Waiting until the last minute to get your home ready to sell is bound to make your move more stressful. It could also result in a lower sale price if you forego properly preparing your home for sale.

The extent to which sellers put time and money into fix-up-for-sale work varies from one area to the next. In the San Francisco Bay Area, so many sellers stage their homes for sale that you could be at a disadvantage if your home is not staged. In other areas of the country, sellers do virtually nothing to ready their homes for sale.

The staging effort can be as minimal as removing clutter and excess, cleaning and rearranging furniture to show the living space at its best. Or it could involve painting, replacing tired floor coverings and light fixtures, and hiring a decorator who specializes in staging to bring in a house full of furniture, houseplants and accessories.

Staging your home for sale if you live in an area where the concept hasn’t caught on could give you an advantage, particularly if there are a lot of unsold listings similar to yours on the market. Buyers tend to gravitate to the listings that look good and are in move-in condition.

Real estate agents like to show homes that look great because they are easier to sell. So, attractive listings tend to be shown more often. More showings mean more market exposure, which is a critical element for a timely and profitable home sale.

Staging costs vary depending on how the job is, how much competition there is among stagers in your area and whether the stagers have their own inventory of furniture. Stagers who don’t have inventory must rent furniture for a staging project. This tends to increase the overall cost of staging.

The staging fee could be as minimal as $75 or $100 for a consultation on how to rearrange your furniture. Or it might run up to $10,000 or more to completely furnish and stage a vacant, 3,500-square-foot house.

HOME SELLER TIP: Before hiring a stager, check out the stager’s reputation. Ask for recommendations and talk with people who have worked with the stager. Real estate agents tend to know who the best stagers are in an area. Your agent should be able to recommend a good one.

If you don’t already have someone in mind, you might interview two or three and ask for a detailed proposal, including the stager’s fee. Be sure to ask how long the staging will remain in your house for that price, and find out the price to extend the staging if you find it takes longer to sell your home. The extension fee should be less than the initial fee for staging the house.

It’s a good idea to preview a listing currently on the market that was staged by a decorator that you’re considering. Most sellers try to spend as little as possible to get their home ready to market. However, the point is to make the house look better. The stager with the lowest bid might not provide the best look for your home.

After your home is staged for sale, it may no longer look like your own. Actually, that’s the point. You stage your home to maximize its appeal to as large a pool of prospective buyers as possible. A well-staged home looks beautiful and is depersonalized so that buyers can see themselves living there, not you.

THE CLOSING: Sellers who can’t afford a big staging bill can consult with a stager to find out what modifications can be made on a budget and still provide their home with a refreshing new look.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.

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