MODESTO, Calif. -- Julie Mendonsa can see what other people can't.
Mendonsa is a professional home stager. Her job is to help people who are selling their home put the best "face" on their property.
When people have lived in their house for a while, they tend to overlook its cosmetic flaws. They might no longer notice chips in the exterior paint, the overgrown shrubs in the garden or Christmas lights still hanging from the eaves.
That's where Mendonsa, owner of Staged Right, comes in.
"Most homeowners, when they've lived in their house a number of years, don't see what a new eye would see," she said. "They can't see the little things."
Those "little things" can make or break a home's curb appeal, which is vital when selling a home, said Mendonsa, a Modesto, Calif., resident.
Picky potential buyers make up their minds within the first 10 seconds of seeing a home's exterior whether they want to see what's inside.
That is important to note because Web-savvy buyers are using the Internet to research houses for sale. They're looking at online pictures of homes and driving by properties they might interested in.
Staging can help home sellers get top dollar for their property. A professional stager will go through every room in the home, as well as the rear and front yards.
Stagers note that the way people live in their home and the way a home is presented when it's on the market are two different things. While the homeowners' collection of porcelain dolls might look good to them, buyers might consider it clutter.
Mendonsa doesn't recommend people go out and spend a lot of money on staging props. She prefers to use items sellers already have. If more accessories are needed, such as plants, she works within the seller's budget. She has spent as little as $50 to $100 to successfully stage a home.
Mendonsa got interested in home staging when she and her husband sold their first house, a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath cottage-style house in the La Loma area.
Before putting the house on the market, the property got a makeover. She ripped out aging, unattractive shrubs and replaced them with newer ones. She also added more vibrant, colorful flowers.
Next, the couple repainted the house's exterior in pastels to enhance its cottage-style design. They painted the front door dark green to make it stand out and added a kickplate and new hardware for extra flair.
That house sold for above asking price the same day it went on the market.
Mendonsa also staged the couple's second home, a 4,000-square-foot house. That time, the house was listed for three hours before a buyer made an offer.
Soon after, Mendonsa started staging homes for her family members and friends. Her successes prompted her to start Staged Right.
Though the couple have been in their current house for about a year and have no immediate plans on moving, the house's front has loads of curb appeal.
Its previous owners lived there for 30 years. Before the Mendonsas moved in, Julie described its original color as "Pepto Bismol pink." Now, it is a more subdued taupe with chocolate trim.
Flora-filled containers flank the front door, with two smaller pots placed on each side of walkway that leads to the front door. The wide brick pathway helps lead the eye to the front door, which has a decorative glass center to let in more natural light.
Because there are two ways to approach the front door - the first, a brick pathway that goes from the sidewalk to the house, and the second, a pathway from the driveway, Mendonsa wanted nice "views" from each vantage point.
She also wanted the outdoor theme (Italian countryside) to be reflected indoors. So the entry of her home includes two framed pictures of an Italian villa, a book on Tuscan architecture atop a dark wood entry table and copper accents.
To gauge your home's curb appeal, start by looking at it while standing across the street. What do you notice? What is your eye drawn to? For those who can no longer "see" what their house really looks like, they might enlist someone who can, whether it's a professional or a trusted friend.
Next, take stock of the different parts and area of the exterior.
- Are the shrubs and lawn overgrown? If so, trim back the shrubs and mow the lawn. Get rid of plants that look as if they're on their last leg (this would be a good time to remove plants damaged during January's cold snap).
Get rid of any unsightly weeds. Those about to put their home on the market might consider hiring a gardener or landscaper to maintain the yard if they don't have the time to keep it consistently tidy.
- Add color. Evergreen landscapes are fine, but adding a little color can go a long way. Add some colorful annuals to the beds.
- Dress up a worn front door with a fresh coat of paint and/or new hardware, such as a decorative handle, kickplate or knocker.
- Is your welcome mat more worn than welcoming? If so, replace it.
- If space allows, add containers with plants of varying height (something tall with something that cascades over the sides).
- Get a new address plate or find fancier numbers to use for your address.
- If space allows, add a small bench or other seating on the porch or inside the doorway so guests have a place to sit.
- Jazz up a plain door with a wreath. An already ornate door can be left alone if its design is striking.
- Give the exterior a good cleaning with a pressure washer.
- Wash the windows.
- Declutter. If you have too many accessories, pots, flags or other doodads in front of the house, pare it down.
"Less is more," Mendonsa said.