Even though snow is still a possibility, the spring housing market is just around the corner. This year will likely be another market that favors sellers due to low inventory. That’s great news for sellers, but finding the right buyers can still take months. That’s why many sellers decide to stage their homes — and it’s been shown to cut the time a given house spends on the market by nearly 90 percent, according to the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA). 

Staging your home equals time saved — which equals money in your pocket. And it allows you to put your best foot forward by highlighting some aspects of your home and de-emphasizing others. RESA reported in 2016 that an un-staged home spent an average of 184 days on the market, while that same home, after staging, sold in just 41 days on average. Homes that were staged before ever going on the market sold even faster, spending an average of 23 days on the market. Real-estate agents in the Valley know the importance of staging, and many of them have their own tips and tricks. 

While you can stage your own home, a professional stager might be able to get the work done faster. Teri Douglas is a real-estate agent with Kelley and Katzer Realestate in West Springfield, in addition to being an accredited staging professional with her own staging business. Douglas emphasizes that the most important thing about staging is to help buyers envision themselves in the space. 

“I make it look like you absolutely want to live there,” Douglas says. 

Douglas’ first piece of advice is one of the hardest for most people: De-clutter. She recommends putting three boxes in each room: one for trash, one to be donated and one to be saved. And don’t make the mistake of leaving your closets a mess.

“Organize your closet so maybe one third of your clothes are left,” Douglas recommends.

Next is depersonalizing. While your family portraits may make you feel like home, they’re likely a distraction for buyers. 

“You want them focused on the house and not the family photos,” Douglas says. 

Another big tip — one that will be a lot easier to do once many of your personal items are packed away — is to paint. Douglas says that fresh paint is a great way to make the house look clean and new. 

Last but not least are the finishing touches. When Douglas stages a house, she likes to use white towels in the bathroom and white bedding on the beds to make each room look fresh. She also often includes some personal flair. 

“I usually try to bring in a little fun, maybe a little animal print or fun colors that coordinate room to room,” Douglas says. 

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Julie Held has been a real estate agent for 23 years and is one of the owners and managers of Maple and Main Realty in Northampton (their offices are in Florence). Julie is not a stager herself but often works with professional stagers to prepare houses she is representing, particularly houses that are already empty. One such professional stager is Donna Hebert of DH Design, also based in Northampton.

“Many buyers have a hard time visualizing,” Held says. “When you stage, it pulls at the emotional.” 

If the house is empty, many stagers will buy or rent furniture to help buyers visualize how they could set up each room. 

Like Douglas, Held recommends freshening up the house itself — putting on a coat of new paint, sanding and varnishing the floors and filling in any holes in the walls. 

“When a buyer comes in, they’ve got their magnifying glass on,” Held says. “Those little things can send a message that, ‘Maybe this house hasn’t been taken care of.’ ”

Once the basics are addressed, Held says that she likes to see the house staged with tasteful furniture and decorations reflecting trends in home and design. For instance, she mentioned that the colors gray and yellow have been very popular, particularly in kitchens. 

“Even something as simple as fresh pillows on the couch can make a big difference,” Held says. “It can be very valuable and very effective.” 

Lastly, Held recommended wiping the windows and doors of fingerprints. She says that a good trick is to “put your buyers glasses on” to make sure that you see every detail that buyers will notice.

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Corinne Fitzgerald has been a realtor since 1986 and is the owner of Fitzgerald Real Estate in Greenfield. She also served as the President of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and the President of The Realtor Association of the Pioneer Valley (RAPV), and she has worked as a certified stager. 

“The purpose of staging is the buyer comes into the house and feels welcome,” Fitzgerald says. 

Her first order of business? To minimize, especially if you’re still living in the house. She explained that while you don’t want the house to look stark, you don’t want clutter around, either. 

Her second step when staging is to establish a flow through the house for potential buyers.

“Try to avoid something getting in the way of them seeing the room,” Fitzgerald says. 

Once the flow is established with the bigger furniture, you can start to think about the smaller details.

“Plants can soften the room and make it welcoming,” Fitzgerald says. “Just need to be careful not to over do it. Using a small plant like African violets or mini azaleas or hydrangeas or cut flowers, especially from your garden, for center pieces on a kitchen table or a bay window is a nice touch.” For floor accents, she recommends something from the ficus family because “they stand tall,” she says. On end tables, she likes to use a Peace Lily or a Pothos “if I’m looking for something to drape or hang.”

She follows the rule of three with other decorations — put no more than three items on a counter or table, for instance, and keep decorations on the walls to a minimum.

Fitzgerald also mentioned that what a house smells like is an important part of staging, and that while you want to minimize bad smells (such as cigarette smoke), you also should avoid strong, perfumey scents from candles or air fresheners. 

“I always err on the side of opening your windows and getting fresh air to get a natural smell,” Fitzgerald says.

Once the interior of the house is prepared, Fitzgerald reminds sellers to take a good hard look at the exterior.

“Make sure the entrance way is clean and accessible,” Fitzgerald says. “Especially right in the front where you first walk in.” 

Fitzgerald’s last piece of advice? Make sure the house is camera ready. 

“Take nice, quality photos that will accent the house,” Fitzgerald says. “I prefer a 10 o’clock-type angle verses straight on. I try to get windows in the shot … Lightning is very important. Taking the photos at the right time of day is key.”