HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Maria Sapuppo needed to sell her comfy bi-level with five bedrooms and three bathrooms last year, but her real estate agent warned it looked a little too lived-in as it was and suggested staging it.
Sapuppo, a River Vale, New Jersey, mother of two, agreed since she said she had a hard time looking at her house as a stranger would view it. She couldnt envision it any other way.
Though real estate agents have been advising clients on how to prepare their homes for sale for decades, staging has become more detailed and focused. Companies specializing in the art of staging are also starting to emerge.
Its de-cluttering, neutralizing colors, and showcasing highlights of the home such as hardwood floors, said Roberta Whitley Gomez, who staged Sapuppos home and is the owner of Whitley Realty in New Milford, New Jersey. Proper staging can mean 6 percent to 20 percent more on a sale, and can help sell the home more quickly, experts say. Properties that have been staged typically spend 73 percent less time on the market, according to the Real Estate Staging Association.
How should a house look after staging? As the adage says, less is more.
Sapuppo, on the advice of Whitley Gomez, removed almost all the furniture. Bedrooms had a bed, a chair and a decorative piece, like a basket with flowers.
We had no dressers -- underwear and socks were in a basket at the bottom of my closet, Sapuppo said. We took out anything that was personal.
The trick of staging, experts say, is to remove anything that makes the house look like, well, like its yours. Take down those photographs of the grandkids, religious symbols and all that stuff on the refrigerator.
You want potential buyers to be able to imagine their own belongings in the home, yet you still need some items to show the actual size of the rooms.
Its an oxymoron, but rooms look smaller with nothing in them, said Joyce Fierstat, a rental consultant with Cort Furniture in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where about a third of the companys business is staging homes. Without an empty bedroom, its really difficult to tell what size bed would fit comfortably.
You also want to use furniture or (other) items to draw the eye to the most pleasing part of the home, Fierstat said. If you have spectacular views out a big picture window, you want a couch below it to draw your eye there. But if you have a concrete wall outside that window, you want curtains over it and the couch on a different wall.
Most homeowners do their own staging based on their real estate agents advice. In addition to removing all manner of tchotchkes, experts have a list of staging must-dos to get top dollar for any home.
First, clean, clean and then clean some more. Who wants a house with a shower stall lined in mildew? Windows should sparkle to let in every glimmer of natural light, floors should be crumb-free and furniture clear of dust.
Second, make sure the tidiness stretches outside the house. Paint the front door, clear the walkway and driveway, make sure lights are working and fixtures gleam. Add a splash of color to that front door with a wreath.
Third, sellers need to focus on anything broken that theyve been living with and ignoring. Fix that dripping faucet in the bathroom no one uses or the cracked tile you forgot about by the back door.
Finally, neutralize colors throughout the house. That vibrant teal in your daughters bedroom? The Im-so-tired-of-living-in-a-beige-house-purple you painted the little bathroom? Douse them with off-white.
Linda Stamker, an agent with Prominent Properties Sothebys International Realty in Fort Lee, New Jersey, is convinced staging a Cresskill, New Jersey, home is what helped sell it after it had been on the market for a year.
It was brand new and empty, Stamker said. The bedrooms looked really small, and buyers couldnt even tell if a bed would fit in them.
When we got the listing in January -- after it had been on the market for a year -- we convinced the builder to put some furniture in it, Stamker said. It sold in a week for $100 over the $688,000 asking price.
The price had been reduced a few times from the original $797,800, which Stamker acknowledges was instrumental in selling the house. But staging also played a pivotal role in moving it so quickly, she said.
Costs for renting items through a company can range from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on how much furniture and accessories are used and the length of time the house is on the market.
Our prices range from about $300 to $350 a month per room, said Fierstat, from Cort Furniture. Lets face it, a home needs to be priced right to sell, but staging can definitely make a difference.
Sapuppo, who sold her home in River Vale in four months, attributes the relatively quick sale mainly to staging.
My home was the type of house where teenagers grew up with friends -- happy and comfy, Sapuppo said.
But Roberta had a vision when she looked at it and when she was done, the house just flowed. Kind of amazing.