Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

5 tips for staging a home to sell

“If there's too much product, you have to rise above the noise”

Even as a kid, Jen Kennedy (Finance ’92) had an eye for real estate. She was introduced to it by her dad, a lawyer who dabbled in real estate. When she didn’t tag along with him, she’d study listings in the newspaper.

“As a teenager I would cover the prices and I'd guess them – close to correct,” she says. “Some people watched sitcoms. That's what I did.”

Now that she’s broker-owner of Edmonton’s Kennedy Real Estate, Kennedy still has a keen eye for pricing, but she’s matched it with a talent for staging, the decorating and accentuating that makes a listed property pop when potential buyers come through the door. With the market clearly in their favour, that’s more important than ever.

In the last quarter of 2018, Edmonton saw a 5% year-over-year drop in overall sales, while supply continued to rise. Housing inventory is at its highest in more than a decade in Calgary as well. In the near-term, there’s little sign that things will change.

“There's just so much choice,” says Kennedy. “There are too few buyers. Put those two together – that's a pretty disastrous market. So if there's too much product, you have to rise above the noise. How do you rise above the noise? You need to be memorable in some way. Memorable isn't always granite countertops.”

So what makes a particular home stick in the mind of a buyer? Here are Kennedy’s tips on staging your home to sell fast and sell well.

1. Highlight strategically

cozy sitting areaNot every part of the house needs to be dressed for success. Kennedy is selective in her efforts, letting them be guided by key questions.

“Where do you hang out? What are things that you're going to miss the most about your home?” Likely, those will also appeal to the next resident. “Highlight those areas,” says Kennedy.

2. Shine a light

bathroom with ambient light

For too many months each year in Edmonton, Kennedy sells homes in the dark. This creates an obvious challenge, but also an opportunity that persists into after-dusk showings during warmer months.

“Lighting is everything absolutely. It starts with that. Coming from a European background, my mom was always about cozy, cozy, cozy, and little accent lighting.”

"Lighting is everything absolutely. It starts with that."

Turn off harsh overhead illumination and turn on accent and ambient lights, even over a kitchen counter or in the bathroom. When thinking about the entire space, do so as if you were staging a party where you wanted your guests to feel comfortable, not blinded.

“It's those sorts of things that create that feeling of warmth,” says Kennedy. “It doesn't have to be fancy, but it has to be welcoming.”

3. Accessorize

home decor accessories

Back at her office, Kennedy keeps a room of items for staging: bath towels and accessories, table settings, accent pillows, blankets, framed pictures, mirrors, silk plants and much more. She doesn’t use everything at once, adhering to the old adage that less is more.

“It doesn’t take a lot,” she adds. “You're just putting things there to accentuate the space.”

The common goal is cozy.

Every space will require different treatment. But the common goal is cozy, like a bedroom with a bed that’s properly made and lit softly by lamps on either side. That’s the kind of thing that makes a house shopper think: “Yeah, I could retire here at the end of the day,” says Kennedy.

4. Go neutral

abstract art

Art is used sparingly in new showhomes, Kennedy points out, with the emphasis placed on windows instead. She approaches older homes she sells the same way. Any art left on the walls should have broad appeal. Otherwise, pack it up.

5. Keep it clean and uncluttered

cleaning up toys

Keeping a house clean for showings goes without saying. Almost. Kennedy says that many sellers tend to overlook areas that need it most – those where the eye tends to be drawn even though they’re not points of interest. Look for fingerprints and dirt on door handles, for example, and on frames nearby.

A space won’t shine if it’s buried in junk.

A space also won’t shine if it’s buried in junk. After having moved several times when her four boys were less than five years old, Kennedy has “bin” there, done that, and knows what she’s talking about. When the kids are done playing, chuck the toys in a box and shove it behind the couch. Keep toothbrushes and toiletries in a container to stow in the bathroom cupboard.

It means a little more work, but it may also mean the difference between what potential buyers remember about your home and what they might want to forget. “The way you live in a house,” says Kennedy, “is not the way you sell a house.”

How to stage a house online

Use the description to appeal to emotions. Kennedy doesn’t see the point in writing mere captions for the photos in her listings. Instead, “I will tell you a story that you cannot see in the pictures.” She strives to capture the experience of living in the home, and make that experience unique. “In so much as staging creates a feeling, so should the description.”

Get great photos. “If you're going to do staging, you should do professional photography. Otherwise it's [like] having a cupcake with no icing. It tastes good, but it could taste a whole lot better.”


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