Home Staging Can’t Hide These Problems

Ever hear the phrase “putting lipstick on a pig?” You don’t want to do that when staging your home.

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The right staging almost works miracles—with an emphasis on “almost.” But it won’t distract buyers from noticing major problems with your home. “Staging can be a great way to showcase a home as long as there are no other blatant issues,” says Patrick Garrett, broker/owner in Birmingham, Alabama. “But staging was never designed to hide problems with the home.” So, instead of trying to camouflage your home’s warts with creative staging, it’s best to address significant issues before putting your home on the market. Here’s just a sampling of problems that you shouldn’t try to conceal with staging.

Foundation Issues

No matter how impressive your staging efforts, Garrett says buyers will notice issues that could signal a foundation problem. “For example, floors that are wavy or buckling usually raise red flags with the typical buyer,” he says. While uneven floors are sometimes just the result of the house settling, Garrett notes that they may also be a warning sign of major foundation issues that could cost thousands of dollars.

His view is shared by Candice Williams, real estate agent at RE/MAX Space Center in League City, Texas. According to Williams, buyers can feel slanting or shifts in the foundation. “I’ve worked with buyers who put a marble on the floor to see if it rolled to confirm foundation problems that a seller tried to disguise with furniture.”

Foundation issues can also show up in the home’s walls. Although fresh paint may temporarily hide cracks on interior walls, the exterior of the home always exposes the truth because cracks in the exterior walls or slab can’t be hidden with staging. Williams recommends having the foundation repaired with a transferable warranty, or being “prepared to sell the property below market value.”

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Bad Flooring

Some homeowners try to hide flooring issues with rugs. “One seller tried to cover damage in the floor with a rug, but the buyers and I felt the difference in flooring even with shoes on as we walked on the rug,” Williams shares. When they lifted the rug, they uncovered major damage to the hardwood underneath. “Not even the world’s finest rug can distract from that—plus, it creates distrust toward the seller.” It’s not just wood floors that thwart staging: “Tile installed with poor craftsmanship and sloppy grout feels rough and is hard to walk on—there is no distracting buyers from this,” she says.

The same goes for carpets. “I recommend replacing worn out or dirty carpeting or other flooring because buyers will notice it regardless of rugs or furniture placement,” warns Bill Golden, Realtor/associate broker at RE/MAX Around Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Paint Problems

“The most stylish items in the world won’t distract buyers from noticing a tired paint job,” Golden says. And if you do decide to repaint, buyers will also notice if you did the job haphazardly. “It’s important to prepare your surface the correct way, to use the right materials, and to repair issues you’re covering up,” says Michael DiMartino, senior vice president of installation services at Power Home Remodeling in Chester, Pennsylvania. If the prep is lacking, you may end up with bubbles in the paint, bleedthrough, and other problems.

Outdated Features

In addition, staging won’t distract buyers from noticing that you’ve failed to update the home. For example, “Some sellers are partially renovating homes but leaving the popcorn (or stipple) ceilings,” says Garrett. “Many buyers will steer clear of homes with popcorn ceilings, due to the high cost of properly and safely removing them.” He notes that the process of removal is not only labor intensive, but it could also release dangerous asbestos fibers into the air.

As well, a tired, dated kitchen will also be obvious, regardless of staging. “Old, rusty, dirty appliances, a clumsy or inefficient floor plan, and cracked, damaged, uneven counters cannot be concealed,” warns broker Gerard Splendore of Warburg Realty in New York City. “Kitchen cabinets with broken doors or sagging shelves require refinishing, repair, or, as a last resort, replacement.”

Ditto for bathrooms. Splendore explains that home stagers may simply give up when confronted with a hopelessly bad bathroom or kitchen and just work harder to make the other areas of the home shine. Rather than trying to stage an irredeemably dated space, “it is far better to post a picture of a virtually renovated kitchen or bath online and include a rendering of a remodeled kitchen at the property to offer suggestions to a prospective buyer who lacks vision or imagination,” he says.

Oddly Placed Items

Sometimes, staging is used to hide essential but unattractive components of the home. “In every home, there are ‘ugly’ necessities—things like wall vents and circuit breakers,” DiMartino says. “Unfortunately, they are sometimes placed in areas that are less than ideal—like smack dab in the middle of a high-traffic wall.” Although it’s tempting, concealing these necessities with artwork or wall decor could actually attract attention to them. “Unless the buyers are interested in moving the location, which could end up costing a pretty penny if it involves rerouting ductwork, they will need to think about whether or not it’s a deal breaker.”

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Overpowering Odors

Pleasant scents can make a home more appealing—to a certain degree. “Candles, plug-ins, or air fresheners might be sensational and create an ambience, but buyers are also wondering if there are other smells lurking underneath,” says DiMartino. This is especially true if there are multiple candles or if the plug-ins and air fresheners are a bit too strong. “Buyers know that cigarette smoke or pet odors can seep into the walls, wood floors, and structural elements of homes, becoming nearly impossible to get rid of,” he says.

Curtain Tricks

It’s a time-honored trick to place window treatments closer to the top of a wall to draw the eye up, making a room appear larger than it actually is. “In addition, stagers could also use window treatments to cover up older or small windows,” DiMartino notes. Be wary of such strategies because savvy buyers know to pull those window treatments to the side to see what’s underneath. “When buyers notice that the actual window size isn’t what they pictured, leading to less natural light or asymmetric room flow, it could be a deal breaker for some,” he says.

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RELATED: How to Stage a Home

Overpricing

Even the most perfect staging won’t matter if your home is overpriced. This is a problem that interior designer and architect Justin Riordan encounters over and over again. Founder of the home staging company Spade and Archer Design Agency, with locations in Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles, Riordan notes that the seller often wants more than the house is worth “and expects the stager and real estate agent to find a buyer who is willing to overpay.” It’s an approach that’s destined to fail: “With the ease of finding property values on just about every corner of the internet, ill-informed patsies are few and far between,” he says.

Major Systems

Most buyers aren’t experts in uncovering what’s wrong with their potential new home, so strategic staging may succeed in hiding a fair number of problems—initially. But some of these issues will come to light when the buyer’s home inspector enters the picture. Inspectors, Riordan points out, are skilled at looking beyond the superficial staging. “The home inspector will review the working systems like heating, air conditioning, ventilation, plumbing, and electrical, as well as the exterior, which includes the roofing system.” Everything will be revealed during the inspection. “No amount of home staging will make your roof new, your AC cold, or your electrical system meet code,” Riordan says.