Housing: Stage Your Home for a Bigger Sale

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In many parts of the country, the red-hot housing market is cooling off. So, if you're looking to sell your house, some experts believe "staging" is more important than ever. The idea behind staging is to spruce up your house to make it look less like home, and more like what a prospective buyer wants to see.

"Staging is not decorating," said Barb Schwartz, founder of Associated Staging Professionals and author of "Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money." "Decorating is personalizing. Staging is de-personalizing."

In the hope of getting the most money for their modest two-story, three-bedroom home in Watertown, a middle-class Boston suburb, Melissa and Will Skinner have decided to hire Thomas Holmes-LaFever and Kate Stenson-Lunt, who own a staging business in the Boston area called "Nuances." The Skinners have owned their home for just over three years and have put it on the market for $474,000.

The Nuances team has big plans for the Skinner home. They want to take away the area rug in the living room in order to showcase the hardwood floors. They plan to remove the personal photos from the fireplace and add some topiaries. The home office is crammed with books and clutter, and the bed needs to be made hotel-style.

"Would I have cleaned up the house before a potential buyer came in? Yes," said Melissa Skinner. "But would I have paid the same attention to detail and overall sort of 'wow factor?' No."

The staging is considered so valuable that the Skinners' realtor pays the $250 evaluation fee for every home they sell. The owners then decide if they want to pay the full fee, which typically runs between $500 and $3,000. But, the investment can be worth it, said Anita Shishmanian, a real estate agent for Century 21.

"They seem to get a bit of a payback on it," Shishmanian said. "For probably every $100 they spend, they make, appreciate $1,000."

The Skinners decide to go for the full treatment, so they check into a hotel for the night to let Nuances do their thing.

The following day, the Skinners are very pleased with the results. The guest bedroom no longer looks like a playroom. And with the treadmill gone and fewer books jamming the shelves, the office actually looks like an office. Meanwhile, the master bedroom looks like it belongs in a luxury hotel.

"It makes such an incredible difference," Melissa Skinner said. "I mean, I honestly didn't expect it to be this much of a difference. It's shocking."

The home now has the "wow factor," and that, Holmes-LaFever says, is the key to staging.

"When you buy a home it is emotional. It's not 'we don't want the … oh, I guess we could live here.' We want them to open the door and go," he said, sucking in his breath to demonstrate the excitement, "'I've got to live here. This is mine.' "

After all, you only have seconds to grab the buyer, Holmes-LaFever said.

"You have to grab them when they open the door," he said.

ABC News' Ron Claiborne originally reported this story for "Good Morning America."

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