I"ll be the first to admit that it's downright unfair that I'm writing this week's column while staring at the Pacific Ocean in breathtakingly beautiful Kailua (literally, just steps outside the backdoor), but there you have it. In sharp contrast, Northern California is still dealing with massive wildfires while I'm here floating on waves, picking up sand dollars, and enjoying the surf. (Aloha.)
LIfe's a beach (at least in Hawaii).
With news that the Caldor fire has changed direction; Fallen Leaf Lake will hopefully escape the devastating flames. While we're not exactly out of the woods just yet, that' a huge sigh of relief, and a gift to be sure. Cliff and I can now enjoy our time on the island without the constant threat of loss of property. (We may have dodged a bullet.) Let's hope our friends in South Lake Tahoe as well as everyone else in the Tahoe basin is as fortunate.
This tropical trip came about because our dear friends graciously offered us the use of their exceptional seaside home, and there didn't seem to be much point in staying in Oakland when there was little to nothing to be done on our end. Not surprisingly, it took us all of five minutes to accept their generous invitation and book flights.
You betcha. I feel incredibly "lucky," not to mention "grateful" on every front. (Mahalo.)
That being said, when it comes to the business of selling your home, "luck" is NOT a strategy any of us should count on.
Instead, I prefer Samuel Goldwyn's famous quote: "The harder I work, the luckier I get." With an emphatic nod to my talented colleagues, Jill and Sarah, it's absolutely true that the harder the three of us work, the luckier YOU get. We'll leave no stone unturned to bring you the highest and best results, but not without your buy in. We absolutely need you to trust the process and let us do our jobs, while maintaining some level-headed equilibrium.
Sure, there are unexpected sales that soar WELL BEYOND everyone's expectations, but these astonishing results are truly the exception, rather than the rule, AND even in these instances, I'd argue the point that "luck" had less to do with the outcome than diligence, inspiration, preparation, and good old-fashioned perspiration.
The reality is that If your Agent doesn't create an inviting backdrop, as well as a compelling narrative, there's no way prospective Buyers are walking in and paying a premium for a property with years of deferred maintenance - no matter how special you believe your house to be.
As a reminder, in the world of Real Estate, the "value" of any listing has more to do with timing, condition, presentation, and DEMAND than it has to do with "luck." Moreover, this current generation of well-heeled Home Buyers has never been more savvy or socially tuned-in via Instagram, Houzz, Trulia, My Theo, Nextdoor, Realtor.com, Zillow, and Compass.com (just to name a few) than has ANY previous generation of consumers in HISTORY! (That's not hyperbole, that's a fact.) In other words, how your home photographs is EVERYTHING in the age of digital advertising and virtual reality. Think of the work we do as aspirational; the lifestyle we present is very deliberate, but it's also a necessary, yet fictionalized version of the story of "home." (Nobody actually lives like that but we all share that dream.)
So I find it puzzling that the first question prospective Sellers often ask is: "Do we really need to stage?" followed by: "How much is that going to cost and can we reduce the rate if we use some of our own furnishings?"
The answer to whether you should stage or not, is a resounding "YES!" and as to the costs involved, you are likely to spend $40,000 - $50,000 as a starting point to bring your property to market. To be clear, that investment will include painting, staging, carpeting, and gardening, but NOT the costs for updated bathrooms or kitchens many of our older homes often require. If we are also tackling such renovations as part of the game plan, the investment will head well north of that figure. Count on it.
As for marrying your own things with the stager's stock in hopes of saving a few dollars, forget about it. Stagers prefer a blank slate, and while their fee is relative to the size of one's property, they are NOT charging you based on the number of items or accessories they bring onto the job site. Here's the thing to understand - aside from whom you choose to work with (and that's the MOST important decision), dollar for dollar, staging will bring you the greatest return on investment (ROI). This isn't the place to compromise the vision.
My point is that Sellers often miss the forest for the trees. The more important question is: "What's the difference in net proceeds between selling a house in its current "as-is" state compared to professionally creating a fresh and inviting experience?"
While the difference is impossible to quantify exactly, the answer is: "Potentially hundreds-of-thousands of dollars!"
BTW, this same logic applies to commissions. which is often the litmus test for many Sellers, but shouldn't be. The difference between what you pay a seasoned Agent - as opposed to the rebate a discount Brokerage will pay you to work with inexperienced rookies - can also add up to the loss of hundreds of thousands. And on the buy side, if you are never in contention for the house, the 1% carrot means diddly squat; 1% of zero is still zero. (You follow?)
So I ask you, does that add up? (No, it does not.)
It's worth mentioning that if you had kept your house in good working order, the cost to bring it to market would undoubtedly be far less. Consequently, when we have to increase the budget for repairs to broken windows, leaking toilets, worn out appliances, stained carpets, marred floors, non-functioning furnaces and water heaters, etc., the costs can escalate considerably. Expect the repairs you avoided throughout the years to surface now.
While admittedly, it can be an expensive endeavor to stage a house, it's important to think of the dollars spent in preparation as an INVESTMENT, as opposed to money out the door, because when we've successfully curated the project, your investment should more than make up for itself come the offer date. (That's the WHOLE picture through a wide-angle lens.)
So don't get hung up on what it costs to get your home ready for the market. Focus on the finish line instead, which is what's really important, AND what Sellers truly care about. Yes? (Yes.)
Speaking of a wide-angle lens, the waves are calling. I'm off to the beach!
How can we help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 17 years and has published more than 650 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.