Through the Kitchen Window

Well, yours truly is at it again!!!

Moving, one thing I always said I’d never do, and yet, millions of people do it with an ease that boggles my mind. I mean, let’s be realistic here. Moving, if you own your own home, usually means you have to sell, hopefully at a good price (read high) and then buy, hopefully at a good price (read low). None of these is as easy as we’d like it to be, and then you have to pack up all your belongings, move them to the new house, and find places for them again so that the new home feels like the old home. It’s always sounded like an awful lot of work to end up pretty much where you were before the big move. It’s slightly less complicated if you rent, but these days I understand you are subject to the whims of landlords too. Not only do you have to qualify on the income front, but you also rely on whether he takes a shine to you or not. Ok, so I know it’s not THAT cut and dried, but I’m allowed to hyperbole.

Since I moved out of my parents house when I got married (at age 22), I’ve moved three times. That’s an average of once every nine years and each time kicking and screaming, well, almost. Although, three times in that span of years really isn’t all that bad when you think about it. I have friends who move (that’s buying and selling) on average every two years. I never understood how she did it. I STILL don’t!!!

So why does a woman who HATES to move decide to sell and do it again??? Simple, really. My day job is in the city. My house is in a small rural town, in the country. The commute to work and home again, puts me on the road anywhere from two and a half to three hours a day, and since I’m pretty much away from any major traffic flows, that’s straight drive time. And it’s not just the cost of gas or the wear and tear on the car, though these are definitely huge factors. It’s the wear and tear on my social life. As any of you know that also commute, when you’re up at 5am and not home till 6:30 or 7 pm, your non-working life is non existent. You get home, make dinner and crash, or at least, that’s what I do. It’s time to expand my interaction circle to include a few friends I don’t see much of anymore (if I can remember what they look like) instead of just my cats and the dog.

So I made the decision to sell the house and move closer to work. It’s a nice little semi-detached back split, five levels, three bedrooms, one and a half baths, an office/den, a family room and the requisite kitchen, living room and dining room. (If you’re interested in seeing it, you’ll find it here.) I almost wish I had before pictures so you could see the full effect of the transformation.

My daughter and my real estate agent went through the house and decided what needed doing in order to make it attractive and “saleable”. And this is the point of my column. We’ve spent the last three weekends busily “staging” the house for sale appeal. Or rather, my daughter has. She’s the brains behind the “staging” of the family home that we sold two years ago, and she’s at it again with this place. Didn’t take a lot of time, three weekends, give or take, with herself, her partner and her brothers putting in the labour. In the end, the whole deal cost under $1,500 CDN. Staging is, apparently, a growing business offshoot of the real estate boom that’s held us in thrall for years now. The essence of staging is that you bring in a consultant, in my case my daughter, who goes through your house from top to bottom and gets it ready to be marketed. They clear away all the clutter, get rid of anything offensive in the way of décor and weed, weed, weed. While the goal is to make the property attractive and have it sell quickly and well, it’s not about hiding flaws, it’s about highlighting good points.

For instance, the house I’m selling now, when I bought it, could have been a living advertisement for what not to do with wallpaper. Literally every room, bathrooms included, was wallpapered, and they looked like throwbacks to the 80’s with their large cabbage roses, flocked and gilded lilies and the like. For most people, it would have been a deterrent to buying the house. Not every prospective purchaser comes equipped with their own decorating team.

That’s where the stager comes in. Instead of leaving it up to chance, a stager takes care of all the little decorating flaws. Staging has become a very popular way to get top dollar for your home once you’ve decided to sell. Reportedly, homes that are staged, consistently sell faster and for more money (I’ll be able to speak more to this claim once I’ve sold mine). A recent survey of 2,000 US real estate agents found that a small investment in home improvements, usually in the area of $100 - $3,000, will actually result in higher returns when your house sells. The reason for this is that staging sets a scene in every room of your house that immediately grabs the buyer’s interest. One thing to keep in mind, though, if you want to sell your home for the best possible price, a stager’s rule of thumb, "The way you live in your home, and the way you market and sell your house are two different things." Basically what that means is that just because you think all the little knick knacks look homey and cute, doesn’t mean a prospective buyer will. For the most part, staging has a lot to do with de-cluttering and making a house look spacious and roomy. It may also involve some simple cosmetic touches such as more attractive “pulled together” colours, extra lighting in dim corners, new window treatments and plants or flowers in strategic places.

What can you expect from a stager?

A stager (or stylist) will come into your house, and having gone through it, will be able to give you honest, well thought out feedback about how it feels from a buyer’s point of view. It’s their business to make sure that any photos used in selling your house, and today that includes internet-based portfolios much like mine linked above, will make your home look as attractive as possible. They will go over all aspects of selling your home with you and decide what needs to be done. If the changes and suggestions she makes require skilled people, a stager, while sometimes qualified to do the work themselves, will, more often, be able to put you in touch with the appropriate trades people. As I mentioned earlier, a stager won’t cover up any major problems, but they will help you make the most of your home’s good points. How is a stager different from an interior designer? Working with an interior designer, you try to make your living space personal and comfortable, paying attention to what your own personal tastes are. In order to help you sell your house well, a stager needs to do the exact opposite. Strictly speaking, a stager will neutralize or de-personalize your home thereby making it attractive to a potential buyer. So why do you need a professional??? Mostly, it’s because a professional is trained to be a minimalist. While it’s true that in a home you’re living in, those little touches that you love make it look homey and inviting, more often than not they’ll have the exact opposite effect on any prospective buyers, making it seem crowded and cluttered. And a professional stager won’t have any qualms about taking Aunt Edna’s wedding gift off the mantle. Even though my stager was my daughter, it was difficult to stand by and watch her strip things bare. I kept wanting to ask why the kitchen counter had to be cleared of everything but the most essential things; or why the office couldn’t have books and papers piled around, it WAS an office after all.

Truth be told, however, the results are awesome!!! If I wasn’t so sure that I don’t want to commute anymore, I’d take the house off the market. It’s the same house, three bedrooms, den, family room, living room, dining room and kitchen, one and a half baths and a laundry room. Two thousand square feet of space. But somehow, it suddenly looks like so much more. A little bit of paint, some nail holes patched, a lot of clutter taken away and the house has taken on a new lease on life. It’s easy to understand how de-cluttering can make it more appealing and raise its value. After all, the less work needed before moving in, the more attractive it is to the buyer. Now we wait for someone to fall madly in love with it!!! And what’s not to love??? You keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted. Never know, next time we meet here at, I may be writing from my new office in my new home, less than twenty minutes from my day job. Let’s hope!!! TTFN!!!

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