5-Minute Home Makeover in 4 Easy Steps

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Home Improvement

Getting Started

When I walked into the room we had reserved at a popular St. Croix Valley Bed & Breakfast back in February, I felt unhappy from the beginning, and it took me a few minutes of careful thought to pinpoint exactly why. The room itself was huge and clean, with a neat, freshly-made bed, and as a historic-house-lover myself, I couldn't fault the intrinsic character of the old building. But my spouse and I had come for a relaxing getaway, and this place just didn't feel right. After a quick look around the suite with a "staging eye," I was ready to deliver my verdict-- our B&B needed an emergency makeover! Fortunately, my experience with listing photos came in handy, and in less than 5 minutes, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief, ready to settle in and enjoy the evening.

But what does this experience have to do with selling a home? (And how can anyone fix these types of problems in less than 5 minutes?)

It’s important to remember that potential buyers only think they’re looking at houses. They actually want to see "hotel living"-- that pristine, restful atmosphere that lets them draw a deep breath of relaxation when they enter a home.

In fact, a home purchase has a lot more to do with emotional connections, and some basic mistakes in staging can create huge turn-offs that prevent buyers from developing that kind of connection to your home. How to avoid those turn-offs? 

It’s the little things…

1. Hide the cords. Our first view of the B&B room included a lovely antique desk... upon which the hosts had perched a huge television monitor and its equipment. The cords dangled down the side facing the door, attached at the bottom to a power strip. My first "makeover" step involved moving the equipment to a place under the desk where it stayed accessible, but didn't catch the eye of a casual observer. It only took 30 more seconds to re-route the cords behind the desk, and attach them to the power strip that I relocated to the far underside of the desk as well. Problem solved. 

We all know that our modern lifestyle requires technology, and most of it still has to be plugged in. However, visible cords clutter up a room and create an unpleasant sense of busyness (and unattractive busyness, at that). The best thing is to actually hide the technology altogether, but at least deal with the cords. If you can't actually hide cords permanently, unplug them for showings and photos, or if that's not an option (large appliances), get them out of the first sightline of your potential buyers -- make them invisible from the doorway view.

The first impression of a room in your house matters as much as any other first impression. Positive feelings at the beginning of a showing can stay with the buyers throughout the experience. So can negative feelings. Minimizing the visual impact of your everyday technology will create that restful feeling your clients crave in a home. 

In fact, this can have a huge impact. If you have some extra time, you may want to look at creative options for this tip-- see an example here. But don't just leave those cords hanging!

2. Enforce a no-clutter policy. Everyone knows this by now. But as home-owners, we get used to a certain amount of clutter in our environments, and we start to think it's okay for our buyers to see that, as well. They'll understand, right? 

Wrong. Our B&B room had a beautiful white marble mantelpiece carefully and neatly stocked with local business guides, laminated instructions for the wifi, art books... things a guest might need. But our eyes had no place to rest among the clutter. I put everything into the desk drawer, and suddenly the room took on a whole different feeling. I also moved an extra chair into a storage area-- again, to open up more floor space in the doorway sightlines. Aaaaah.

Remember, you're creating a feeling for your potential buyers that says "this is the place." One tip from the pros (I don't remember where I heard this one) goes something like this-- put everything away (in storage, in cabinets, in the shed-- wherever) until it feels like the right amount for the space-- and then put away one more thing. Repeat. This applies to your kitchen counters (pack up that toaster and coffee maker), your furniture (you don't really need that extra end table), your bookshelves (the knick-knacks have to go-- yes, all of them), and even your wall decor (one, not 5). Your house will feel "empty" to you, but it will feel "spacious" to your buyers.

You don't need to put a lot of thought into this. Tell yourself it's temporary, that you'll have to pack it anyway when you move, and box it all up. Done.

3. Relocate pet supplies. When we entered the B&B that evening in February, a large, very friendly dog rose from his bed in the foyer and greeted us. Although he had a polite temperament, it did change the atmosphere, and I felt a little less clean afterwards, with a sudden urge to wash my hands ASAP. Even later, with the dog gone (leaving only his doggy bed/bowl behind), the feeling remained.

Truth: animals are sweet, but dirty. We love them (click here for our adorable Adopt-A-Pet video). But remember that not everyone is a pet owner, and regardless, a buyer is not looking for a home, but a hotel experience when they walk through your front door. A clean dog bed/kennel/bowl still belongs to an animal, and changes the feeling of your property from "hotel living" to "my aunt's house." You don't mind visiting your aunt, but you can't really picture yourself moving in with her. People need to be able to picture themselves in your home, so put away the pet evidence before they arrive. Your animals may not enjoy having their supplies relocated to a utility area of the house, but tell yourself (again) that it's temporary, and just do it. You can even move the supplies back to their usual spots in the evening past showing time, but you can't leave them out for pictures or potential buyers.

4. Remove personal-style items. I am happy to say that our B&B kept it professional in this way (although in my opinion, it still could have used some better boundaries between the owners' personal living and their business venture). I specifically say "personal-style," because we all know to put our undershirts out of view, but there are other things that may not occur to us immediately. Do you have a store-brand plastic soap dispenser? Stick it in the cabinet. A roll of toilet paper neatly positioned on the toilet tank? Nope. Throw it in your sock drawer, if you're in a hurry. Toothbrushes, feminine supplies, air fresheners-- anything with a brand or disposable packaging of any kind-- should be out of sight before photos or showings on your house. Again, think about an upscale hotel room. Even a box of tissue has its own, permanent, neutralizing case or slot in the bathroom vanity.

People pay to stay at hotel rooms. They don't pay to stay with their aunts. Any time money is on the table, the consumer standard changes dramatically. 

Fortunately, if your house is clean and well-maintained, you can meet these higher standards with just a small amount of time and some attention to detail. Your buyers won't consciously register these types of improvements, but they will feel the difference between your home and the others they visit in their search. It might just be the "edge" you need to attract the right offer.

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Posted by L. Lathrop, for Jim Burns