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Staging vs. Decorating: What’s the Difference?

Living room

Often, when we talk to our clients about staging their North Shore home for sale, they’ll want to know exactly what is home staging and how it is different than decorating.  After all, isn’t the goal in both cases to make the home look better? Aren’t the basic design principles the same, things like scale, proportion and flow?

Well, yes…and no. The answer really comes down to the objective of making the home look better and how the design principles are applied to achieve that objective.

Interior decorating is all about furnishing and accessorizing a space to fit your lifestyle and express your personal taste.

Staging, on the other hand, is a marketing tool. It is about “packaging” a property to appeal to the tastes of as many potential buyers as possible.

Staging highlights the positive features of the home while downplaying its less desirable aspects. A staged home will have much less in the way of furniture and accessories because the goal is to showcase the home itself, not the stuff in it. There should be enough furnishings to create an environment that buyers can aspire to and feel at home in. Done well, staging can help a house connect with a buyer on an emotional level so that she thinks “This is it! This is the ONE!”

Here are some examples that illustrate the difference between decorating and staging:

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Pottery Barn Colors That Will Help You Sell Your North Shore Home

Bathroom with Hazy Skies

Bathroom with Hazy Skies

Many times I will recommend that a homeowner give their rooms a fresh coat of paint before listing their North Shore home for sale. After all, there is no single improvement or update that will give you a better return per dollar spent.

And if their target buyer is on the younger side, I remind them that Pottery Barn is the arbiter of all things young and fresh as far as decor goes. The more they can make their home look like a Pottery Barn catalog, the better. Easier said than done if all of your furniture pieces were inherited from your grandmother. But using Benjamin Moore’s Pottery Barn collection of paint colors is one way to breathe a little fresh air into your home.

If you are painting your home to sell, here are six of my fail-safe favorites from the spring collection:

Monroe Bisque (HC-26)
This is a sandy beige that is great for maximizing the space in your room. Paint the trim the same as the wall to add height to the room.

Hawthorne Yellow (HC-4)
A warm yellow that is neither too golden nor too lemony. Its slight gray undertone makes it work in any room, but it’s especially good in hallways and rooms that get little natural light.

Bleeker Beige (HC-80)
This is not a boring beige. It has warmth and depth and looks great with blues, greens and blue-greens.

Bedroom with Urban Nature

Bedroom with Urban Nature

Hazy Skies (OC-48)
This neutral is a beige with gray undertones that makes a great backdrop for any decorating scheme.

Buxton Blue (HC-149)
If there is such a thing as a neutral blue, this is it. It’s got both gray and green in it so it changes depending on the light, but it’s always cool and soothing.

Urban Nature (AF-440)
A sophisticated grayish-green that works well in bedrooms or living rooms.

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12 Ways to Make a Small Room Feel Bigger

Living roomWhile cozy can be chic, claustrophobic definitely is not.  De-cluttering is one way to add breathing room to a home, but that will only take you so far. There are many other tricks decorators employ to add the illusion of space and make a home live larger.  And if you are preparing your house to sell, that should definitely be your objective:  lighten, brighten and add space, because more space = a higher value in the eyes of potential buyers and more money in your pocket. Of course, you can’t actually add more rooms, but you CAN make the rooms you have look and feel bigger. Here’s how:

1. Use cooler paint colors on the walls (blues, grays, cool beiges). Cool colors recede, making the room look more expansive. Warmer colors advance and create a cozy but more closed in feeling.

2. Go for a monochromatic color scheme. The less contrast there is in the room, the more spacious it will look. Lots of contrast chops up the space visually and makes a room look smaller. Use the same color on big furniture pieces as on the walls for a sleek and open look. You can keep things from getting too monotonous  by using different textures or by adding punches of color with throw pillows and accessories.

3. Choose curtains or window treatments that maximize natural light (sheers or light-colored panels). Skip the heavy drapes in dark fabrics.

4. Use recessed lighting instead of hanging fixtures to give the impression of a higher ceiling and a cleaner, more stream-lined look.

5. Use the highest recommended wattage in light fixtures - 100 watts, if possible. Putting them on dimmers allows you to control the brightness.

6. Use fewer, larger (but not oversized) pieces of furniture instead of several smaller pieces. This will give the room a less cluttered look.

7. Select upholstered furniture with exposed legs (vs. skirted) to create the illusion of more space.

8. Use glass table tops for coffee tables or dining tables for a more open feel.

Dining room with a view9. Install the same flooring throughout the space to maximize flow. Mixing flooring types or using area rugs gives a more chopped up feel to the space.

10. Consider removing doors between rooms of living areas to open up the space.

11. If you have a good view, hang a large mirror or group of mirrors opposite (or diagonal to) the window with the view. The mirror will “read” as another window, expanding the space and bringing in more light.

12. Keep table and counter surfaces relatively clear. Don’t let accessories and knick-knacks dominate, as the space will appear busy and cluttered.

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How to Stage a Bathroom

Before Staging

Before Staging

A small or dated bathroom can be a big turn off to North Shore home buyers. Short of a major remodel, whose cost may not be fully recouped, here are quick and easy updates you can do to turn that liability into an asset.

A few changes can make it feel new

Update the light fixtures. You can get new lighting at a home center for $80 or less.

If you have an outdated vanity, you can give it new life with a coat of paint and new hardware.

Frame-less mirrors are out. If you have one, you can add a frame with MirrorMates.  They come in various styles and colors, are custom cut to the size of your mirror and are easily and quickly applied to plain, bare mirror.

Carpet in the bathroom is not only out of fashion, it can gross people out if they start thinking about what’s lurking there. So if you have carpet, remove it. If the floor underneath does not look good, install a neutral tile that coordinates with the wall tile. Use tiles that are at least 12″ since larger tiles make a room look more spacious than smaller tiles. If you have an old linoleum floor, you can inexpensively update it using large peel and stick travertine look tiles.

An area rug in the bathroom can draw attention away from old flooring. Make it light and neutral. And NEVER use those area rugs that fit around the base of the toilet. Ditch the decorative toilet seat cover too.

After Staging

After Staging

Give it that spa-like feeling

A new coat of paint in a soothing spa-like color. Good color choices for bathrooms include:Benjamin Moore Wedgewood Gray (HC-146),  Saybrook Sage (HC-114) or Powell Buff (HC-35).  But if you have colored wall tile, you’ll have to choose a paint color that coordinates with the tile.

Purchase plush new towels, and DON”T use them!  You can never go wrong with white towels, but you can also use two coordinating colors if you want to be more daring. Make one a neutral color and add hand towels on top in an accent color.

If your bathroom has a shower curtain, chances are it’s starting to grow mold along the bottom. But even if it’s not, get a new shower curtain (fabric, not plastic).  Choose a light, neutral color. Again, white is a no-risk choice.

Add interest with accessories

If you have a counter add apothecary jars in different sizes and shapes filled with shells, cotton balls, bath salts etc. Michael’s Crafts has inexpensive ones, as does Home Goods.

A basket filled with rolled up towels or washcloths makes a bathroom look inviting and contributes to that spa feel.

Healthy plants and candles also add interest.

Keep it Q-Tip clean and clutter-free

No one wants to see your personal hygiene products. Tuck all that stuff away in the drawers. If you have a pedestal sink, invest in a simple bath cabinet at Target or Wal-mart to hide your clutter.

Re-caulk the tub for a clean look.

Remove toilet bowl cleaners, plungers and waste baskets.

Keep the counters and sinks wiped clean.

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Does Your House Smell?

Cat and kitty litterNothing can turn off a potential home buyer like a house that smells.

Trouble is, when we live in a house, we get used to its particular “aroma” and we may not even realize that others find it noticeably unpleasant. And I know of what I speak. With 3 large dogs, 5 chinchillas and a guinea pig, my house is somewhere between farm and zoo on the olfactory scale. If I ever sell my house, I will have to do some serious odor remediation.

There are several smells that you want to avoid when your house is on the market: cooking aromas, cigarette and cigar smoke, pet odors, garbage and, last but not least, that stale smell typical of a vacant house that’s been closed up for an extended period.

The best way to know if your house does give off an unpleasant odor is to ask a trusted friend to come over and take an objective whiff. Remember that old air freshener ad where the neighbor comes over, sniffs the air and  and says, “Fish for dinner last night?” Of course, no one would actually say that to you, but in this case you really do want her to. Promise her you won’t be offended.

Here are some ways to minimize bad smells in your house:

  • Take the garbage out every day and especially right before a showing or an open house.
  • Quit smoking. You’ve been wanting to since forever. Well, now you have another good reason to do it. But there will still be smoke smell lingering on all the curtains and upholstery (which you probably won’t notice, but others will), so it might also be a good time to call the Stanley Steemer man.
  • Watch what you cook while your house is on the market, and always use the exhaust fan in your kitchen. Certain foods have smells that linger: fish, lamb, broccoli, garlic, onions, curry and fried foods. If you want to eat those things while your house is for sale, go to a restaurant.
  • Wash the dog and his bed often.
  • Stash the litter box in the garage when people are coming through the house.
  • Use a de-humidifier in the basement, especially in summer.

Before you run out and buy all those plug-in air freshener thingies you see advertised on TV, be warned that using them can backfire. First, because the scent may be overpowering, and some people are actually allergic or hyper-sensitive to the fragrances used in those products. And second, because if the scent is really noticeable, people will think you’re trying to cover up something (which you are).

Instead, try these ideas to freshen up your home:

  • Open the windows for an hour every day and let fresh air circulate.
  • Cut up some lemon wedges and run them through the garbage disposal before showings and open houses.
  • Use an odor eliminator like PureAyre which eliminates rather than masks odors. It is completely safe to use around food, babies and people with allergies. It doesn’t cover up odors. Instead it breaks down odor causing compounds. It’s not cheap, but it works. You can buy it at Petco, Whole Foods or online.
  • Put a small reed diffuser in the bathroom with a vanilla scent. Vanilla is one of the most universally appealing scents.
  • You can bake cookies or you can just heat up some water and throw fresh cinnamon into it. Just turn it off before buyers come though, so it’s not overwhelming.

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Home Staging Works. Here’s Proof

Bedroom staged to sellIf you are planning to sell your North Shore home and wondering if spending money to stage it first makes sense, you might want to take a look at the report issued annually by the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA), the home staging industry trade group. The report looks at how long a staged home takes to sell vs. an unstaged home. The conclusion: staged homes sell around 75% faster. Granted, this is not a representative sample of homes across the US, and there is no way to have a side by side comparison of homes that are exactly alike in all respects except whether they are staged. Still the huge difference in average time on market does make a pretty compelling case.

Here are some of the highlights:

After being on the market unstaged for 277 days on average, vacant homes then sold within 63 days after being staged.

After being on the market unstaged for 233 days on average, occupied homes sold within 53 days after being staged.

Resa report on home staging284 homes that were staged before being listed sold in 40.5 days.

You can read the  full RESA report here.

If you’d like to learn more about staging your home to sell, please give me a call at 847–687-5957 or email me.
I am a certified home stager and staging is part of my service for all of the sellers that I represent.

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Beyond Cleaning and De-Cluttering: 7 Staging Tips You Haven’t Heard

blue bedroomAny North Shore homeowner who is planning to sell their home has heard the mantra: Clean and de-clutter.  For sure those things are critical, but hardly constitute a news flash. Here are seven things to do in addition to cleaning and de-cluttering that will help sell your house:

1. Spend your money where you can see it.

When you go to sell your house, you normally have a long list of things to do to get it sale-ready. Some of these are fixes, some are updates and some are replacements. If anything is broken or damaged or not working properly, you need to get it fixed. Otherwise it will show up on the inspection report and could end up costing you the sale or dragging out the negotiation. But beyond the fixes that are absolutely necessary, you need to be strategic about what you do and where you will get the most bang for the buck. Spend your money on the things that the buyer will see. Don’t replace the hot water heater (unless it’s broken) or put on a new roof (unless it leaks) or buy high-end bathroom fixtures – because the buyer won’t know the difference between the $150 faucet and the $800 one.

Instead, spend it on removing the wallpaper, repainting, or on new knobs to replace the dated hardware on your kitchen cabinets. Spend it on curb appeal: mulching and edging the beds, planting flowers, painting the front door. Spend it on the things that will help your house win the beauty contest. Spend it on the things that will make buyers feel good.

2. Don’t offer credits.

Short of remodeling the kitchen or putting on an addition, don’t expect your buyer to do anything you don’t want to do. In a nutshell, your buyer doesn’t want to trade their dirty carpet for your dirty carpet. And (unless they are dyed in the wool do-it-yourselfers), they will have a hard time imagining that a house with peeling paint and stains on the carpet could be the kind of house they want to pay good money for. They’ll reject your home and move on to the next one. There are plenty to choose from right now. Besides, you will probably end up spending more on credits than you would if you went ahead and got the work done yourself…and the buyer will still make their offer based on the current condition of the house. So you pay twice.

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Quick! Add Curb Appeal and Get a Leg Up on Your Competition

Pansies in planterSpring has finally sprung on Chicago’s North Shore. The sun is out. It’s warm (for Chicago). Trees are in bloom. Buyer activity has increased dramatically.  But it’s still a buyer’s market and there are lots of houses to choose from. What’s a seller to do?

Right now you have a narrow window of opportunity to get a leg up on your competition when it comes to curb appeal. Put planters full of bright blooms on either side of your front door to welcome prospective buyers. If you have beds in front of your house, add some flowering annuals.   Since the weather will be “iffy” for a while yet, most people (including the home sellers you are competing with) don’t get serious about their yards until mid to late May. This is especially true when it comes to planting flowers, since there’s still a good chance we’ll have a frost that can kill most annuals. If you are the only seller with freshly edged and mulched beds and planters filled with welcoming blooms, your house will win the battle for curb appeal.

So, what about the problem of frost? You certainly don’t want to have a bunch of dead plants in front of your home. The answer is to select hardy annuals that can withstand a frost without being killed. Some that can take the unpredictable North Shore climate are: cornflower, foxglove, larkspur, pansy, stock, sweet alyssum and viola. The easiest, most readily available and most reliable is the pansy. They come in several colors, are available at all home centers and garden centers and are extremely cold tolerant.

Make sure you buy big, mature plants that will provide strong impact NOW.  They are more expensive than the little ones but you don’t have time to wait for the little ones to grow. Besides, once the weather gets hot, they will wilt and get leggy, and will need to be replaced by heat tolerant flowers.

Color psychologists suggest that yellow is the best color flower to use because it makes people feel happy and positive. Some go so far as to say that it puts people in a buying mood. The main thing is to choose colors that stand out against the background so they are visible from the street. You can add height to your planters by combining flowers with a taller plant, such as a boxwood (see photo above) or by adding a few pussy willow or curly willow branches to the arrangement.

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Top 10 Paint Colors to Sell Your North Shore Home

Paint deckYesterday I shared some tips for picking wall colors if you are painting your home to sell. Today I’ll share some of my go-to wall colors that will make any home more appealing to potential buyers. I tend to use warmer neutrals in the main “social” areas of the house, because warm colors tend to stimulate the senses and elicit positive emotions. I use cooler neutrals in bedrooms and bathrooms because they tend to soothe and relax.

Warm Neutrals for Main Living Areas

Benjamin Moore Powell Buff (Hc-35)
A warm & rich neutral that works well with greens, browns and reds.

Benjamin Moore Lenox Tan (HC-44)
A mid-tone neutral in the Pottery Barn collection.

Benjamin Moore Windham Cream (HC-6)
A very subtle yellow that feels warm and works well with other colors. This is also a great color to brighten up hallways with little natural light.

Benjamin Moore Hepplewhite Ivory (HC-36)
A creamy butterscotch that is warm and welcoming.

Cool Neutrals for Bedrooms and Baths

Benjamin Moore Stratton Blue (HC-142)
A muted blue-green that’s neither too bold nor too bland. It’s great for a master retreat, a beach house or a west-facing room that needs cooling down.

Benjamin Moore Nantucket Gray (HC-111)
A soothing gray-green.

Benjamin Moore Gray Owl (2137-60)
A pale, soothing color that’s a little more sophisticated than blue. It works with almost any color scheme.

Benjamin Moore Rosemary Sprig (2144-30)
A sage green with a hint of yellow.

Trim Colors

Benjamin Moore White Dove  (OC-17)
A warm white that’s not too gray, not too yellow.

Benjamin Moore Cloud White (OC-130)
Works well with warm neutral wall colors.

These have worked well for me. Anyone want to add to my list? I’m always looking to try colors that have worked for others.

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Painting Your House to Sell: Tips for Picking Colors

Hand Holding Paint SampleGiving your home a fresh coat of paint is one of the easiest and least expensive things you can do to make it more appealing to potential home buyers. If you have painted in the last couple of years and the colors are fairly neutral, then you can probably get away with some touch-ups here and there.

On the other hand, if your home is filled with wallpaper, is painted with vivid colors or hasn’t been updated in awhile, you should seriously consider repainting. It can have an enormous impact on how well your house shows and how quickly it sells.  Your goal is to make it as broadly appealing as possible, which is why home stagers and real estate agents tell you to go with a neutral, non taste-specific color.

Neutral Does Not Mean White

But people often assume that neutral means white or off-white.  Problem is, white tends to be cold, harsh and not very inviting as a wall color. And, contrary to popular belief, it will NOT make a small room appear larger. It will just make it look like a small, sterile room. Likewise, painting the entire interior of the house the same bland beige color may not offend anyone, but will guarantee that your home is totally forgettable unless it has some very distinctive architectural features.

What you’re going for is a color scheme that elicits positive emotions and enables potential buyers to visualize themselves living in the house with their own furnishings.  It should look stylish and up to date without being too taste specific. One way to achieve this is to select a paints in the same color family for the main rooms so that the rooms flow together visually.

Warm Colors Make People Happy

When staging a house for sale I recommend warmer neutrals for the main living areas like the family room, dining room and kitchen, because warm colors stimulate the senses (as well as the appetite). Buttery, creamy, buff and tan colors will warm up any room and will to work well with red, green or brown furniture.

Cool Colors Soothe and Relax

For bedrooms and bathrooms you should be trying to create the feel of a spa retreat. Using cooler neutrals like pale blues, sage greens and grays will help accomplish this.

When selecting colors from a paint strip remember that the color will look darker on the wall than on the strip so it’s usually safer to go lighter. The best thing to do, however, is to get sample jars of 2-3 color choices and test them on a section of wall at least 2′ x 2′.  Make sure to test and compare colors in daylight hours, as that is when buyers are most likely to see them. Remember also that the same color can look dramatically different from room to room depending on the room’s exposure and how much light it gets.

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