The Perception Of Selling A Vacant or Staged Home

Jon Mand Spring Farm Place home under contract

This Saint Matthews home sold at a record price per square foot for the neighborhood after being carefully staged and updated based on our team’s recommendations.

Greg: Welcome to this edition of the Louisville Luxury Homes podcast series, brought to you by Jon Mand, with Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty. Jon, as always, good to see you.

Jon: Great to see you, Greg.

Greg: I have a question for you. When I’m out showing homes, I get this question a lot from clients. Do you have a preference or does it matter when a seller has her house on the market if it’s a vacant or staged home, or if it’s just normally lived in. Is there a preference to you as an agent?

Staged Living Room

This property included a large great room with floating seating areas. Staging helped the buyer envision the use of the space.

Jon: Obviously, as always, it’s going to depend, right? I would say the preference is typically going to be to have some furnishings in the house. Now, there are certainly situations where we come into a house that’s over-furnished, and it might be better that it be vacant, but on balance I would say we typically like to have furnishings in the home just to help define some of the spaces, to help buyers kind of understand. It’s just an interesting function of psychology when a person walks into a room without furniture, it tends to feel a lot smaller. Without the sense of scale, when you have a couch in the room or a bed, or a piece of furniture, it can just help give a sense of scale to the room that otherwise we have a hard time visualizing without that kind of metric, and it’s funny when I show vacant houses, I’ll walk into a vacant bedroom, and the clients will say, “Well, there’s no way a king could fit in here,” and I’m like, “Well, this is like a 15’x18′ bedroom. It will fit, I promise you!”

I’ll measure it out on the ground for them with a tape measure, and they still don’t believe me, so it is just an interesting … You know, people aren’t used to walking through vacant spaces, and so they just have a hard time understanding the size of it without something in there, often to just kind of help them define that space.

Greg: Well, when you’re talking about vacant spaces and psychology … You mentioned psychology earlier. There is a statement, or there are feelings that people get when they go through a vacant home, and it kind of says something about the mindset of the seller. Even if it doesn’t, the buyer often thinks it does.

Jon: Yes.

Empty Living Room

Large, empty rooms can be difficult for buyers to envision with their furniture. Outdated wallpaper also makes the space too taste-specific.

Greg: How does that play into … Let’s say you’re walking through with a buyer. What would a buyer maybe think if they were walking through a vacant home that sellers ought to think about when they put their house on the market?

Jon: Sure. Well, I mean, when the house is vacant, obviously it does communicate to the buyers a sense of urgency that may or may not be accurate, but buyers tend to interpret that, that the homeowners are already out, the house is vacant, they’re just paying the mortgage and utility bills and landscaping, and etc. It does convey a sense of increased motivation on the part of the seller, or at least that’s the way buyers interpret it.

I would say on the flipside, there certainly are circumstances when I’m working with buyer clients, that people are being relocated on short notice or have just sold their house and they’re, “Hey, we’ve got to get out in 2 or 3 weeks to put this thing together,” and they’ll prioritize vacant properties, because they want to find one that they can move into immediately, and so it can cut both ways, just depending on who the buyer is, who’s looking at it.

Greg: You actually have had buyers say, “I’d like to go look at 6 homes today, but I really want to see the vacant ones first”?

Jon: Yes, because they know on the vacant ones … Well, presumably … Again, just what their interpretation would be is that it’s going to be very easy to close on that quickly and get possession quickly.

Greg: I’ve been through some vacant homes where it looks like sort of a mix between vacant and staged, so I guess the sellers have already moved, but they’re bringing in a few rooms of staging to set the mood, and I guess address the psychological concerns that you talked about earlier. How does that play either from the seller or buyer’s perspective?

Empty Dining Room

Dated or taste-specific paint colors are one of the easiest things for sellers to fix to make their property more competitive.

Jon: I think it’s very effective. I mean, the more work that a home seller can do, prior to putting it on the market, the better, in the sense of just addressing all the kind of deferred maintenance items that come up over the years, prior to putting it out there, down to having professionals come in. For all the listings that I have, I bring a professional design crew in, who gives recommendations on staging, but also on decorating, paint colors, window treatments, and just kind of preparing the house psychologically, so that the buyers walk in and it feels inviting.

The paint colors can be a dramatic difference. As we go through it with clients, the best places that they can spend their money are going to be on the paint, flooring, and then light fixtures, but the paint is huge. It’s always amazing to me, just the transformation that can occur with just a couple gallons of paint, and the staging aspect of that I guess is that, as you mentioned, it’s great … If the house is vacant, that’s fine, but there are rooms or areas in a lot of homes that just don’t make a lot of sense until you put some furniture in there. So those are the situations where we might not recommend staging the entire, because people can look at a bedroom and know that a bed goes in there, and some nightstands, and a dresser, but there’s some … Particularly when you get into open floor plans, large open spaces, and you’re trying to define okay, how you’ve got a floating dining room arrangement or something like that, how does this space actually going to work for someone?

Those are the situations where we really strongly encourage that they either stage it with their own furniture. If they’re moving, say hey just leave the dining room table here and a couple other pieces, and then once we sell the house you can take those, or we’ll bring in a professional staging company, and we’ve got a lot of those we work with and have had great partnerships with over the years, but we’ll just bring in a couple pieces to kind of define those hard to understand spaces for buyers.

Greg: Right, because not everyone who’s coming through the home has a creative imagination that can kind of figure out how they would want to use it, and sometimes it helps to see how other people have used it, so if you can kind of help them along the road and say here’s a very functional and attractive way to use this room, that really helps some people who don’t have the creative imagination to think what would the room look like in my color, or a different color, or with the table here, as opposed to over there.

Staged Family Room and Eat-in Kitchen

Jon: Home staging can certainly be expensive. If you’re staging an entire house, it can be a significant investment. I would say that you get a return on that investment, both directly, financially in terms of the sale price of the home, but also just in terms of the marketing time. If you can get a house sold in 2 weeks on the market instead of 10 months, that’s a huge savings in terms of mortgage payments and utilities, and the interest and insurance, etc., but also just the emotional cost of carrying 2 houses for that long, can be draining.

Greg: That gets old very quickly.

Jon: Yeah, so you do get a return on those things, but importantly, not every situation where we come in and bring the design team in and look at it, we’re not recommending staging on every home. A lot of times, it’s just working with the furniture that the people already have in the house. oS just saying look, we know you want to sell this house. Let’s work with your furnishings, figure out how we can kind of rearrange those, and often, it’s addition by subtraction. We’re actually just removing pieces from the home and then rearranging what’s there, so there’s a very fine line between it’s great to show a home furnished, but you don’t want to show a home that’s over-furnished, because the couch and a chair in a living room can help define the space and make it seem bigger than it would if it’s vacant, but if you put 2 couches, a chair, and a love seat, and a dresser, or an armoire in there or something, all the sudden the space starts to seem small again. You have too much furniture.

Greg: Do you have sort of a rule on that, or do you just know from years of experience when you walk into a room, that looks like it’s too much, or is there sort of a guideline or some kind of template that you like to use?

Jon: I don’t have a guideline. It’s more just a visual … I know from having walked in hundreds of houses what buyers are looking for and what’s going to show the best, but also I rely heavily on the designers. I’m paying to bring in interior designers to give their professional advice on it, so I try to follow what they’ve said as well, so that’s a big component of it. You want to do the work on the front end, and have somebody come in and look at it, and say, “Okay. If you all need to move, it’s okay. The basement can be vacant. The bedrooms can be vacant. Let’s leave a couple pieces in the living room, but take all these other pieces out,” and so we’ll just rework the house with what they already have.

Greg: All right, so let’s end on a little bit of a horror story, if you’re allowed to share one. Have you ever worked with a seller who had way too much stuff and refused to … Are you allowed to talk to me about this? … who refused to do anything about it?

Jon: Yes. Yes, we have, and those are extremely difficult situations Ultimately, obviously we’ll work with a seller client in any situation, whatever their motivation is, but just making sure that they understand, if we’re going to show a house that’s completely over-furnished, bordering on a hoarder situation, we can do that, but ultimately, it’s going to drive the sale price of the home much lower.

In that case, if you have to do either/or, it’s better to be vacant than it is to be chock-a-block full of stuff, and just that over-furnished kind of hoarding setup. So we’ll work with anyone, but we just want to make sure that they understand that it is going to affect the desirability of the house, the first impression that people have when they come in, and ultimately the sale price of the house is going to be impacted by that. If that’s acceptable, then hey, as long as we’re all on the same page going into it.

Greg: Right, so the idea is to have someone walk into the front of the house, the front rooms, and be drawn in, and say “ooh”, instead of walking in, putting their hands up and going, “oh my goodness”.

Jon: Exactly.

Greg: Al right, well thanks again, and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks, and we’ll talk about some more real estate in the Louisville market.

Jon: Sounds great. Thanks, Greg.