After propping up an aging 1920s city home solo for several years, I threw in the towel. I had upgraded and installed a new heating and AC system, a new roof  (after several expensive fixes for invading raccoons and squirrels) and new siding.  Crumbling masonry was repaired and plumbing issues were sorted. With the help of one of my sons, fresh drywall replaced bulging century old plaster walls and new floors were installed. Lacking the funds to renovate, the kitchen and bathroom were updated with new fixtures. I designed a custom back deck for the postage stamp of a back garden and installed it over a weekend with help from friends. I was beyond done with this little home where my sons grew up and I experienced life from young wife and mum, family milestones and divorce, world travels and new career challenges .

Small city back deck, worn but clean and suggesting casual dining.

Small city back deck, suggesting a casual dining space. Grey steps were repainted, but neighbours fence could not be.

What I learned from this undertaking is that you can accomplish a lot for very little  with expert guidance, tools, labour and most importantly, project management.

At the time, homes in Toronto sold within a week of listing. The Toronto Star ran a story about my street that summer. The number of buyers so outnumbered available homes that many sold well over asking prices with aggressive bidding.

Keeping it simple and clean.

Keeping it simple and clean.

Following her assessment of my home, my real estate agent suggested, with serious intent, that I hire a stager. Putting your best foot forward is essential as you  have one shot to impress a potential buyer in less than a minute. Although we’d like to think we are objective, we are not always the best people to assess how our homes read. Sage advice that I took to heart, however I could not afford what her stager charged let alone take on all the work they suggested before they could do their thing. With a very limited budget, I adopted the adage that simple and clean would have to do. I edited and packed up everything not essential and stored the boxes neatly in the unfinished basement.

Bathroom after staging.

Bathroom after staging.

I spent two months selling and donating extraneous furniture that would not make the move with me to lessen the load.

Bathroom before staging.

Bathroom before staging.

Then, a detailed to-do list and cost spreadsheet set, I assessed what had to be edited. As there wasn’t a budget for replacement furniture and additional décor, I decided to suggest a spacious urban home for a couple or small family. Simply repainting the bathroom in a pale airy blue helped to open up a cramped space.

Curb appeal matters. Beginning with the front yard and porch, pictured here before a final coat of paint for the steps and power washed walkway, I wanted to present a tone consistent with what visitors would find inside.

Tidy, lush front plantings and simple welcoming front porch.

Tidy, lush front plantings and simple welcoming front porch.

Painting the main floor white presented a clean and bright backdrop, and it allowed me to purchase paint in bulk. Hallways, bedrooms and the bath were equally treated to fresh paint in either white or pale blue. Inexpensive slipcovers converted colourful furniture to neutral white. I left only natural wood that matched and black metal or minimal spot colour as accent. Upstairs my pale blue bedroom coordinated with painted old furniture. Because I’d basically backed out eye grabbing décor or colour, viewers could focus on the space and light. New gauzy white summer curtains allowed sunlight to flood the rooms.

Making do and making neutral.

Making do and making neutral.

Aside from the hard work involved, I found staging quite rewarding. For a brief moment before the open house, I did not want to sell.

Before staging the living area.

Before staging a living area.

There is a certain feeling of calm that comes over you when you walk through an extremely paired down a space.  I’ve been through many open houses and realize that style, ambiance, space and light are the key principals to embrace when pulling together a home’s best attributes. For an older semi-detached home in Toronto, space is one of the biggest selling points and we are too often challenged with closet sized bedrooms, not to mention lack of closets. Showcasing space, or the illusion of it, allowing light to accentuate clean viewing lines and providing solutions for storage and furniture arrangement highlights a home’s potential.

Matching woods are easy on the eye, indicate a grouping.

Matching wood is  easy on the eye and indicates a grouping.

People are not walking through your home to view photographs or judge your china patterns. They are interested in whether their bed will fit in the master, if the smallest room can work as an office and if friends can gather for a BBQ on the back deck. They are trying to visualize their things and their life, transported to your house. On the practical side, they need to know the home has a sound infrastructure. Expensive staging will not, or should not, sell a home if its a dog. Whether suggesting quiet coziness, open spaces, family gatherings or elegant dinner party settings, developing a lifestyle theme and playing it through pulls the sum of a home together.

Kitchen before staging.

Kitchen before staging.

Permits for renovations and inspection approval documents along with demonstrating how a space can work are more important than copying settings too often seen in staged homes. Prospective buyers may appreciate the feeling they have when they move through a space, and their ability to picture their life there ticking a box, but a home is a huge investment. No one signs an Offer to Purchase without the assurance that the electrical and plumbing are up to code and that renovations have been properly done.

Kitchen after staging.

Kitchen after staging.

At the end of my odyssey to stage my own little home for sale I was overcome by the feeling I had 25 years earlier when my husband and I first walked through its front door. There are few experiences more rewarding or personal than being in a place that has you think, I could live here. Staging is as much about moving forward as it is revisiting the past. Soon you will walk into a new home in a new neighbourhood and you find yourself thinking,  I could live here.

Do you need help staging?