Want to get the best price for your house? De-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter. That’s the mantra of home-staging professionals, such as Tracey Lazare, who are in the business of preparing a house to sell.

“I’m not decorating. I’m enhancing a client’s house to increase its value,” Lazare says.

When she takes on a house, her goal is to create the best scenario, so the house sells fast for the best price.

Lazare starts with a two-hour consultation (fee $200) with the homeowner. She looks the property over and discusses what needs to be done to seduce buyers with deep pockets. She works out a budget for the client and once she is hired, Lazare and her team take over and work their magic in one day.

They de-clutter, remove excess furniture and accessories and suggest innovations that make the house bright and attractive.

“We don’t de-stage until all the final (sale) financing is in place," says Lazare, proprietor of Lazare Design.

Why go to all this trouble? Real estate studies show investing in a stager pays off. Staged houses sell two to three times faster and at an average of 6.4 per cent over the list price.

Last June, when Peter Lacasse decided to sell his 780-square-foot condo, he took his realtor’s advice and contacted Lazare.

She removed some furniture, took up the carpet to show off hardwood floors, cleared the kitchen counter and made Lacasse change his dark drapes to white sheers. From her own stock, she supplied mirrors to add more light.

These measures resulted in a nine-person bidding war and $20,000 extra in Lacasse’s pocket. Lazare’s fee was about $560.

“I was quite cynical to begin with. She had to convince us to let her stage the place,” admits Lacasse. “But the return more than paid for the cost.”

Lazare became intrigued with staging when preparing her own house for sale. Thanks to her tweaking, it sold in a week for $5,000 more than the asking price, setting a record price for her neighbourhood.

This inspired Lazare, who was in interior design, to move from renovations to designing for sale. She surfed the Net and signed up for a 30-hour certificate course offered by Canadian Staging Professionals.

“It wasn’t an easy conversion. Staging takes a lot of organizational skills and I had to rent a storage facility for my own inventory of accessories and props,” says Lazare.

Denise West, also a staging professional, operates much like Lazare. “We go through a house with an objective eye. We want the house to look warm and inviting, but not so personal a buyer can’t see themselves in the space,” says West, partner in D&B Home Design.

West also stages exteriors to enhance curb appeal, because many buyers browse the MLS website and drive by a property before contacting a realtor.

Both Lazare and West agree first impressions count. Buyers spend an average of three to five minutes in a house, so they must see the best features of a property immediately.

West advises having your house staged before the open house for agents. “If it shows very well, the agents will bring in potential buyers right away,” she says.

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