Home Staging Course Unit 2
Common Home Staging Problems
For the next part of this home staging course we’re going to go over some of the most common issues you will come across when staging occupied homes. This is where we get into issues like clutter and outdated decor, and when you learn how to tactfully these situations and correct them, real estate agents will love you.
If you’ve missed the beginning of the course or just want to review, go back and check out Unit 1 of our home staging course.
Many homes have too much day-to-day stuff in sight, such as mail, coats and hats, items on nightstands, counter-top clutter in kitchens and bathrooms, you get the idea. People have these everyday items sitting out in plain view because we get used to them and we use them all the time.
Clutter can also include knick-knacks, pet items, piles of old magazines, collections, toys, and more. When we stage, we need to find places to put stuff away in cabinets or drawers, and possibly start boxing things up in preparation for moving.
Organization and decluttering strategies could comprise a course on their own so I will not be attempting to teach these methods. If you’re not a natural organizer you might want to look at some books on the topic so you can help your clients with some pointers. What we want for staging is a kind of semi-minimalism. I say “semi” because just saying the word minimalism can be interpreted rather harshly by some, like an all-white room with a chair, a book, and a spiky plant in the corner. We want it to be more interesting and more comfortable than that, but we want to get rid of distractions and everyday real-life stuff.
I’m not suggesting that you do the actual decluttering for them, just be ready with ideas and make sure you’re specific when letting the clients know where the trouble spots are.
Too Much Furniture
There’s no magic rule that I can give you as part of this home staging course to determine how much furniture should be in a room. It depends too much on the shape of the room, window placement, room function, and other features like stairways, fireplaces, or other built-in features.
You will know when you walk into the room whether it feels a little crowded.
You’ll also be able to tell that there’s too much furniture if it forces traffic patterns that are awkward.
A good rule of thumb is to have two feet of space around each piece of furniture in a grouping such as a seating area.
If you’re dealing with a situation where there is not enough furniture for the space, try to arrange it so that you spread the visual weight evenly around the room.
You don’t want one side of the room full of furniture and the rest of the space is empty.
Try to space things out in a way that makes sense in terms of usability (even if nobody is really using it) while distributing the visual weight around the space.
By visual weight we mean the way elements pull our eye, how much they “register” when we look at each item. What you want is to create visual balance.
Remember that visual weight is not tied directly to the size of the item.
It’s better to err on the side of having a little too much space rather than too much furniture.
You can have buyers store excess furniture in a basement, attic, or storage unit such as a POD that they may be using for their move anyway.
Sometimes you run into very dated décor. Depending on the budget and how extensively you’re staging, you may have to find ways to minimize the problem areas instead of replacing them altogether.
A good example would be kitchen flooring. You may not have the option of getting new flooring (although this is a relatively inexpensive high-impact change you can make) so instead you’ll have to try to take the focus away from it.
You can do this by highlighting the positive features in the kitchen, such as a beautiful view of the garden or spacious counter tops. You can put a pretty throw rug down that works with the existing color of the floor but also gives your eye a more pleasing area to rest.
I’m not saying that we can completely take the attention away from the problems.
Problems will get noticed. But we can try to minimize their impact by giving buyers plenty of good stuff to admire in the home.
It’s like, “Yeah the 1970s avocado and brown linoleum is an eyesore but look at all this counter space… and the view of the garden….”
Sometimes you can spruce-up dated drawers and cabinets with some new knobs in a finish like brushed nickel that will work with nearly any décor.
I like these bin pulls for giving older cabinets an easy update.
Dated furniture can be given a quick makeover with some new pillows and a cozy throw, if you don’t have the budget to swap pieces with rented furniture (or your own items).
Not Enough Light
In home staging, light is probably your best friend. Look at the window coverings to see what changes can be made in order to get more light.
Natural colored linen or linen-like curtains can give a home a quick update, allowing light to filter in while maintaining privacy at night.
See if there is excess foliage outside windows. Branches can be trimmed to let in more light.
You can also add mirrors to help lighten things up.
Unflattering Paint Colors
Believe it or not, you don’t have to paint every room white in order to attract buyers.
In fact, white rooms often come across as cold and boring. Painting everything white is a home staging mistake that a lot of house flippers and brand new stagers make.
Here’s the reality:
Color helps sell homes.
But if the bedroom is hot pink, I mean yes that might be a little much.
A red lacquered accent wall in the living room may be a little over the top. (I depends on the space though.)
And the brown walls in the dining room, well, might be a little unappetizing.
Hopefully your sellers will be OK with painting, should the need present itself.
When suggesting new colors, try to make choices that will have broad appeal. I would generally avoid stark white but you should definitely think about warm antique white and cream shades.
Earthy pale greens like sage or muted minty tones are often very pleasing. We’ll get more into color choices in a bit.
I’m going to add another common problem here, which is bad faux finishes. Faux finishes in general can date the home but the problem gets even worse when you come across poorly-done faux finishes. Have clients paint over these.
Try not to offend them as it’s obviously something they’ve liked while they’ve lived there, and maybe they did the hard work of applying the finish. And it is hard work!
Talk about refreshing the space, enhancing the light, neutralizing the decor… try to use wording that will be gentle in letting them know that it needs to go. But get them to paint over it.
Last but not least, we have to deal with odors. This is more common as a home staging problem than you might expect, unfortunately, and not a very comfortable one to discuss. This can be an issue related to pets, diapers, cigarettes, garbage, or even mold or mildew.
Mold and mildew can be a serious issue that should come up during a home inspection, and it may indicate current or past water leaks that are not something that we’ll be trying to cover up.
I just want to be clear about the fact that we aren’t concealing problems with the home. If you do notice a moldy odor you can just ask the sellers if they’re aware of it.
They may not be, since they have probably grown accustomed to it. It’s something you should discuss in case they do want to address it in terms of making repairs.
Pet odors could be coming from the litter box or from carpets.
You may have to troubleshoot the problem on the fly and then talk to the sellers to arrive at a solution.
It could mean that they agree to hire a carpet cleaning service.
Maybe you tell them that one thing you recommend to all cat owners is to make sure the litter box is cleaned at least once per day, or more frequently if there are multiple cats.
It might be that you leave them with a new bottle of Febreze. It just depends on the situation.
For garbage odors, you can leave them with (or ask them to purchase) some scented trash bags and an air freshener that can be placed by the trash can.
You’ll have to try to navigate the topic of odors as tactfully as possible, but remember that you’re not doing your job fully as a stager if you avoid these conversations.
It’ll make sure a huge difference when you fix it.
Many homes have location problems and of course there is only so much you can do about them.
Here are some issues you’ll deal with as a home stager.
It’s a Little Noisy
Road noise is one of the most common issues, and there are a couple of things you can do. If the noise is mainly an issue outside on the porch or deck or in the back yard, you can add wind chimes or water features like a tabletop fountain.
If the noise is noticeable in the house, you can keep the windows closed that are closest to the source of the noise.
I disagree with the tactic of trying to cover up such noise by playing music during showings. To me that crosses the line, because in that scenario someone would have to have music on all the time in order to deal with the issue.
Adding a fountain or a chime is just a way to put other ambient sounds into the mix so that there are other sounds to focus on, and these can easily be running all the time in the background.
I think it’s different to have to play music all the time; it’s just not practical for people.
One thing I hope you come away with through this home staging course is a sense of ethics. You need to be fair and make sure you’re giving buyers a fair chance to assess whether they can accept the home’s flaws.
Minimize those flaws, but don’t try to cover things up.
It Doesn’t Have the Best View
OK, moving on to another common location issue: unsightly views.
By this I mean when there is an ugly commercial building behind the home so the view from the backyard is not the best. Or if there is, and sometimes this happens, a neighbor who does not keep things up.
Or there is a deck with a view that’s just undesirable for whatever reason. I looked at a home once that was really lovely except for one thing — the upstairs bedrooms had a view of some dumpsters located at an adjacent multi-unit property. My agent was like, “Just don’t look that way.” Not really practical.
You can get some baby trees and plant them along the fence line. You can put up a trellis or an outdoor folding screen on a deck.
You can try to redirect attention toward something attractive like an outdoor seating area with some pretty glass globe string lights decorating the space.
Note: There is no charge for our home staging training, however, we’ve had folks ask about contributing just because they like what we’re doing. We appreciate that support so much. Our mission is to make this rewarding career a reality for anyone who wants to pursue it.
Home Staging Course Unit 2 Assignments
1. Search for homes in your area or any city where you feel like browsing online.
Find homes in starter to mid-range prices and look at interior photos. Look at five or more homes and try to come up with a list of at least ten problems that you can see in the photos. Identify the problem and how it will affect a buyer’s impression of the home.
Please list the home’s address and zip code and the problem that you see. You do not have to include photos but you are welcome to.
An example answer would be: “512 Oak Street 97206 has a cluttered living room with dog crates taking up a lot of floor space and the room seems small. The home also has clutter on the kitchen counters so it looks like preparing food would be very cramped.”
2. Imagine you’re in a client’s home and there are a few delicate topics that you need to address. Think about ways to tell the client these three things: there is a cat box odor, the bathroom has too much grooming stuff on the counter-top that make it look very small, and there is a “favorite chair” that is taking up too much living room space so it should be put in storage.
This isn’t something you need to turn in but I want you to come up with two ways of saying each of the above, tactfully, to your imaginary client. Make one statement very gentle and one a little bit more firm. You may need to tell clients these things a couple of times to get the message across.
Write down your statements for each situation and practice saying them out loud. Look at yourself in the mirror while doing so, and make sure you’re conveying confidence in your body language while being kind and understanding.
People can be sensitive when they feel they’re being judged so this can take a little practice to get just the right tone.
Practice until you feel like you’ve nailed it.