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Stagers take a look at a house, find ways to maximize potential

As the real estate market tightened, the concept of home staging blossomed. A professional stager treats a home in much the same way that a set designer furnishes a stage for a play. The goal is to create an environment where potential buyers can imagine themselves living and enjoying life.

“Staging is decorating from the buyer’s point of view,” says Jennifer McCloskey, owner of Mod Restyle in Miami. “With so much inventory on the market, it’s the only way to make a home stand out from others.”

A stager takes a disinterested look at the home, and then finds ways to maximize potential and minimize flaws. “When you sell a home, there are the things you can control, and those you can’t,” says Nancy Cook, owner of One Day Décor in Fort Lauderdale. “You can’t control the age of the home, the location, the market or the mortgage index, but you can control how your home looks to buyers. Staging is a way of enticing a buyer to purchase a house.”

The process gives sellers a competitive edge, notes Vivian Planes, president of Stage to Sell in Miami. “Staging can make your house look like a model home and give you that ‘wow’ factor.”

Some stagers work only with homes that are occupied. Others will bring furnishings into a vacant home to make it look cozy until the seller finds a buyer. “It’s hard to picture a house as a home with no furniture in it,” McCloskey says.

In either case, the stager will make the home appear as spacious and attractive as possible, from the first view at the curb to the perimeter of the backyard.

Cook recommends standing across the street from the home and taking a black-and-white photograph of it. “Removing the color takes the emotion out of it, and helps the homeowner see it as it really is,” she says.

First impressions are paramount. “Curb appeal is what gets a buyer out of the car and into the home,” McCloskey says. “Studies show you have only about nine seconds to do it.”

Space, or the illusion of it, sells. A stager will create open areas to make the home look larger. “People are buying square footage, so make sure they can see it,” Plane advises.

The formula for success is simple, Cook notes. “Clean, tidy, neutral and spacious sells better than anything else.”

Home staging tips from the experts

• Create curb appeal by keeping lawns mowed and edged, bushes trimmed and front entries clear of toys, garden tools and other clutter. Fences should be in good repair. Many buyers decide whether or not they want to bother seeing the inside of a home simply by looking at the outside.

• Clean stains and mildew from walkways and roof.

• Keep windows clean to let in as much natural light as possible.

• Walk through the home and take a hard look at each room, trying to see it through a buyer’s eyes.

• Try to create an easy traffic flow, and have as much open space as possible. Too much furniture will make the home appear smaller. Store extra pieces in the garage or elsewhere. Buyers should be able to see a room’s potential and imagine their own furnishings in it.

• Large furnishings, such as china closets and wall units (Plane refers to them as “elephant pieces”), should be among the first to go into storage.

• Pack away fixtures that won’t be part of the sale. A potential buyer who falls in love with a chandelier that is a family heirloom may decide the home just won’t look right without it, so it becomes a deal-breaker.

• Depersonalize the house by getting rid of knickknacks, family photos and wall hangings. The seller will be moving anyway, so it’s a good idea to start packing those things when the home is initially put on the market. Keep a few larger accessories that can serve as focal points in a room.

• Remove small appliances from kitchen countertops. Be sure the surfaces are sparkling clean.

• Make the bathroom inviting with soft, fluffy towels. Get rid of the old ones with ragged edges. Bathroom countertops should be free of clutter.

• Downsize clothing, linens and other items to make closets appear spacious and tidy.

• In South Florida, outdoor space can be as important as indoor space. The backyard should be attractively landscaped and neatly mowed. Put away or throw away broken or discolored patio furniture and other clutter.

• Be sure the home smells good. Eliminate pet odors and mustiness.