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Best foot forward

Bill Kinzer put his Wachesaw East condominium on the market and waited two months - no bites.

Then, the bachelor called in a professional home stager who told him to take down his Salvador Dali masterpiece of a skeleton riding a horse, his antique tool collection and some novelties stacked on a baker's rack.

She added some plush towels, flowers, changed the bedspread and moved the furniture.

Kinzer got two offers within two weeks.

Home-staging is basically a face-lift for your home that helps buyers focus on the real estate and not your stuff. It allows the buyer to envision themselves living in your home.

With the housing market in the midst of a slowdown, it can be the tool that helps sell the house.

"The market is very tight and very tough and everyone is scrambling for a way to make their places stand out and get them sold," said Kinzer, 48.

Home staging is already popular on the West Coast and becoming more common thanks to shows like A&E's "Sell this House" and HGTV's "Designed to Sell," but it's just now gaining steam on the Grand Strand.

One home staging company just opened in September in Little River, called Renewed Rooms, and a few other home stagers have been active for a couple years on the Strand.

But it's the switch to a buyer's market in a time of growing inventory that makes staging even more in demand.

Now that homes are taking 168 days to sell instead of last year's 129 days, sellers are seeing the benefits of having a professional declutter their home, cut out the smells and tone down the bright colored walls.

For condos, sales times are even longer. Days on the market have grown to 365 days from 89 days last year.

Home stagers say neutral wall colors are always better - and Realtors agree. The last time real estate agent Karen Craigo brought buyers into a home with a bright orange room - apparently the owners were Clemson fans - they lost interest.

And staging is not just for those looking through your home - it's for those millions of online buyers who take the virtual home tours.

"There are so many listings I see where there is so much clutter. Real estate agents take pictures of the home with shoes on the floor and food on the counter. I can't believe the agent didn't take out the clutter," said Shari Rincione, the certified home stager and real estate agent for Keller Williams South Realty in Pawleys Island who staged Kinzer's home.

Since 77 percent of the people searching for a new home check the Internet first, Rincione says it's important to make sure you don't lose them just by the picture.

The mantra for home stagers is depersonalize: Get rid of the family photos, your favorite knick-knack collection, hide the appliances from the kitchen counter and move out some furniture to make the space feel larger.

"You need to look like you're not living in your home. It needs to be warm and inviting but yet generic," said Jane Whaley, owner of E&E Staging in Myrtle Beach.

Home stagers like to bring green plants in, add something blooming to the entryways and find new uses for items that homeowners already have.

Most stagers bring little extra into the home - they just reuse and shift what's already in the home.

That wasn't the case with Kinzer's home, however. His abode needed a woman's touch, so Rincione added curtains, flowers, a luxury bedspread and colorful pillows to a brown couch.

A home shopper liked some of the art that Rincione brought in so much, they asked if it could be part of the deal.

Stagers say it's often easier for them - an unbiased third party - to tell a homeowner to pack up a Buddha collection or tear down that pink and blue wallpaper.

The price for the service ranges.

Depending on who you use, a home staging can cost between $100 and $1,500. Stagers work differently, too. Some prefer to stage a home while the owners are away, and others prefer to give the owners a list of "must changes" and help them implement it.

But all follow the key rules of Barb Schwarz, president and CEO of Staged Homes, which "invented" home staging and offers classes for stagers to become accredited staging professionals.

Key tips

Three items clustered in an area and no more.

No smells.

"If you can smell it, you can't sell it," Schwarz said.

Stagedhomes.com says its survey of 200 homes show that staged homes sold 50 percent faster and for 6.9 percent more money.

Tom Maeser, president of the Fortune Academy of Real Estate, agreed that staged homes sell faster and for a better price - as long as the home was priced correctly in the market to begin with.

"Especially in today's market where you have a lot of listings, it doesn't take a lot for someone to walk into a home and either fall in love with it or fall in hate with it," Maeser said.

That was the reason Kinzer turned to home staging.

He knew the market had changed - and an insurance scare had folks leery of buying condos.

"A year ago, you could put your place on the market and you would have had two buyers knocking on your door whether you had newspapers scattered all over your floor," he said.

He and his agent focused on bringing in local buyers looking for a permanent home.

Developers have been doing home stagings in their model homes for years.

No one knows that better than Renee Pratta, who worked for three years for D.R. Horton in new home sales before starting a home staging company, Renewed Rooms.

She said most customers can't visualize where their furniture would go in a new home, so builders bring in furniture and decorations.

When a home sat too long, Pratta said they'd add furniture and the place would sell.

The idea is catching on so much with Realtors that Pratta will be teaching home staging classes for agents starting in February.

And while it's a new concept to many, Pratta says home staging is here to stay.

"It's a new field. There's a lot of potential for growth. Just like virtual tours were unusual a few years ago and now they're the norm. I think that's where staging is going," she said.

Home stagers on the Strand

E&E Staging

Jane Whaley

1203 48th Ave. N Suite 118

Myrtle Beach, SC 29577267-3620

www.enterandexit.com

Renewed Rooms

Renee Pratta

440 S.C. 90, Suite 2

Little River, SC 29566663-1167

www.renewedrooms.com

Shari Rincione

Keller Williams Realty

Pawleys Island. 997-1579

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