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Setting the Stage

Before the Curtain Rises on a Sale, Get Your Home Ready for Its Close-Up

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2004; Page F01

Second of two articles

Get rid of at least half your stuff. Clean the house until it sparkles. Have your carpets and floors professionally cleaned -- or replaced, if they're worn. Paint if you need to.

Put crisp green apples into a stylish black bowl on your kitchen table. Turn all the lights on. Start some soft jazz on the CD player. Bake some chocolate chip cookies.

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Lights, camera, action. It's time to sell your home.

Styling, staging, or fluffing a house -- whatever you want to call it -- is something most real estate agents wish their sellers would do. Even in times like this, when houses can sell in a matter of days, agents say staging a home as if it were the set for a play is a sure-fire way to get the best possible price in the shortest time.

"I tell sellers to look at their homes like a Hollywood set," said Barb Schwarz, a real estate agent from Seattle who founded the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, which runs training programs. "The audience is the buyer. The stager is the director. The critics are the agents who talk behind your back. And the goal is more money."

Staging, which first gained popularity on the West Coast, increasingly is catching on with agents in the Washington area.

"I staged three properties last month," said Deb Gorham, an agent with Long & Foster Cos. in Reston who recently took the association's two-day course. "And this month, I did five. The business has grown every month since I started in the spring."

Ron Sitrin, an agent with Long & Foster in Montgomery County, said: "We're spending more and more time on staging. I put a person on staff about two months ago and part of her responsibilities are staging homes for sale."

The cornerstone of the staging concept is that a property needs to be marketed just like any other product that's being sold to the public. This is a hard concept for many sellers to grasp because they are emotionally attached to their houses.

"It's a very delicate thing to go in and tell people that the way they've lived for 15 years is not the way they're going to get their house sold for top dollar," said Hugh Kelly, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage-Pardoe on Capitol Hill. "People don't want to hear it."

But the way you live in a home and the way you market a home are two different things, agents insist.

"If you went to Starbucks and your cup was dented and had lipstick on it, you'd either want to give it back or get a heck of a buy on it," Schwarz said. "Your house is like that Starbucks cup. You need to sterilize it, get the dent out and the lipstick off."

Melinda Estridge, an agent with Long & Foster in Bethesda, said many people will put more energy into selling their used car than they will their home, which is unwise if "you're interested in getting the biggest bang for the buck from your biggest investment." She said 95 percent of the homes she looks at that are going up for sale need some work, even the ones in great condition.

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