Clear out and beautify your home for sale with help from a qualified stager

Photos by Katie Soyko.

For a lot of us – particularly those with grandkids – Christmas is a time of cluttered extravagance, with scores of bright lights on the outsides of our homes and layers upon layers of holiday greenery, dazzling ornaments and gifts filling every square inch inside.

Yet once January first comes around it’s not unusual to crave simplicity as we pack it all away and restore – or yearn for – an airier feeling in our homes. We might still love our stuff, but we realize we might be happier if there was more space between all of it.

Which makes me think of about people who stage houses for sale. Overall, they strive to make a home look as attractive as possible for buyers – typically by removing or shifting items that might make it more difficult for those buyers to imagine their own furnishings and artwork in the space. If time allows, they might also empty a house of the owner’s things and bring in a few select items to demonstrate decorating and lifestyle options.

With that in mind I talked with two professional home stagers. One is Active Adults Realtor Donna Beck, who’s tapped her lifelong love of interior design to transform many homes en route to successful sales. Another is Katie Soyka, owner of Set the Stage Design, who also comes highly recommended. Here’s how they answered some key questions about the practice.

Why should home sellers consider home staging?

As Donna sees it, “we all LOVE to open the door to our homes. They are our retreats. We take comfort in that vase we received from Grandma, that photo hanging over the fireplace that you and your husband  purchased on your last vacation, your mother’s ceramic owl collection and leftover furniture from friends, family and children. 

“Unfortunately, now that your home is going on the market it’s natural to be caught off-guard when an agent or stager tells you many of those items need to be packed and put in the garage and/or storage before photographs can be taken.”

Katie agrees, and helps us see it from a potential buyer’s perspective:

“You want to remove items to make a house look larger and brighter. ‘Less is more’ is the way to think when selling your house because buyers want to imagine their items in the house. If possible it might be worthwhile to repaint in neutral colors so the potential buyers items will coordinate well with their furniture and accessories.”

This is especially true in today’s competitive market, with higher 2023 interest rates and many homes staying on the market longer than in the past.

“Buyers are spoiled,” Katie says. “They want turn-key. Research from the National Association of Realtors reveals it might take just 30 seconds for a potential buyer to decide their opinion on the house when they pull up to it and 30 seconds once they’re inside.”

What’s the staging process like for home sellers?

“Sometimes I have to have my sellers leave me alone in their home while I get their home ready for the professional photographer to work his magic after I work my magic,” Donna says.

“It’s only natural to feel stress and even tell the stager ‘no you can’t move that – it’s just too stressful for me.’ Before-and-after photos from other homes are the best method to help clients see the necessity of my services. That’s because a new set of ‘professional’ eyes from someone who scours design magazines to create several binders of ideas is well-equipped to quickly give new life to any space and make it easier for a buyer to see themselves there.”

Enabling buyers to see their future in a home is also a guiding principle for Katie’s work.

“Staging is the opposite of design because it appeals to potential buyers trying to visualize themselves in the house as opposed to interior decorators who prioritize the personal taste, personality and preferences of the homeowner.   

“Staging can also be very psychological,” she adds. “A mirror in the entry way lets potential buyers see themselves in the house. Margaritas on the back deck can help them see themselves enjoying an early summer evening. White towels, area rugs and upscale products in a bath can give it a ‘spa’ feeling. Since the pandemic I often stage a room to be used as an office. If a house is near the water I usually place a seafood cookbook on the kitchen counter to remind them they are buying at the beach.” 
Why should you consider a home stager instead of doing it on your own?

While some of these ideas can be helpful if you want to stage your own home, Donna and Katie both say bringing in a professional can be more effective simply because of the decades of experience and perspective they bring to the job.

“Just as continued training makes any profession better and faster, a stager with years of experience is an expert at her job too,” Donna says. “I try to use  the clients’ furniture, but I’ve learned the right accessory can enhance various areas of a home and am always on the lookout for the right painting, rug, vase and so forth. Catalogs, garage sales, estate and Facebook sales are always a part of my week so I can add to my collection (you should see my trunk, backseat and passenger seat on staging day!) I’ve even staged flower beds and porches!”

About Christine Davis

Christine grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in a small town called Pittston, which is located between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. Upon graduation, she enlisted in the United States Air Force, where she proudly served for eight + years at a variety of bases throughout the world, including Holland, Korea, and New Mexico. While in the Air Force, Christine spent most of her time working in the civil engineering career field where she thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with such a diverse group of people with varying backgrounds and experiences, and learned so much from each of them. Christine’s last assignment in the Air Force was at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and that’s when she discovered the Delaware beaches. Growing up in PA, her family spent time at the Jersey shore. But once she moved to MD, she became one of those many drivers making the trek across the Chesapeake Bay Friday afternoon to visit the Delaware beaches for the weekend. Upon Christine’s separation from the Air Force, she spent a small amount of time working in Washington, D.C., but it didn’t take long before she was drawn to the quiet, slow pace of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, “the nation’s summer capital”. Christine moved to Rehoboth Beach in 1999 and finished her degree in Business at Delaware Tech. At the time she was working for a large physician organization when a friend recommended that she become a REALTOR because she loved helping people and loved looking at homes. She was reluctant for quite a while because Christine didn’t think of herself as a salesperson. But after much urging by her friend, Christine decided to get her real estate license in 2003 and has not looked back since. Christine still doesn’t think of herself as a salesperson, but rather a facilitator between buyer and seller, working toward a common goal. Christine aims to make the process as smooth and fun as possible but also educates the buyer and seller along the way so they can make the best decision possible. Christine now lives in Lewes and although she misses the mountains of PA, she thoroughly enjoys spending as much time as possible at the beach, especially Cape Henlopen State Park. Christine’s philosophy in life is that it’s too short. Never spend so much time making a living that you forget how to live.

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