Design Hazards, March Column

The following is my March column from the Austin American-Statesman. Find me every third Sunday in the Real Estate section.

I'm excited to be a new columnist joining the Austin American-Statesman's Homes section. You might know me through my work on the television show "Sell This House."

Nine years ago, I introduced home staging to TV and have since helped hundreds of homeowners around the country get their slow-moving properties sold.

What you might not know is that my background is in high-end interior design and landscape design. I also grew up in Houston, graduated from Texas A&M University and now live in Austin.

Though I anticipate talking about staging and real estate on a regular basis, I also will share tips for maximizing the style and comfort of your current home and yard on a budget.

Let's start with some home staging tips. Most owners don't fully understand that the moment you plant a "for sale" sign in the yard, your house ceases to be "yours" and instead becomes a product you're trying to sell. It's difficult but essential to cut the emotional ties and look through the eyes of a buyer.

Folks often hate the color I choose for their walls or get angry when I tell them to pack up the big-screen TV. They react negatively because they're still caught up with living in the house, not selling it. Those changes might not please them, but they do please buyers and result in offers.

Key steps to turning your house into a better product:

Add space. People buy square footage, and you can add it - or at least the perception of it - without knocking down walls or building an addition.

The key is to start aggressively packing early. Remove half of the clothes from your closets and half of the kitchen gadgets from your cabinets. Closets and cabinets are huge selling points that often get neglected; when they are well-organized and half-empty, buyers see abundant space for their belongings.

Edit furniture layouts by removing smaller pieces that block pathways. Two people should be able to walk side by side through a room without brushing up against anything. Choose one wall in each room as an open space. Don't place anything against this wall; instead, float furniture a few feet away from the wall or keep it clear entirely. If a window offers a nice view, make sure the path to the window is open to highlight it.

Remove messes. Kitchens and bathrooms needn't have the latest luxury finishes, but they must be spotless. Pay special attention to grease in the kitchen and soap scum in the bathroom. Some first-time buyers might see dirty grout and mistakenly think it means a major repair bill, so clean thoroughly to avoid this turn-off.

Make the kitchen feel less chaotic and more spacious by clearing everything but the items you use on a daily basis from counters. All decor on the tops of cabinets should go, too.

In bathrooms, leave out only essential shampoo bottles and toiletries. Consider adding new white towels to emphasize the clean, fresh look. Think "luxury hotel bathroom" and you'll get the picture.

Let in light. Open all interior doors and pull back drapes. Temporarily remove window screens, because they can block 50 percent of incoming sunlight. Give windows a good cleaning inside and out.

If you have windows that receive only indirect light, consider hanging white drapes on either side. White fabric around a window can amplify the perception of light by carrying it into the room.

Hang a large mirror on the wall opposite the brightest window to improve stubbornly dark rooms.

Take yourself out of the equation. You want buyers to picture themselves in your house, but that's tough if they're surrounded by pictures of you. All personal photos, children's artwork or religious items should be packed up.

Buyers aren't shopping for a new television, so make sure the focus of your family room is on the windows, fireplace, high ceilings - instead of the TV.

Nearly every buyer entering your house will have previewed it online. Fantastic listing photos will increase interest and boost traffic to the house.

Concentrate on staging two key rooms: the primary living space and the master bedroom. Take test photos, always reviewing them on your computer for obvious problems. Austin is a town full of talented photographers, so find a friend with a good eye and a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera to help you. With some effort, your listing photos can look less like snapshots and more like a magazine spread.

I'll discuss this further in an upcoming column.

Home staging expert and Austinite Roger Hazard of A&E's 'Sell This House' offers readers design tips in the monthly column Design Hazards. Got design hazards of your own? Send your home design, landscaping and staging questions to

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