How to prep a houseto sell with no furniture?
October 31, 2006 6:32 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to prep a house for selling?

So previous topics have covered selling a house while living in it. That's all fine and good.

My situation is slightly weirder.

I want to sell my house. It's a cheap house in a nice neighborhood (1845 square feet while the house next door is 5500).

We have 3 cats.

Our plan is to move into an apartment with the cats and move everything we don't need to show the house into storage.

However, we have a few problems.

1. We have next to no decent furniture.

2. The carpeting is a disaster.

3. We did a lot of painting in the main rooms. They're non-standard colors.

4. Money is actually quite tight.

We have a few nice pieces of furniture, but not enough to actually fill the house. For example, our master bedroom is upwards of a 15X15 square foot room with a queen sized bed and 2 end tables. That's it.

The small bedroom was used for storage and is walled with shelving, while the large one is filled with desks and computer equipment we're planning on removing.

So the questions become..

What color do we repaint everything? I've heard white sa well as a slight beige.

We're planning on doing an apartment level refurb on the inside. Full paint, maybe carpeting if it's necessary.

Do we remove everything from the house and sell it as a "new" house? is that better than trying to cobble together something visually appealing from not much? Or do we simply show it with some very very empty rooms. Or do we spring for some $$$ and try to make it look like normal
people lived in it?

Also, what's the cheapest place to get carpeting? We need to replace the standard beige new house carpeting with equivalent cheap standard beige new house carpeting.
posted by Lord_Pall to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's good that you only have the bed and two nightstands in the bedroom. That's how I've always seen the master prepared on design shows on TV.

Anyway, for color they always recommend neutrals. I see taupe a lot on those same design shows. People seem to appreciate it. It's all about appealing to the masses.

Furniture-wise, I'd recommend finding somewhere to rent some. There are plenty of places that do this, as well as full-on home-staging companies that can design and set up furniture for you. Definitely set up minimal, attractive furniture in all of the spaces. There's some impressive stat about how furnished homes sell faster and for more money than unfurnished. People are unimaginative and like visual clues about how their stuff will look/fit. So at the minimum, rent some furniture if financially feasible. There has to be a million places for this in Austin (looked at your site).

Carpeting, you're on your own.
posted by empyrean at 6:41 AM on October 31, 2006

Sell This House is a pretty good show on A&E about prepping houses on a budget.

You need furniture. Most people cannot "see" how they will live in blank rooms, so you need to help them. You give them a layout and then they can see how they would change it to match their stuff. I wouldn't spend $$$ on great furniture. If you're missing some crucial pieces, you might pick up some cheap used ones.
posted by smackfu at 6:42 AM on October 31, 2006

It sounds as though you do not have a lot of clutter around. That is a very good thing.
Any chance the carpets are installed over hardwood flooring? Wood floors are in. Can you clean the carpets sufficiently that they won't draw attention. Odd color walls are a distraction unless it is one accent wall.
If you can put a dresser or chest in the bedroom that is all you need. You should only have enough furniture to show what the room is capable of. Clean windows, light window coverings go a long way to help sell a house. And the curb appeal can't be discounted. The kitchen and bathrooms should be super clean. The kitchen counters should show off without any clutter. You are selling square footage, not furniture. Can you rent or borrow a few items. Remove the shelving in the small bedroom. Make the office into a bedroom. You only need enough furniture to show the room potential.
You definitely should make the house look like normal people live there so that potential buyers can see themselves living there. Good luck.
I don't think replacing carpet is an advantage if yours can be cleaned enough to not be noticed. Or put something in the room to draw attention to it and they won't notice the rugs.
posted by JayRwv at 6:50 AM on October 31, 2006

Response by poster: So here's a weird one.

What about a tv?

We currently don't have one. Instead we have a setup that looks like :

Please ignore the clutter, that's a separate issue.

Should I pull that screen down and redo all of the furniture, or is it a neat setpiece? Visually I find it to be quite tasteful, and it makes the room look brighter.

Or remove it, and have a room without a tv?

I'll start checking prices on furniture rental. That's a killer idea.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:52 AM on October 31, 2006

You mentioned that money is tight, so this might not work for you, but it may be worth checking out. There are companies that provide staging services, where the provide rental furnishings to make your house look good to sell. I took a quick look using a search on "real estate staging" and this company seems to be in your area.
posted by procrastination at 6:52 AM on October 31, 2006

Response by poster: I'm not sure our house is worth enough to justify that manner of staging.

I'll check them out though.
posted by Lord_Pall at 6:56 AM on October 31, 2006

My only tip...when I was shopping for a house recently, I saw a house where the sellers created beds out of cardboard boxes, then covered with the bedspread. You couldn't tell right off that it wasn't a proper bed. They had put a sign up telling you not to sit on the bed and that was my only tipoff.

Oh, and if you can handle it, don't paint every room the exact same color. Pick two or three colors.
posted by cabingirl at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2006

I just sold my house without fretting about all the little things - peeling wall-paper, leaky gutter, missing handles. Simply made sure that the house was super clean and fresh.

Non-standard colours are OK as long as they are lighter shades. Do people come into your house and notice the colours of the walls? Then re-paint just those rooms.

It's great if you can have an open day on a sunny day [thats why summer is the boom time to sell] and have all the doors and windows open.
posted by meech at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2006

Have you considered offering buyers a certain amount of money towards the carpeting of their choice, instead of throwing in cheap carpeting? Personally I hate cheap carpeting, and it seems silly to put the absolute cheapest stuff in if it might mean that buyers will rip it up right away.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:21 AM on October 31, 2006

I think the key with furniture is to show them that everything they need will fit comfortably -- I've viewed houses that just had a mattress with a sheet in spare bedrooms instead of an entire bed, letting you see that a bed will fit happily into the room. If you rent a few key pieces of furniture like that (and grab an old mattress and just cover it with a sheet) just to demonstrate a room layout, you'll probably be golden.
posted by ukdanae at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2006

If there is wood under the carpet, tear up the carpet. When I was house shopping I knew that I wanted wood floors, so when I saw a carpeted room I was frustrated--what is under the carpet? How damaged are the floors? The carpet put a huge question mark in my mind. I ended up buying a house with uncarpeted wood floors that need refinishing, but I could see them and knew what I was getting.
posted by LarryC at 7:48 AM on October 31, 2006

I'm a bit of a sell-this-house addict-- great shows on HGTV and A&E. Definitely paint everything a neutral color-- a gentle off-white (latex) is your best bet, with crisp white trim (oil based). Rent furniture or buy cheapo at Goodwill and cover with a sheet. Better yet, borrow from a friend if you can. Remember, the money you put into it to make it look nice WILL pay off in the sale.

Make sure your house has curb appeal. Spruce up tired landscaping and put in a birdbath or something cute if need be. Wash windows and clean off soffits and gutters.

Minimize personal effects-- think like a hotel. You want the person to walk in and imagine him or herself living there. You don't want a full wall of family portraits. Replace photos with pictures of seasonal nature-y things-- buy a copy of Country Living (not as cheesy as it sounds) or other and rip out pages of Thanksgiving pictures, etc. and put those in your frames.

Make sure the house smells good. Even a hint of cat will make buyers run. Put a pan half filled with water on to simmer and sprinkle in cinnamon and other spices. Turn it off just before you leave and wash the pan.

Make sure appliances are clean. Empty the dishwasher, straighten the fridge, wipe down all handles.

Finally, consider having a friend or two come by and do a dry-run walk through. Have them ruthlessly point out things that could change for the better. If you need to replace the yucky linoleum in the hall bath, spend the money to tile it, etc.

Good luck!
posted by orangemiles at 7:54 AM on October 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also-- remove the shelving in the small room-- make it look like a perfect guest room or nursery, etc. Get paper boxes from Kinko's or other and stack to make a bed-sized mound as mentioned before.

And definitely replace the carpet, even if it's the cheap stuff. If the floors look gross people will assume that other things are gross, too, even if you offer them $1000 for the carpet of their choice. Replace it for sure.
posted by orangemiles at 8:04 AM on October 31, 2006

Definitely paint the walls light beige or some other very neutral color.

Minimilasism is your friend. If you don't have a dining room table, put a clean, pressed white sheet on a card table. Place a bowl of lemons and limes on the table, or a pineapple and a few lemons or oranges.

Put new white towels on the bathroom towel racks. Hand white waffle weave shower curtains if your tubs take shower curtains. Light a candle in the bathrooms. Make sure everything is spotlessly clean.

Spruce up your yard. Eliminate weeds. Plant a few annuals along the walkway or near the entryway.

Wash your windows thoroughly inside and out.

If the carpet can be helped by Stanley Steamer, do that. If not consider having it recarpeted, or take a loss on the sale of the house.

Think 'model home' or 'hotel'. Everything should be clean, neutral, bright, and breezy. If you don't have a nice quilt or bedspread, go and buy one from K-mart or something. Put a potted plant or orchid on the coffee table. You can pick them up cheap from the grocery store or Lowe's. Make things look very appealing to the buyer. Some people can't see past red or purple walls, or hideous tiles. But if you paint and work with your tiles, it won't be that noticeable.

Watch Sell this House on A&E. It's great. Good luck!
posted by LoriFLA at 8:10 AM on October 31, 2006

I love love love what LoriFLA said, and recommend it highly. I am a fan of "my house is your hotel" look anyways (apologies to Marianne Moore). KMart/WalMart is a good source for cheap tablecloths, white towels, quilts, etc.. I seem to recall Sears having very reasonable prices.

As for cheap carpet, call a couple local apartment complexes and say "Hey, I know this is a dumb question, but who is your carpet vendor and do they do residential accounts?" You may even get the name of their sales rep. Alternatively, there has got to be someplace that advertises as cheap carpet locally. Here in Seattle, it's Flynn's Carpet Cents. Ask friends, or watch local TV late at night.
posted by ilsa at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2006

This is a cheap house in a nice neighborhood, does that make it a likely candidate for a teardown or massive addition?
posted by Good Brain at 8:31 AM on October 31, 2006

I second orangemiles and LoriFLA, and I agree with those who say rip up the carpeting if there's wood underneath (otherwise just clean your own—it's silly to buy new carpeting that the buyer may not want). Don't listen to anyone who tells you "white/beige is so boring, do something original!" or any crap like that. Make it as bland as possible; as others have said, you want a blank canvas on which people can paint their dream house.
posted by languagehat at 9:18 AM on October 31, 2006

I always thought that when we were looking for houses, the ones that were totally empty, or had minimal furniture, were much better to look at. I haven't seen any research on the issue but just know how I feel personally.

When I look at a place, I want to be able to imagine myself in it. We did end up buying a place that was mostly moved out of (just a few pieces of furniture left, including a big screen TV). We also looked at a house where the people didn't even leave when it was being shown - what a bad idea. I would vacate the premises and let the buyers have free reign to look at the home as long as they want.

That being said, if you've been through any "model homes" then you can get an idea of what the "perfect" show house is. With so much money on the line I'm positive they've done some serious research on it. What I get out of that:

1: Furniture should look nice yet generic
2: No "Identifying" information should be around
3: Turn on any fireplaces or jacuzzis you may have.
4: Rooms are painted "neutral" colors - beige, light green, etc.
5: Carpets should be cleaned or replaced

This is the so-called "hotel look" that others above have talked about.
posted by aurigus at 9:18 AM on October 31, 2006

What's the housing market like where you are? My approach would probably be to hold off on spending any significant money on prepping the house (but doing as much of the other stuff as possible) for the first little while to see if someone will give you a good price as it is. (Though, in your case, doing the carpet would probably be good)

There was a story on house-fluffing in the paper here a while back and one of the annecdotes was about a couple with a quirky design sense who hired a fluffer to make the house more attractive to buyers. They ended up selling it to someone who had seen it before the "de-personalization" and the buyer promptly put all the quirks back in.
posted by winston at 10:31 AM on October 31, 2006

We had our carpets cleaned and re-dyed ( a slightly darker shade) 4 rooms, appx. 1000 SF, I think it was about $600. This was 4 years ago, in Texas, so YMMV.
posted by lobstah at 11:01 AM on October 31, 2006

Along the lines of orangemiles' advice about making the place smell nice. At the B&B I lived at for a year or so we would bake bread or cookies every afternoon a few hours before check-in time. The scent of freshly baked goods is like a shortcut to the part of the brain that identifies with "home" and "comfort". Friends also used this technique when selling their home and noticed they always got strong emotional responses from prospective buyers when the house was all smelled-up.

Worst case scenario: fresh baked bread and/or cookies!

As for your more immediate concerns, others have already covered what I would add.
posted by Fezboy! at 11:10 AM on October 31, 2006

Definitely declutter. Make sure your cabinets and closets are cleaned out and organized. You don't want the buyers to get the sense that there isn't going to be enough storage.
posted by mamaquita at 11:44 AM on October 31, 2006

- Your taupe wall in the picture is a fine color. If you have red walls or other wild colors, or anything darker than that taupe, paint them white or beige. This is worth the money and time.

- Do something about the carpet. If you can clean it so that it looks nearly new, do that. Better to take it up or replace it. Don't leave slightly-cruddy looking carpet in there, it will make it harder to sell. It may seem silly to do these "neutralizing" things when the new people will just change it to suit themselves anyway, but it absolutely is not. If people walk in and think "well, we'd have to replace these gross carpets", your house is at an immediate disadvantage. Your house looks like a hassle, a fixer-upper (=bad). If they walk in and think "these are boring carpets, but they'll be okay. I guess we could think about replacing them if we wanted to be ambitious", it's a different story. Then your house looks like a blank canvas (=good). This is worth the money and time.

- I agree with the general remarks above. A spotlessly clean hotel. White lightweight curtains rather than (or over) venetian blinds; clean carpets; walls and doors cleaned of any fingerprint residues; shiny sink fixtures; clean grout; clean windows; no odor (or a very faint apple pie/cinnamon odor. don't spray perfumes as some buyers may be allergic).

- I also agree it's best to remove as much stuff as you can (eg, stuff in closets, books from bookshelves) while still leaving at least a bed-dimensioned thing in each bedroom, a table-dimensioned thing in the dining room, a couch-dimensioned thing in the living room. It's probably best if the items you leave are actual furniture items rather than dummies, but I guess it's not strictly necessary. It's also nice if you have a couple of places (chairs, couch) where people can sit down if they need to. Seeing houses is tiring! So, have some non-dummy seating. Point this seating toward something nice to look at (eg a view if your house has one).
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:21 PM on October 31, 2006

Curb appeal is critical. 90% of a buyer's opinion is formed before he steps out of the realtor's car. Have an uninterested party stand at curbside and look for things that could turn off a buyer: flaking paint, ugly trash cans around the side of the house, empty areas of dirt that could be covered up with flowers or a shrub.

Live, healthy-looking plants help sell houses. Place one in each room and keep it clean and free of dead leaves, dirt around the planter, and bugs. If it starts to look unhealthy replace it with a new plant.

Furnished is better than unfurnished but the furniture must appear new, unused, and good quality. If you can't swing that, just clear it out.

You can't sell a house with dirty walls or dirty carpeting. Fix these problems.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:14 PM on October 31, 2006

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