Staging vacant properties can pose one of the biggest dilemmas for anyone preparing houses for sale, whether it’s their own house or someone else’s. And the answer is the same as to many other staging questions – it depends. Of course fully furnishing a vacant home is wonderful, but not usually an option most sellers choose. So what are the areas to focus on?
First is smell. While this is important in any house that’s on the market, when a house is vacant, smell may be a very big issue. Empty houses or houses where no one is living may smell dank, musty, and generally uninviting. So whatever other decisions you make about staging, do something to make it smell good. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean artificial scents, which eliminates things like plug-ins. Better choices are drops of essential oils (preferably in citrus scents, although lavender may work as well) placed on light bulbs so that when the lights are turned on, the smell strengthens. Reed diffusers may also work as long as the oils are essential and have no chemicals in them. Try opening bars of Ivory soap and tying with a ribbon in bathrooms. Not only does that add a pretty touch, but it also makes the bathroom smell fresh.
Smell certainly helps a vacant home feel more inviting, but it doesn’t necessarily make it feel warm. And that begins with curb appeal. Houses that are vacant often look forlorn. Avoid that by placing pots of evergreens by the front door. Flowers in spring are nice, but if no one is around to water them they won’t stay nice for long. Evergreens (or greenery of any kind – just make sure it’s appropriate to the weather and the season) can go for longer periods without being watered.
And of course the first impression the potential buyers have of the interior is when they open the door. The entryway should be inviting, which usually means at least a large area rug on the floor. An entry table is also a nice touch, even if it’s a skirted pressboard table with a lamp and an interesting accessory. Lamps (as long as there are plugs) also help create a warm, inviting feeling upon entering the house.
If possible, setting up a simple furniture arrangement in rooms that are visible from the entry is ideal. Potential buyers then feel invited into the space, whether because of the colors or of the softness of fabrics. These arrangements don’t have to fill the room, but only suggest how it can be used. And if there is any question of what the room is used for, there should be furnishings that indicate what that is. This is true regardless of whether this room is visible from the entry hall or not. If potential buyers don’t understand the purpose of a room, it will be wasted space to them.
Pay attention to those features of the house that will be important to potential buyers. That means a large piece of artwork above the mantel will draw attention to a feature many buyers want in a home. Panels framing either side of a large picture window with a beautiful view will draw attention to the window while softening the hard lines. This is a must if the molding around the window is unattractive. A basket with a couple of towels and a nicely scented bar of soap will set the stage for a jacuzzi tub.
Utilitarian rooms with cold features (kitchens and bathrooms) should be softened with a few decorative items. Towels in bathrooms bring softness, while utensils by the stove and canisters on the counter top help buyers visualize what using this kitchen may be like. And a bowl of fruit can bring a dash of color to an otherwise sparse room.
Even vacant houses can be appealing if you focus on first impressions, think creatively, and pay attention to areas potential buyers are most interested in. Just remember that without furnishings any flaws can be the focus, so stage accordingly.