Getting a home ready to sell is like getting dressed for the prom, says Coldwell Banker realtor Tim Kerns.
It's all about first impressions. That online photo may be the first time a potential buyer sees your home and decides whether to see it in person or click on the next home, he said.
Staging also plays a significant role in presentation. Every piece of furniture and decor should be strategic with only one goal: to make the home appeal to as many potential buyers as possible.
"You are doing yourself a disservice if you don't do decluttering, depersonalizing and staging," he said.
"It could be the difference in two offers or five offers, if it sells in the first week, or in 30 days."
Kerns says a seller should fix the little "handyman items" that make the home's disclosure packet "clean."
"It makes a huge difference. It's not as much work as you think," he said, and its good for high-end homes as well as regular ones.
"I sold a two 16 to 22 million-dollar houses this year. The stager we got was out of L.A. and New York. It was eighty to one hundred thousand dollars in staging costs," he said. The stager brought all new never-lived-in furniture for everything including the children's rooms, as well as details like bottles of wine to stock the wine cellar.
In these high-end home sales, buyers usually have the option to buy the furniture. A little less than half of these buyers do.
Even if a home is relatively new or luxurious it needs to be prepared for a sale.
"Every house that's been lived in needs to be freshened up, from a teardown to a three-year-old house," he said, from cleaning the refrigerator to the windows to attending to the pool.
His rule of thumb is for clients to spend about 1 percent of the expected value of the home, although most sellers don't spend that much. "There are people that go the extra mile," he said, but if a client doesn't want to spend the extra money and Kerns knows the home will sell, he will foot the bill for painting and carpet cleaning and other maintenance items. For a home that he expects to sell for $4 million, he would advise a client to spend about $40,000 investing in cleaning, fixing and things like upgrading appliances.
Judy Citron, a Menlo Park agent for Alain Pinel, echoes Kerns about first impressions. "It sets a feeling about the house," she said. "I'm actually a very big believer in landscaping. It evokes a feeling that the house has been cared for. Homes are handmade and hand crafted."
Citron, who says about 50 percent of her clients are sellers, goes into every sale by managing it as a project. "I bid everything out and get everything approved. The goal is to get the home looking its best."
When she hires painters, she has them sand and prime. Most window treatments, she said, are trendy so it's best to have none. She also doesn't necessarily advise clients to redo their kitchens just to sell their homes. But she does point out that oak hardwood floors are "timeless," while the new wide-planked gray-washed floors are just a fad that may be gone in a decade.
Citron says she focuses on making the home "neutral" but with "a personality." And, she's not against painting a wall navy blue.
Don't try to time the market, though, said Xin Jiang, a real estate agent with Alain Pinel Palo Alto.
"No one has a crystal ball to predict the future, and we are still at historic highs in terms of home prices. Except for avoiding major holidays, it's always good time to sell," she said.
"I try to educate sellers that putting the home on market serves the best interest to them, as you never know who out there will be putting an offer.
The goal of preparing a listing is to attract as many potential buyers as possible, as competition among buyers brings high price for seller, Jiang said.
She advises sellers that there are three things that should be top priority: floors, paint and landscaping, because they bring the biggest visual impact and generate the highest return on investment for the seller.
Most agents advise sellers that if possible, it's much better to move themselves as well as their stuff out of their homes.
"Rearrange furniture to create space. A dollar put into staging can gain you 10 dollars back," said Jiang's colleague Sophie Tsang.
She also stressed the importance of the little things, like pet odors. "Something familiar to you may be unpleasant to a potential buyer. We all love our pets dearly. Not so much someone else's.
"Pack up all the personal photos. Anything with a face can be distracting to potential buyers. You want them to look at your home, not your family history."