Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to Tell Sellers Their Home Is an Eyesore
It's awkward when your clients love their style choices — but you know it will kill the sale. Break the news to them gently, and get them onboard with a more neutral look.
July 15, 2015
Cathy Turney could hardly believe her good luck when she got an unusual call from a couple looking to sell their home: They told her it had been recently remodeled — updated kitchen, bathrooms, new windows, everything — and as an added bonus, “it’s already staged, too,” they said. Turney, a managing partner at Better Homes Realty in Walnut Creek, Calif., imagined it would be an easy sell — until she stepped inside.
“Smokey the Bear stared me in the eye,” Turney writes in her new book Real Estate Sales Success (Real Estate Success Press, 2015), recounting the seller’s animal mountings. “To his right, Bambi. I was ushered into the family room and seated next to Old Yeller. I was speechless.”
The sellers’ prized possessions were hanging on walls and placed in every corner of the house. “The animals stay. But we’ll remove the guns,” the sellers told her.
When you’re invited into a potential seller’s home, you never know what you’ll find. You hope for modern and sleek, but you’re just as likely to find a ruffled, floral, neon-colored nightmare — or in Turney’s case, a mess of stuffed animals (literally). But she’s learned that you can’t tell sellers to just get rid of an eyesore.
“It’s nearly impossible for home owners to be objective about their home,” says Audra Slinkey, president of Home Staging Resource, a national staging and redesign training company. “Our homes are filled with the emotions of living there. How can we possibly be objective about merchandising the space?” Slinkey adds that sellers often think “they can stage their home themselves and have no idea of the impossibility of that process.”
So when sellers believe they have the best taste in decor, how do you tell them it may actually be tasteless to many buyers? REALTOR® Magazine recently analyzed how to have such conversations with sensitive sellers, but here are a few more ways to break it to them gently.
Talk trends. Neutral monochrome color schemes are in vogue today, along with minimalist design. Turney may make a joke with her sellers about how “it’s all 50 shades of gray with millennials nowadays. So we need to neutralize the walls.” Oftentimes, she says, a spouse will jump to her defense, saying it was obvious a bright color scheme needed to be toned down. That puts the real estate agent in a mediator role rather than a critic’s chair.
Emphasize the competition. When sharing comps, provide details about what similar homes sell for when they’ve been upgraded or remodeled and when they haven’t. Also, make sure sellers realize their home is competing against professionally staged homes. Turney tells her clients: “If you don’t want to pay for staging, we have to achieve the look ourselves — and we’ll need to do several things to get the home ready.”
Make the case for staging. Back your argument up with statistics, such as those from the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2015 Profile of Home Staging, to help steer conversations about the condition and styling of your seller’s home. You might want to point out these figures from the report:
- 81 percent of REALTORS® who represent buyers say staged homes make it easier for buyers to visualize the property as their future home.
- 46 percent of buyer agents say staging makes their buyers more willing to tour a home they viewed online.
- 32 percent of buyer agents say staged homes increase the dollar value buyers are willing to offer by 1 to 5 percent, and 16 percent say it could increase offers by 6 to 10 percent. What’s more, 28 percent of buyer agents say their buyers may be more willing to overlook property faults if a home is staged.
- Professionally staged homes spend, on average, 72 percent less time on the market than homes that aren’t staged, according to a survey by the Real Estate Staging Association.
Have the sellers do an assessment, too. Do a walkthrough of the home, offering feedback on what to keep and what to put away. The Home Staging Resource teaches agents to involve sellers actively in this process. “We have the [sellers] pretend to be the buyer and give one-word, first-impression adjectives like dark, warm, messy, clean,” and so on, Slinkey says. “We find that this process really helps the seller to separate from the home and commit to the process of selling their home since they begin to ‘pull off the blinders’ to some degree.”
Get a stager to do the talking. Bring in professional home stagers to provide a critique. “One of the reasons agents really struggle with offending their seller is that they try and give staging advice themselves, and it’s simply not their role,” Slinkey says. “The agent has to be the friend, the confidant, and do quite a bit of hand-holding for quite a long time, so keeping a strong relationship is key.” The home stager’s job, on the other hand, is to tell sellers how best to present their home so that buyers can “relate” to it and visualize themselves living there. The stager is meant to be critical yet sensitive when it comes to the decor.
Choose words carefully. Consider scripts often used in training for stagers. A popular one for Home Staging Resource is: “You have so many beautiful pieces, but unfortunately, the buyer does not get to buy those items. Since the buyer is buying the space and not your lovely things, we don’t want to ‘distract’ them with an abundance of decor.” Slinkey says stagers are trained to start each phrase with a positive affirmation and end with the staging solution.
Show other benefits of staging. Decluttering areas with piles of papers on a desk also removes items containing personal information that sellers wouldn’t want others to get ahold of. Also, removing family photos preserves family members’ privacy. Tracey Hawkins, founder of Safety and Security Source and a former real estate professional, suggests telling sellers: “You don’t know who’s walking through the house. You have photos of your spouse and children displayed, and you could have a pedophile or stalker walking through your home.” Who would leave their family photos up after you say that?
Devise a Game Plan
Homes rarely are picture-perfect and ready for buyers to tour without some staging. A talk about the home’s presentation to some degree is inevitable, whether that means providing a checklist of do-it-yourself tasks for the home owner or bringing in professional stagers to get the home ready. Some homes will need more elbow grease than others. Turney recalls a home that belonged to a hoarder that was filled with towers of boxes, and the living room had been used to restore motorcycles. The home required Crime Scene Cleaners, professionals who specialize in cleaning up homicides, since housekeeping services deemed the home a health hazard.
But regardless how poor the styling of your listing is, having an honest conversation about it with the seller may be less painful in the end than a lower sales price or a home that lingers on the market.
“It is a wonderful, positive thing to have a home reflect the nuance, personality, and lifestyle of its owner,” Slinkey says. “But when it comes to selling … it’s about merchandising the product to the masses so that the seller gets the most money from their most valuable commodity.”