“In hindsight it would have gone anyway, because everyone was desperate for houses at that time,” she said. “But I still think it was worth it. I learned so much from Natalie about what should be done with colours.”
‘It created a buyer frenzy’
Rachel and Steve Hewitt are equally pleased with the changes wrought on their country cottage by a team of home stagers.
They had first put their property on the market in 2018 for just over £600,000 – their three children were almost grown up and they wanted to downsize from the four-bedroom cottage, which is close to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire.
They reasoned that downsizing would allow them to go mortgage-free, meaning Rachel, a gymnastics coach, and Steve, who worked in asset management, could retire early.
Unfortunately there were no takers for the house, which they had owned since 2003. “The market was very flat,” said Steve. “Brexit had put a massive handbrake on.”
In falling market conditions the couple decided they would be smart to go ahead and buy their onward home, a Grade II-listed townhouse in Melbourne, Derbyshire, and rent out the cottage until the market picked up.
In 2021 the couple were ready to try again. After two years of renting the house didn’t look its best and, aware of home staging from TV shows and encouraged by their estate agent, the couple hired Lemon & Lime Interiors to assist them in sprucing it up.
Elaine Penhaul, the company’s founder, visited the property and had a look around. Her verdict was that the circa 200-year-old house was gorgeous, but being let down by tired furnishings, shabby decoration, and general clutter – almost everything the couple hadn’t wanted to take with them to their new home had simply been left behind.
“It was just not going to sell for what it was worth,” she said. “It had not had any love for a very long time.”
Ms Penhaul advised her clients to sand and re-varnish their wooden floors and redecorate the cottage and its one-bedroom annexe – which Steve used as an office – in light, neutral colours.
She then set to work on the décor. Dark, dated sofas were replaced with off-white models loaned from her stock of furniture, a heavy wooden coffee table was swapped with a more modern glass version. “The rooms were spacious, but they didn’t feel it with all the dark furniture,” she said.
Clutter was removed, and replaced with a few carefully chosen accessories and artworks, and the results were undeniably impressive.
Rachel, 54, and Steve, 56, put their house on the market in early June 2020 with an asking price of £625,000. Within 10 days they had three asking price offers, and the sale was completed that August. “It created a buyer frenzy,” said Steve. “Buyers wanted a turnkey property that was contemporary, not twee, and that is what we offered.”
The total cost of upgrading and restyling the property came in at around £4,000, which Steve considers money very well spent.
“I think that there is a misconception that home staging is very, very expensive and only for £1m houses, and that is not true,” said Steve. “We spent a few thousand to optimise the price of our house.”
Most estate agents agree that home staging is a useful weapon in a home seller’s armoury, particularly in the current buyers’ market.
Samuel Richardson, head of sales at Carter Jonas’s Mayfair office, said most buyers simply aren’t willing to overlook clutter and scruff to focus on the potential of a property.
“They are cash rich and time poor and always looking for something they can move straight into,” he said.
There is, of course, much you can do to stage your own home – freshening up paintwork, decluttering, and a vase of flowers in the living room is only common sense. But, and particularly in high-end markets, aspirational buyers are looking for something more than a spic and span space.
Jo Eccles, founder and managing director of buying agency Eccord, recently found home staging a worthwhile expense when helping a landlord sell off a rental property.
“We arranged for all the scuffed walls to be repainted, removed the tired furniture and employed a home staging firm who dressed it beautifully, right down to vases and candles,” she said.
The property sold within two months for £15,000 below its £500,000 asking price, and the home staging cost just £3,000. “Had it not been staged, I think it would still be on the market,” she said.
But buying agent Guy Meacock, director of Prime Purchase, warns that not all home stagers are equal. If they don’t know their Gods True Cashmere throws from their Seletti light fittings you could end up wasting time and money.
“The ideal is to create an appearance of lifestyle,” he said. “It amuses me how often the table is set as though it’s a regular occurrence to have eight people round for a formal dinner party, with glasses for each course and three forks, knives and spoons. Nobody eats like that and it looks dated, cheapening the space.
“Another example I saw recently opted for 50 shades of grey; everything was grey, from walls to carpets and flooring and furniture. It was the perfect opportunity for some colour to really bring the space to life, but the stager filled it with cheap, vanilla furnishings, sucking even more life out of it.”