Staged to sell: Advice from Howard County home stagers

Patty More, owner of Warm Welcome Home Staging & Redesign LLC. in a home office she recently redesigned. Under More's direction, the walls were repainted, a futon was removed and new accessories were added, including two filing cabinets and new curtains.
Patty More, owner of Warm Welcome Home Staging & Redesign LLC. in a home office she recently redesigned. Under More's direction, the walls were repainted, a futon was removed and new accessories were added, including two filing cabinets and new curtains. (Nate Pesce / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Thinking of selling your home? Consider this: According to the National Association of Realtors, 92 percent of buyers use the Internet to search for homes.

And that consummate time-saver for prospective buyers can also make or break a seller’s chances of getting the asking price. Your home’s initial appeal online determines its ability to compete with thousands of other offerings.
Enter the home stager. Howard County real estate agents and buyers have been calling on their services for years. Think of a window dresser or set designer, and you’re on the right track.
“I see every price point in Howard County, and the classic elements the buyer is looking for is a light, bright house: They want it to feel spacious, which is why we de-clutter a lot,” said Karen Ellis, owner of Refreshing Homes. “Whether it is a $100,000 house or $1 million, there’s usually too much stuff in their houses.”
The process is systematic and thorough. 
“Sellers will find me online, or Realtors will call with a new listing, and I’ll visit the home for a consultation,” Ellis says. “I’ll walk through the entire house, room by room, with the seller and take very detailed notes [along] with pictures.”
Back at the office, Ellis creates a room-by-room to-do list and shares it with the seller. “Basically it’s a guide to get the house ready,” she says.
According to Ellis, one consultation is usually sufficient to get the sellers on the right track. From years in the real estate business (and earning accreditation from two of the many home-staging programs available to these professionals), she knows that the biggest task is to edit, or unclutter.
“Most people have too much stuff,” she says. “I know how these places are going to photograph, where the photographer is going to stand and what’s going to be in the shots they put online. My goal is to make the house look bright and spacious. Most of the time that means getting rid of stuff.”
Patty More, of Warm Welcome Home Staging & Redesign LLC, agrees. 
“Decorating your home for yourself and merchandising it to appeal to the widest audience are two very different things,” More says. “You’re going to have to pack anyway, so why not get it done ahead of time?” 
Of course de-cluttering is often easier said than done. Immediate options are to rent a storage unit or a pod until the home is sold. Ellis tells sellers that, while it will not feel like home for a while, the object is to get it sold.
Both stagers, after initial consultations, make themselves available for services such as adding their own furniture or decor to the owners’ belongings for the best possible effect. Sometimes, all a room needs is a fresh eye — adding a splash of color with throw pillows or hanging new artwork can make all the difference. If they don’t personally have what they need from their cache of decorative furnishings, stagers know how to get items in a matter of hours. They can even make recommendations for a completely vacant home, deciding whether it is best to photograph it empty or to add carefully placed pieces.
Neutrals appeal to the widest diversity of Howard County buyers, Ellis says. 
“I know my demographic when I go into a house, [and] I cater to who I think is coming to see it,” she says. “I may use different furniture styles [or] sizes or color schemes depending on the potential buyer. I may stage a room as an office [instead of] a nursery [or] bedroom in a senior neighborhood as opposed to a ‘married with kids’ neighborhood.”
In terms of cost, the homeowner more or less sets the budget. There is a checklist, a package or advice for a range of budgets. 
“It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it is very individualized,” More says. “If you have your ‘as is’ home out there, buyers are going to pass right over it. I tell people, with staging, you’re going to make more money and sell it more quickly.” 
Today, many real estate agents include staging as part of their services.
“We actually have a full-time accredited stager on our team,” says Ronna Corman-Chew, who manages The Bob & Ronna Group of Long & Foster, Realtors in Ellicott City with her husband, Bob Chew. “We tell people they only get one chance to make a first impression, and if they give us a couple of days, we’ll jump through hoops to get the house ready for them. In Howard County, as in most areas, people want to walk into a house for sale and feel that it has a good look and is priced well.”
And the key to getting potential buyers there in the first place is a well-presented home, beautifully photographed online.  

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