Curb appeal and Q-tips
Before buyers even open the door, they judge a home's exterior.
Sellers should get an outsider's perspective of the home by standing across the street, Schwarz said. They should ask, "How much of my house can I see? Is it overgrown? Is there a gutter hanging down? Is there a shutter coming down?"
A streamlined appearance with evenly cut grass and pressure-washed walks is key, she said. She urges sellers to give the front door a fresh coat of paint and add plants to either side.
Inside, cleaning may seem like an obvious and simple way to make a home look its best, but buyers often focus on blemishes homeowners overlook.
Schwarz recommends "Q-tip cleaning." A cotton swab wiped on forgotten surfaces, such as around toilets, faucets and light switches, can reveal dirt a homeowner may have missed.
Say goodbye to clutter
Homeowners often personalize their rooms with "things that make [them] feel good, but ... at the same time, camouflage the house," Hazard said.
Successful depersonalizing and clutter control means taking away 25 to 40 percent of the furnishings. This way, people can see what they're buying, Hazard said.
He also suggests removing any personal items on display that are smaller than a breadbox.
Consolidate clutter control and packing time by boxing items for the next home before putting the house on the market, Hazard said. Sellers can rent a storage unit for their packed belongings or use a room in the current house -- a space of secondary importance to the buyer, such as a child's room. Just be sure that the room stays neat, he added.
Highlight the positives
Staging, or merchandising, the home lets buyers see the best it has to offer.
When it comes to staging rooms for open houses, showcase them as they were originally intended, Schwarz said. If owners converted a dining room into an office, they should show it as a dining room.
"Buyers only know what they see, not what it's going to be," Schwarz said.
It's all about highlighting the positives and downplaying the negatives, Hazard said.
"We use color to highlight and to distract," he said. "If we have orange dated shag carpet, we'll try to pick a [paint] color that neutralizes it a little bit or tones it down."
Use white, creams and taupes to make rooms seem as large as possible, Schwarz said.
Using white sheets as drapes gives rooms a fresh and clean look, and hanging them close to the ceiling will make rooms appear taller, Hazard said.
Neutralizing nasty odors
Pet owners and smokers may have gotten used to the smell of their homes, but buyers haven't.
Simple sprays won't undo years of damage, so it may be necessary to remove or replace carpet where pets have had accidents, Hazard said. Because nicotine sticks to surfaces, he usually primes and paints walls to get rid of the cigarette smell.
Hazard also recommends misting scented water on linens before ironing, using cleaning products with a lemon scent and wiping all surfaces before an open house. Even the scent of bleach is better than the scent of pets, he said.
During your open house, keep barking dogs or other distracting animals out of the house, Hazard said, or buyers will have a hard time focusing on the home.
While effective home staging may not necessarily add dollars to the asking price, it can sell houses more quickly, said Pat Vredevoogd Combs, president of the National Association of Realtors.
Also, the faster a home gets off the market, the more money goes in the seller's pocket.
"Longevity on the market means one thing: reduction in price," Schwarz said.
Visit StagedHomes.com for more valuable Statistics & News.