Buyers, in some areas, complain about walking into an open house and finding dirty laundry in bedrooms. In places like the San Francisco Bay Area, so many listings are well presented for sale that sellers who don’t stage their homes are at a disadvantage.

Occasionally, a home shows beautifully as is and needs little work to get it ready to sell. A listing in the hills above Oakland, Calif., came on the market last year without the aid of a professional stager and sold for the asking price within a week. The house had just been renovated and the sellers had great taste. Their furnishings and paint colors were perfect for the house.

Buyers in some areas complain about walking into an open house and finding dirty laundry in bedrooms. In places like the San Francisco Bay Area, so many listings are well presented for sale that sellers who don’t stage their homes are at a disadvantage.

Occasionally, a home shows beautifully as is and needs little work to get it ready to sell. A listing in the hills above Oakland, Calif., came on the market last year without the aid of a professional stager and sold for the asking price within a week. The house had just been renovated and the sellers had great taste. Their furnishings and paint colors were perfect for the house.

Most sellers need to put more effort into preparing their homes for sale if they want to sell successfully. Some of this work can be done on their own, like decluttering, painting and sprucing up the yard, if they have the skills, time and are so inclined.

Many sellers will benefit from hiring a stager, which is a decorator who specializes in preparing homes for sale. Finding the right stager is important. You want to hire someone who will give your home a look that will sell it for the highest price possible.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: One way to get familiar with different stagers’ work and style is to visit Sunday open houses. Usually stagers display their business cards at the property. If not, ask the agent holding the house open if it was staged. If so, ask for the stager’s name.

Most professional stagers have Web sites where you can find out more about them and preview samples of past staging jobs. Your real estate agent is a good resource. Some real estate agents have a favorite stager. If your agent has had success working with that stager, that could be an obvious choice. You’re looking for results. A stager who has a good track record in your area is someone to seriously consider.

If you live in an area where staging is not popular, ask your agent for the name of an interior decorator to consult with about how best to arrange your furniture and artwork. Make sure, before you pay for a consultation, that this person can also select colors for you if your home needs painting. …CONTINUED

Some sellers talk to several stagers before deciding on one. Each stager should meet with you at the property. Try to arrange for your agent to attend the meeting to give input on how the house should be staged to appeal to the most buyers. For example, should a bonus room be staged as a den or home office?

Find out if the stager can use some of your personal possessions — those that are appropriate for selling the house. The staging cost should be less if the stager doesn’t have to bring in as much furniture and accessories. Ask if the stager will select paint colors. If not, there might be an additional cost for hiring a colorist.

A stager should provide you with a written proposal, including the scope and price of the job, the term of the contract, and the cost to extend, if you need it. In this market, it could take months to sell your home. Staging contracts usually run for two to three months from the date the house is staged. Extensions are usually 10-25 percent of the original fee for each additional month.

Deciding who should stage your home shouldn’t be based on price alone. A cheap look is not going to generate an enthusiastic response. Go with the best stager you can afford.

THE CLOSING: You want your home to look amazingly good so that it creates a buzz among buyers and their agents.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."

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