Remove Your Personal Items When STAGING & Selling!

I simply cannot stress this enough.

There is no shortage of TV shows these days that deals with how to stage and sell a property, but I don’t think it really hits home for people until you see it up close and perhaps have a real-world spin put on it.

Here are a few stories from the past week about how my buyers viewed properties that weren’t staged and had too many personal affects…

See that photo below?  I love these “before and after” shots!  So many of them are lame and useless, like this one.

This photo shows that by turning on lights, taking out boxes, and NOT taking a photo in front of a giant leaf, you can improve the look of any room!  Yes, they also brought in furniture, but who is stupid enough to sell a property while they have cardboard boxes stacked in the living room?

Oh, wait.  LOTS of people…

In my mind, there are three major facets of staging:

1) De-Cluttering.  I asked a prospective seller last week, “What would you say if I told you that you need to remove 90% of everything in this condo?”  They freaked out, and I didn’t get the listing.  But I only believe in selling properties for top dollar, and running  a nail-salon out of a condo (where one bedroom is a shrine to a collection of model trains) is not the path to top dollar.

2) Showing the space.  You need to de-clutter, yes, but you also need to bring in furniture that shows the space.  For example, couches with 20-inch arms don’t work in a condo, and you might need to rent something with 4-inch arms so you can show off the space.  You might have to remove all three fur rugs in order to show the living space!

3) Making the condo appealing to ALL.  This is the most complicated part of staging, and it’s easier said than done.  This encompasses the above two points as well.  You have to ensure that no potential buyer will come inside the condo or house and be turned off by something other than the house itself, ie. paint colours, furniture, etc.  And this is why I always tell my sellers, “Remove all traces of yourself.”

This is really what staging is all about, isn’t it?  Removing the actual property owner from the property!

A buyer doesn’t want to see somebody else living in that space; the buyer wants to see him or herself living there!

So you have to remove all evidence of yourself, even if it means turning your lifestyle upside down for two weeks while you sell.  Otherwise, buyers will be turned off by YOU, and you won’t get top dollar for your property.

The other angle to consider here is that buyers get distracted quite easily!  If a buyer is out looking at 8-10 places, eventually that buyer will tire, and thinking and evaluating might take a back seat to checking out what DVD’s the seller has.

Countless times, I have read, “Remove all personal photos when selling your house or condo,” but that’s not the only evidence of “personal affects.”  That’s just the most obvious one.

And it doesn’t matter what or who are in those photos!

I’ve had countless young, male clients who have meticulously studied group photos of girls that appear on a condo wall.  And once the young male sees those pretty girls, he’s interested in everything in that condo – and thus his focus on the property suffers.

I’ve had clients actually identify a person or people in the photo, at which point they realize who the property belongs to.  Now the buyer isn’t looking at “any” property, but rather Mike‘s property – and Mike is that loser who broke up with Amanda to date that tramp, Heather!  Toronto is a small city, and you’d be surprised how often a buyer walks into the property of somebody he or she knows.

It’s not just the individual person that you want to hide, but also his or her characteristics, interests, and lifestyle.

Last week, I was in an east-end loft where the seller had books on magic!  And I don’t mean magic – like how to pull a quarter out from behind somebody’s ear.  I mean books on sorcerers, the occult, and how to contact the dead.

My buyer (and me!) looked at this and wondered just who was living here!  Conscious or otherwise – a buyer might start to downgrade the condo based on the person that he or she believes is living there.  In this case, we figured the seller was a complete weirdo who may or may not drink blood on weekends.

But it goes beyond the obvious things like leaving out books on magic.  For example, is it wrong for you – as a buyer, to go through the seller’s clothing?  Well of course it is!  But where do you draw the line between “checking out closet space” and “going through clothes?”  By opening those sliding doors to the closet, you’re going to inadvertently notice if there are nine different NFL football jerseys and the place is home to some jock, or if there are eleven different ‘Sunday dresses,’ and the property is home to a boring old woman.

This happened to me at a cool, funky loft where my buyer was a 20-something young man, and the seller turned out to be an older lady who did not fit the demographic.  I think the buyer would have been more excited if there were coffee table books on Paris & London and a copy of Toronto Life, rather than stacks of crossword puzzles and coupons clipped out of every newspaper.  The seller and the buyer were so completely different and the buyer may have felt out of place, even though this was truly the right place!

Consider how many property owners display their book collections in plain sight.  Last week, I was in a condo where the seller had every single Harry Potter book, which is okay, but also had about TEN other complete series of hardcover fantasy novels.  It gave off that vibe of, “This person is a mega-loser who lives vicariously through a dwarft named “Rimblak” who saves the land of Erfmashu from the evil Papa Smurf…..or something like that.”

I was also in a condo last week where the seller had a copy of Mein Kampf, which isn’t that bad on its own, but also had about six other books on the Nazi party and bit of paraphanelia, which gave my client and I the creeps.

On a lighter note, I was in a condo last week where the seller had left her Louis Vuitton bag out on the couch.  Pretty chic, right?  It gave off the vibe of “classy, elegant, successful, and fashionable lady living in the big city.”

Except that my client was an expert in all things Louis, and she identified one flaw with this:

Notice the stitching on the leather?  it’s poorly done and it’s coming unravelled.

My client identified this bag as an obvious FAKE, and she immediatly dove into the seller’s shoe collection to see if there were any faux Manolo Blahniks.

Now it didn’t matter how nice the condo was – it only mattered that the woman who lived here was a wanna-be who couldn’t afford the very luxuries that my client experienced on a daily basis.  To buy this condo would be a step down.

I know this entire blog post might seem far-fetched to some of you, but it’s all true.

Because it’s not just the house or condo that is for sale but rather the entire lifestyle that comes with it.  Is it unreasonable to assume that a vacant condo would sell for less money than one which feels homey?  No, it’s not.  It’s a proven fact that is demonstrated in our market every single day.

So take that one step further and consider that buyers are looking at themselves when they buy a property, and they’re thinking about every aspect of their lives and how it will change for the better or worse if they purchase that property.

I told my clients on Noble Street last month to get rid of their DVD collection.

“Who the hell has United Flight 93 on DVD?”  I asked.

My seller told me that her friend works for a DVD distribution company and they get tons and tons of free videos.

“That’s fine,” I said, “But buyers are going to wonder why you have American Psycho II: All American Girlwith Mila Kunis in your home video collection.”

Do you think I’m kidding?  Buyers will look at your DVD’s!  I told my sister, who has every box-set of Friends and Ally McBeal as well as a dozen movies like “Fever Pitch” that she’s going to turn away the male buyer pool once they see her collection.

I actually asked aloud last week how anybody could buy a CD of “Big Wreck” after they had one hit song in 1997.  This person also had “Big Shiny Tunes,” which I thought was only advertised for and never actually sold…

I was in a condo where the guy had eighteen different bottles of cologne on display in his bathroom?  My client said, “Ew, the guy that lives here is serious Euro-trash,” and walked out.

If you think that a buyer isn’t going to look at all of your personal affects, then think back to when YOU were buying a house or condo and ask yourself if you ever took a peek into one of their drawers…

I once had a buyer physically climb into the seller’s bed.  But that’s another story…


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  1. Kim says:

    Great insights on “personal affects”! Staging is not only an art, but a science in human behavior(s).

  2. lui says:

    I had one buyer who wanted ALL my furniture in the condo,even the framed prints on the wall.I just moved my personal belongings out and he basically just moves in…luckily he didnt ask me to leave the electric toothbrush that would really freaked me out.

  3. Chuck says:

    The minute you decide to sell, it is no longer your property.

    It’s the buyer’s property.

    So figure out who is likely to be buying your condo (hint: it’s probably the same type of person YOU were when you bought it) and create a space that THEY want to live in.


  4. Jonathan C says:

    It’s funny, I’m in this situation right now, but as a tenant. We’ve given notice to move out in two months, and the owners are in a hurry to sell so want to list the unit immediately. We have nice furniture and few personal items, but there are still moving boxes lying around, laundry baskets in the bedroom, papers on the desk, etc. so not an ideal environment to sell a condo. I am trying to convince them that it’s in their best interest to wait until we’re gone, but some people just don’t want to do what’s in their best interest!

  5. Dale says:

    I can always tell I’ve Staged a property well when someone asks: “Does anyone live here?”

  6. George says:

    The statement about property being an aspirational purchase is right on point.

    I think this is precisely why I always see real estate buyers on TV get so turned off by the paint colours in the houses they view. I always yell at them that they can easily change paint, but they are probably more repulsed by the fact that the owners have bad taste. And if the owners have bad taste, what does that say about anyone wanting to buy their place?

    It’s kind of like finding out that your new boyfriend/girlfriend used to date an absolute loser.

  7. Vincent says:

    Totally agree with staging as I spent 1 month prior to even contacting an agent getting my house ready, repainting, decluttering etc.

    Although I did forget to remove my diploma as the eventual buyers saw my name, what school I went to. So knowing that it was a single male living in a huge house, they made assumptions that:
    – it is so clean he must never be home
    – the house is so nice his dad must have paid for everything
    – newly renovated home must be paid by daddy
    – the stove is clean he must never cook and goes home to mom everyday to eat

    Obviously everything was 100% false as I paid for everything and cook regularly. Luckily making sure my home was staged properly (even though it looks staged 90% of the time) helped me land multiple offers.

    Ironically the eventual buyers ended up being my dad’s client’s son and my sister’s childhoos friend’s brother. Freaky! But they never knew me so my diploma did not set off anything. This is how I knew what they said about me because they told my dad (who was working at their house) that their kids bought a home and described it. My dad was like “OMG you guys bought my son’s home!”

  8. Michael says:

    I really didn’t want to beleive you at first, but considering everything else I’ve learned from your postings on a variety of other topics, I know you speak what you know which means that the above does happen.

    So I now consider home staging as a ‘diplomatic event’. Much like being on duty, there is a sense of diplomacy – a catering to all kinds of people where personality and personal related thoughts are not to be put out there.

    It makes sense, but I still had this strong desire to disagree with you for some reason – thinking that showing personal effects was somehow a good idea. Maybe I think that there is something of mine that would click with the perspective buyer and increase my chances of getting a good offer. Some kind of psychology there where it doesn’t feel like much of a risk even though it is.

    Good blog!

  9. Shome says:

    Well said David…What do you do if you have a tenant? Would you suggest it’s worth it to offer them a nice incentive for the inconvenience of a professional cleaning/staging? I toured a condo a while back and recognized the photos of the tenant – our wedding planner, who we knew to be married, and who owned a house on the Danforth. I saw no pictures of her husband however. We put 2 and 2 together and just felt bad.

    Would you ever say personal effects of an ‘aspirational’ nature can be good? (without crossing the line into bragging i.e. a photo of your Porsche) I bought my condo from 2 dentists (which I knew because their degrees hung on the wall) and I found myself mentioning that to people a couple of times so obviously the fact that two well-paid professionals owned my condo reinforced to me that it was a nice place to live…