Home staging is a growing niche

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— A house can have the nicest finishes -- wood floors, granite countertops and marble tile -- but without furniture and accessories, it may be hard for potential buyers to envision the house as a home.

On the other hand, too much stuff can distract buyers from a home's best qualities.

Steamboat's hot real estate market has opened a niche for professionals with a knack for making a home warm and inviting but not overwhelming.

Steamboat Realtor Christy Woodland caught on to the value of staging while viewing professionally staged homes in Boulder. The model-home-like setups inspired her to take a home certification class and start a home presentation business, Show Time!

Home staging is built on the idea that buying a home is emotional and often based on how spaces make a person feel, Woodland said.

Clutter and personal items are disengaging, but vacant spaces end up feeling cold and impersonal.

"Even with the best eye, it's still really hard to visualize a house when it's empty," Woodland said. "They (buyers) need to be kind of guided -- having it furnished and staged is key to that."

One of Woodland's first jobs, a home in Steamboat II, had promising results. It sold within two weeks of staging after being listed for six months.

That may be more than coincidence, according to statistics from StagedHomes.com, which provides training and information for Accredited Staging Professionals.

In a survey of 200 homes staged by members, the business found that homes sold within an average of 32 to 42 days after being staged and after being listed for an average of 4 1/2 months.

"The changes are phenomenal," StagedHomes.com founder and President Barb Schwarz said as she prepared to stage a home with a group of students in Chicago.

"There's a plastic tablecloth and too many (table) leaves, and chairs that make the room look small," she said, apparently taking inventory of the dining room.

In addition to depersonalizing spaces, home stagers often "work magic" by rearranging furniture and using items homeowners already have, Schwarz said.

Woodland especially was keen on how home staging can help Realtors, who may have an eye for what will help sell a home but don't have the time to make it happen.

"As much as it takes to get a house listed, I don't think there's enough time in the day to beautify and depersonalize a home in a way that buyers will really like it when they walk in," she said.

Home staging is a "wonderful team effort" between Realtors and home-staging professionals, said Schwarz, who also trains Realtors about how to educate their clients about the benefits of home staging.

A higher purchase price can be one of the biggest benefits.

A 2003 survey by HomeGain.com found that staged homes sold for as much as $2,800 more than the asking price, bringing owners 169 percent average return on their investments.

Schwarz noted that home staging is a good idea in hot and cold markets: If there are a lot of buyers, the process can net a higher price. If there's few buyers, a staged home can stand out from the competition.

For more information about Woodland's services, call 846-6907.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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