Realtors share their top staging tips: What to update

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you should spend money updating your home when you’re planning to sell it. There’s a fine line between making it as appealing as possible and spending more than you’ll get out of the updates. Fully updated homes will sell more quickly and often for more money than those with a more – ahem – pre-owned aesthetic. That doesn’t mean you should spend all of your equity putting in the updates you never enjoyed for yourself. Here are the ones that make the most impact. Talk to your agent about what makes the most sense for your budget and goals.

(Note: We’ve looked at some of the very best ways to put your best foot forward with Crank up the curb appeal and gotten you in the right frame of mind for staging with How to get started. We added some room by room tips with How to create style. Start with them first if you haven’t already read them.)

First, consider that a well-maintained home is most attractive to buyers. Most don’t want a big honey-do list when they walk in the door, so try to eliminate the impression that they’ll be buying a project. Start with the obvious repairs. Walk through each room and make a list of anything you see that is broken, worn, or in otherwise poor condition. These could be things like nail and tape pops in the ceilings and on walls or settling cracks in the drywall, running toilets, or cracked outlet covers. Make sure doors and drawers open and close properly, and polish hinges and handles. Give natural woodwork a once-over with orange oil to restore its gleam. Now that everything is clean and repaired, let’s take a look at what could use updating and where it’s wise to spend time and money.

Lighting is probably the next most affordable fix. Put the maximum wattage bulbs in your fixtures. Dust your lamp shades and bulbs. Add more lamps if you can. Open up blinds and let as much natural light in as possible. If your lights are dated and can be easily painted or upgraded, then do so. Most people will turn their noses up at a cheap-looking builder grade fixture. Ditch the Hollywood lights in the bathrooms and fluorescent box lights in the kitchen for more current styles if you can.

Paint is the one thing most people will do before listing a home and so a fresh coat of paint is something buyers will expect. Choose sophisticated neutral colors. Choose middle neutrals of warm honeys, steely blues or cool pewter to create a refined setting. If you have patterned wallpaper, you might want to think about removing it and having the walls textured and painted instead. Don’t neglect the doors, baseboards, window sills and trim. If they’re dingy and cleaning doesn’t help, a fresh coat of paint will do wonders. If you have built-ins, paint the insides with a contrasting color or deeper shade on the color strip that you’ve used in the rest of the room to highlight the objects displayed within.

In the kitchen, freshly painted or glazed cabinets can update a look, but if you’re not inclined to take on that big of a project, try updating the hardware and drapery. Make sure appliances are spotless. Dated appliances and countertops are going to deter some buyers, so if it’s in your budget to update them, then it’s not a bad idea. If you can’t afford it, then make sure they’re as tidy as possible.

Now let’s talk about flooring. Can the carpets be salvaged with a really good steam cleaning and re-stretching? If not, you may want to replace them. It stinks to have to spend the money on it, but most people really get turned off by dirty or worn carpets. The “carpet allowance with acceptable offer” thing happens, but honestly, most people don’t want the hassle. Yes, buyers may be inclined to rip out the carpet and replace it with hardwood floors anyway, but try not to think about it too much. You’d rather they see your home in top condition and get a favorable impression than see it in less than prime condition and think they can cut the price because you obviously don’t care that much. If you’ve got hardwoods that are in poor condition, get estimates to see if they can be refinished. They often can be (even pre-finished engineered wood floors can often be refinished a couple times). It will make a big difference.

In the bathroom, updated tile, sinks and shower enclosures are most requested by buyers. If you can’t afford to refinish the bathrooms entirely, try painting the vanity or replacing the faucets. Fresh grout and caulk and a clean shower pan makes a big difference in the overall impression in the minds of buyers, too. Bathrooms must be spotless and the fewer visible personal items left out, the better. People don’t want to think of others using the facilities. As best you can, create a luxury feel with fluffy new towels, spa accessories, and a new bath mat.

Watch for our final article in this series, It’s showtime! where we’ll give you tips on what to do right before your buyers arrive.