Last year was a good one for residential real estate in Central Texas.
Statistics from the Multiple Listing Service database show that after experiencing a dip from 3,468 houses sold in 2010 to 2,894 in 2011, Central Texas rebounded in 2012 with 3,341 houses sold in 2012.
While these numbers are nowhere near the 5,332 houses sold in 2005, the upward trend does have local real estate professionals optimistic about 2013.
Across the board, Killeen-Fort Hood’s leading real estate agents say the increased market competition makes staging a home properly a key to receiving top dollar on a home sale
“We live in a very competitive market,” said Eva Keagle, of ERA Colonial Real Estate in Harker Heights. “If you can’t market your house in the top echelon of the competition, it’s not going to sell. Well, at least not for the price you want to sell it for.”
Or it might not sell at all.
Jean Shine, owner of Shine Team Realtors in Harker Heights, has been selling houses in the Killeen-Fort Hood area for more than 30 years. She said it is not uncommon for her to take over the listing for a home that won’t sell because it has not been staged properly.
Shine said the way a house is staged often makes the difference between receiving top market value and a house that just sits on the market.
“Sometimes, I walk into a house, and it is in a terrible condition and has been sitting on the market for a long time,” Shine said. “That same house will sell very quickly once it is staged properly.”
Jose Segarra, owner of Exit Homevets Realty in Killeen, said when sellers put their houses on the market, they need to look almost new.
“When you get ready to sell a house, it has to look almost like a model home,” Segarra said.
The key word is “almost.” All three Realtors agreed sellers have to find a balance that makes their house look neat and clean, but also lived in.
“You want a little bit of warmth,” Shine said. “You want an atmosphere of comfort. We want to know somebody lives there, but you don’t want it to be sterile.”
“Clean is important,” Shine said. “And when I say clean, I mean white-glove clean.”
‘Curb appeal’ critical
The three Realtors said the process of staging a home begins in the same place: the curb.
“Curb appeal is crucial,” Shine said. “I always say you have about 15 seconds to make a first impression, either by a drive-by or an exterior picture on the Internet.
Keagle said landscaping can make a huge difference. She said simply keeping the yard neat goes a long way as well.
“You don’t want people to see your garbage cans blowing in the wind when they drive by,” she said. “You can invest in low-cost landscaping. It doesn’t have to be an oak tree. It can just be some flowers.”
Shine said sellers often have a tough time “depersonalizing” their houses. She said houses sell much faster and for more money when sellers decorate their houses with neutral colors and accessories for the market.
“You need to neutralize it so anyone who walks in can imagine their furniture and their family in your house,” Shine said.
Keagle said neutral colors are equally important for Internet marketing. Like most contemporary Realtors, Keagle offers online virtual tours of the houses she sells.
“You may love the bright red walls in your kitchen, but take a look at them on the Internet,” Keagle said. “The Internet distorts colors. It is not legal for us to photoshop your photos.”
That doesn’t mean professional home stagers can’t use technology to modify the homes they are marketing.
Tricia Stanford, owner of Haven at Home Staging and Interiors in Killeen, has been an interior designer and professional home stager for 15 years.
She has furniture that she sells and rents to clients who contract her to stage their houses, but she also has a solution for sellers who either don’t want or can’t afford to acquire new furniture just for staging.
Stanford has the ability to virtually furnish a home for online viewing.
“We can virtually furnish an empty home,” Stanford said. “We can’t change the integrity of the home. We don’t change anything structural. But we will drop furniture into it so potential buyers can get an idea of how furniture looks and fits in the house.”
Spending on staging pays off
Shine said many sellers fear the cost of home staging, but up-front investment pays big dividends.
“People can be scared of the cost,” Shine said. “If your home is in good condition and updated, your buyer is going to offer more money. If you have, for instance, an outdated kitchen and you invest in updating it, you add value. You will get more money in the long run.”
Real estate industry website Homegain.com offers a sellers’ tool that provides the estimated gains of investing in various home improvements. The results are area-specific.
According to Homegain.com, a Killeen resident who properly stages a house sells it for between $3,000 and $4,000 more than they would otherwise. The same site said a $150 investment in carpet cleaning can add $1,000 to the sale price. Investing in exterior and interior painting also can boost a house’s sale price by thousands of dollars, the site stated.
Don’t forget about smell. Keagle said a house for sale must smell fresh and clean but not like cleaning products. She said cinnamon and nutmeg are the best scents for staging a home.
Keagle said a surefire way to keep your home on the market is to smoke in it.
“Smoking is a no-no,” she said. “Not even in the garage. It will permeate, and buyers will smell it. Smoke on the back patio.”