The question I get asked the most: “How’s the market?”

My answer is normally one boring word: “depends.”

It depends on whether you’re a buyer or a seller. It depends if you’re selling a house or a condo, what neighbourhood, price point, square feet, and most importantly – whether or not the property has been staged.

You may be thinking I’m being overly dramatic emphasizing staging.

In all honesty, I cannot emphasize staging enough. In today’s market, it’s more important than location because you can always make your house show better.

You can’t change your location. (See my blog about buying for location, not bells and whistles)

Below is a tale of two, uh, doctors, who I’ll name Dr. OK and Dr. Nope.

Both doctors interviewed me to list their properties, and both doctors received my most short and blunt assessment of their homes in their current conditions.

One took my advice, and one didn’t.

I truly believe that a house that shows well compared to a house that doesn’t can make a difference by as much as 10-20% of the selling price. I know it sounds like a lot; and it is. I’m saying that a “well-staged” house can sell for $950,000 whereas the exact same house next door that shows poorly might only sell for $825,000.

That’s a huge difference.

Selling a Lifestyle

The reason a well staged house sells for more money is because you’re not only selling the house itself, you’re selling a lifestyle.

Have you ever noticed that Coke commercials don’t really sell cola? They may show someone a kid that has just lost a soccer game but grandpa just happens to have two refreshing bottles of Coke on ice and by the end of the commercial they’re smiling, sitting on the back of a truck overlooking a sunset while a deer looks on lovingly as a butterfly lands in its nose.

You get my exaggerated point…

Coke is selling you a lifestyle they want you to associate their drink with; not really the drink itself.

Real estate is no different.

Many home-sellers may not care. Sadly, many real estate agents could care less as well.

A lot of agents simply list a house on the MLS and just wait for a buyer to bring in an offer so they can “negotiate” the best price for you.

That’s not how you maximize the value of a house when selling it. Buyers won’t pay top dollar for an empty house without character or charm, and without them envisioning a certain lifestyle in it.

They’ll pay top dollar for a house that shows like something straight out of a magazine.

That’s where I come in. Well, if I’m being specific, it’s where my stager comes in.

I bring a professional stager into all of my listings as part of my service, and she is just as thorough and honest as I am. However, as I discovered this week, some sellers don’t want to hear it…

I met with Dr. OK last week and had a look at her one-bedroom condo, which was a great space but needed to be updated in order to maximize its value.

I started in the living room and said, “These green couches are not going to show well in photos and may turn buyers off from even coming to look at your condo” She laughed, and admitted, “I didn’t spend any money on furniture when I moved in here and these were FREE!”

I suggested that rather than spend $1,200 to rent a couch and a love-seat for one month (the shortest period most rental companies will allow), she should buy new furniture from a store like Leon’s. The furniture would look great for staging and photos, and she’d have brand new couches to take to her new place.

I sourced a couple of items for her that would fit the space and look good in her new condo as well, and the result was this:

How can you go wrong for $599? This couch is 76-inches long, thus it’s more than your typical “three-seater” despite the two cushions.

Add the love-seat, and a new dining room table from The Brick, and we’re talking under $1,500 all in.

It makes perfect sense to me.

We’re setting up a lifestyle and designing the condo to look like a model suite.

I told Dr. OK, quite bluntly, “You need to pack up most of the items in this condo and depersonalize.”

The bedroom closet was stuffed to the max. I said, “You can’t have a single thing on the floor, and you can only have about 15-20 items hanging from the racks. You want to show the space in this closet. Nothing on the racks above unless the items are neatly folded.”

I pointed to her chipped and sagging IKEA bookshelf – “Get rid of it.”

I pointed to her dresser from 1978 – “Get rid of it. Your new place has a walk-in closet and you’ll never use this dresser again.”

Both of those items were dealt with within a day.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh, that’s because it’s my job. I don’t sugar-coat things, and I aim to maximize the saleability and marketability of a property and as a result, maximize the price.

Dr. OK took all of my suggestions to heart, and within a week, she had cleared out half of her belongings, many of which she admitted that she didn’t need and should have thrown out in the first place.

The new couches are on the way, as is the $299 five-piece dining room set.

I told Dr. OK, “See that poster that says ‘1995 Arts Festival’? Take that down.” We’ll replace it with something neutral and not distracting.

You don’t want to date the condo in any way, shape, or form. A 1999 boxed-TV says “old condo” just as a poster with the date “1995” does the same. And since the condo was built in 2012, why date the property with “1995” on the wall?

I’m amazed at how many sellers leave up their diplomas! Not only do they date you and your condo (“this guy graduated in 1992 thus he’s xx number of years old”), but buyers lose focus. I can’t tell you how many times my buyers have looked at the school, the program, the year, and then said, “My friend Jenny graduated from Western in 2001 as well! I wonder if she knows this dude.?”

Anything personal – take it down. Anything with dates – take it down. Anything that isn’t completely neutral (like your collection of Samurai swords…) – take it down.

Dr. OK transformed her condo from a used-furniture warehouse into a model suite.

Dr. Nope, however, did not.

Understanding What’s At Stake

I met with Dr. Nope and before we even had any paperwork signed, I brought my stager through for a consultation. I was that confident in our relationship and from our discussions that we’d be bringing the property to market together that I went ahead and paid for the staging consult. Sadly, Dr. Nope and I won’t be working together, although he did send me a very polite, very respectful email saying that he wanted an agent who was more his “style.” I wished him all the best.

But I fear that Dr. Nope doesn’t fully grasp the task at hand.

Forget for just a moment that his property is in a 30-year-old building, which many home buyers won’t consider.

I explained to Dr. Nope that his condo was a great space, but needed to “show better.”

I compiled a list of things he needed to do/change/move/repair/clean, and I broke it all down for him in a well-organized report.

Some sellers will fight you tooth-and-nail when you make suggestions on how to “show” a space, and I get so frustrated when this happens. I know right off the bat that there isn’t a lot of synergy. But as I said – I don’t just throw up a “FOR SALE” sign and call it a day.

If a seller want an agent who does the bare minimum, then they can contact one of the many other agents in this city that doesn’t care or understand how to get the most value out of a property and who regularly under-sell properties.

A lot of my suggestions to Dr. Nope were, as I figured them to be, common sense. He had about five rugs on the main floor and another seven or eight on the second level, and I suggested that he roll them up and put them in storage. He didn’t agree.

There was a lot of artwork in the condo, most of which showed the age of the owner, which is something you don’t want to do when you’re trying to appeal to 100% of the buyer pool and not just 20%. I suggested that Dr. Nope should remove the seven wavy mirrors on the living room wall (which ends up looking weird in photos) and replace them with ONE large piece of art that is a little more generic and easy on the buyers’ eyes.

There were stacks of old books collecting dust that needed to be removed along with the broken-down shelves they were on, as well as bulky end tables, and items that did not help a condo to scream “Buy Me!”

Bottom line: there was a lot of work to be done in order to have his condo show its best, which still would have put it in the C- category. I hesitate to use the term “gut reno” on a condo, but this was pretty close. I think it’s a fantastic space, but the property needs work and a low price can only do so much to entice a willing buyer. You’ve really got to polish the space to give it some hope of appealing to the masses.

As I mentioned, Dr. Nope politely declined the use of my services, and pointed to our meeting as the reason. I can only assume that he didn’t like being handed a page-long “to do” list and being told that the place he calls “home” doesn’t show well.

I understand that some sellers don’t want to lift a finger when it comes time to sell their properties, but I believe in working smarter, not harder.

Work is hard. No doubt.

But isn’t it smarter in the end?

If you could maximize the value of your $600,000 asset and get $630,000 for it by spending a few weekends cleaning and organizing, wouldn’t you do that?

Where else can you make that kind of money?