Seek Greater Enlightenment

Proper lighting will greatly enhance a home’s presentation. Here are 10 ways to amp things up.

July 18, 2012

You want to present your listings in the best possible light. So be careful not to discount the importance of, well, light. Many real estate professionals advise their clients to flip on the light switches before a showing, but often the advice stops there. Proper illumination makes a home feel warm, inviting, and even larger and more open.

“Some homes, when they’re on the market, can feel so dim and dark,” says Jennifer Ames, a broker-associate with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago. “Just changing the lightbulbs can be like putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls. It can really freshen up the look and make a huge difference.”

A recent survey by real estate marketing provider HomeGain that rated top do-it-yourself home projects suggests that “lightening and brightening” a home can offer the second biggest return to sellers at resale (behind the No. 1 category “cleaning and decluttering”). A $424 upfront investment in upgrading lighting fixtures and cleaning windows can potentially offer a nearly three-fold return on investment at the time of resale, according to HomeGain’s 2012 Home Improvement Survey.

How can you present your homes in a better light? Ames and home staging experts from Let’s Move LLC weigh in with their best tips.

  1. Use clear lightbulbs. Place new incandescent lightbulbs in all fixtures so they don’t risk burning out in the middle of a showing. Choose clear light­bulbs over opaque for a cleaner look. Also, avoid mismatched bulb types. “They are uncomfortable to the eye and can make a room look chaotic,” Ames says. She suggests using the same wattage and color temperature (which describes the visible warmth and coolness of light sources).
  2. Reconsider energy-efficient bulbs. Ames advises clients to save the energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs for after the move because they emit a harsh glare compared to standard incandescent bulbs. While a home is being shown, she recommends using halogen flood bulbs, when possible, for best overhead lighting that brightens a space. They are more energy-efficient than incandescent flood lightbulbs. But before you swap out bulbs, make sure that you check the maximum lamp wattage and type of rating for the fixture, since halogen bulbs operate at very high temperatures. If you opt for CFLs, note that they come in two types: soft white and white. Soft white is preferable and more natural, suggests Kim McMahon, founder of Let’s Move LLC and Let’s Organize LLC in Fulton, Md., and president of the National Association of Senior Move Managers.
  3. Watch the wattage. Use the highest wattage possible for fixtures to brighten the home, but there may be some exceptions. For example, Ames recommends using 30-watt bulbs in wall sconces in the bathroom to create a softer light setting. Higher wattage bulbs can give a harsh glare in the bathroom, she says.
  4. Clean light fixtures. Brush off dusty lamp shades, scoop up the dead flies lingering inside the fixtures, and remove any spiderwebs dangling from chandeliers, says home stager Suzanne Cash, a project manager at Let’s Move and Let’s Organize. When all the lights are turned on in a home, everything becomes more exposed—including all the places your sellers may have forgotten to clean.
  5. Brighten the exterior windows. Take more advantage of natural light by removing window screens; this can make a home look brighter from the inside and out, says McMahon. And don’t forget to wash those windows, too.
  6. Replace dated light fixtures. Brass fixtures are passé. Swap out dated models for a more modern look featuring oil-rubbed bronze or brushed nickel, for example. Big-box and discount retailers offer plenty of affordable lighting options. To keep costs down, just change the fixture and leave the wiring in place.
  7. Add light. “Don’t just rely on overhead lighting,” Ames says. Soften the look by adding wall sconces or decorative lamps to side tables and nightstands. For a dark kitchen, consider buying battery-operated, circular push lights to stick under the cabinets for an extra source of light, Cash says. Or use them to illuminate a dark closet shelf.
  8. Add a mirror. Mirrors can be used to bounce light and make a home look brighter and its walls higher. Place a mirror opposite a lighting fixture to project more light into a room or to catch natural light entering through a window. Mirrors also work well in a dark area of a home and “give the feeling of a window, even if there isn’t one,” Cash says.
  9. Open the windows. Remove draperies that prevent natural light from flowing in, McMahon says. “[Curtains] are not in style or considered attractive right now,” she says. Instead, use window coverings with clean lines, such as wood blinds. Valances and side panels of curtains can “eat up space and light,” she says. If sellers insist on keeping up the draperies, make sure they are pulled away from the window, and if necessary tied back, to let in more light. Lift up roller shades or Venetian blinds all the way, or tilt them open, but don’t leave them half-way up, which creates a messy look, Cash says.
  10. Brighten your listing photos. The lighting in the photos you capture can greatly influence buyers’ perceptions too. “It’s counterintuitive but a lot of people think you should take pictures of a home when the sun is pouring in the windows,” Ames says. “But when that happens, light floods the room and the contrast is too great,” so the photo looks darker. Instead, Ames suggests, take interior photos at dusk or on overcast days to get more balanced light in your photos. On the other hand, for the best exterior photos, shoot the home in the backdrop of a full sun.


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