some home owners called me needing advice on how to sell their place, as the lovely manse had sat on the market for months without offers. It was a stunning home. But when I walked in, I felt something was off. I suggested an expert in feng shui. She came the following week and upon entering the home grabbed her neck and said, “I must have a glass of water—now!” Basically, the home had beautiful wood furniture, wood floors, tan carpeting. The ‘woody’ colors made her feel parched. She recommended adding pink and yellow flowers, light blue pillows and moving a few pieces of furniture in different directions and. Bam—the home sold the following weekend.
We all know our insides reflect our outsides. If we feel sad and tired, that will reflect on our faces and in our walk. If our home is dusty and outdated, then maybe we reflect that energy.
Imagine hosting a party this very minute for people you admire. Would what they see reflect your best self? Energy, organization, calm, caring? Chaos, clutter, stuck energy, disrepair? It’s worth thinking about!
Babs de Lay is a real estate broker and owner of Urban Utah Homes and Estates. She works with stagers, cleaners and contractors in preparing houses for sale.