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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Ten Tips to Stage Small Spaces to Sell

My youngest daughter has called Nashville home for five years. When Marissa moved there right out of college to pursue grad school, my husband and I helped her out by buying a small, one-bedroom condo near campus.

She’s ready to move on. And you know what that means … Call the broker and spiff up the place.

I call Suzanne McMillan, a realtor with Fridrich & Clark Realty of Nashville, the same broker who sold us the property in 2018. Suzanne usually works on “luxury properties,” but, as a mom of five, she formed a kinship with me years ago, one mom helping another find housing for her daughter.

Suzanne revisited the 620-square-foot condo, which is on the ground floor of a 70-year-old building. She was pleased to see the small improvements. We’d painted the dingy beige walls a cool white (Sherwin-Williams Alabaster), added recessed can lights, and refreshed the window treatments.

Then she and Marissa made a list of what more to do to get a fast sale for the best price.

“Although the rules for staging a 600-square-foot condo to sell aren’t much different from those for a larger home, in some ways they matter more,” she said when we got on the phone to strategize. “In roomier homes, you can afford to waste space. But a small place gives no grace. Every inch must pull its weight.”

Although the condo was already in a desirable neighborhood close to campus, we still wanted to give the place its best shot. Here’s what we did.

1. Fix, patch, repair. Because we needed to catch up on some home maintenance, Suzanne referred us to her handyman. He patched a crack, refreshed some caulking, replaced weatherstripping on the front door, and touched up paint. He also pressure washed the outside, including the front porch and back patio, to wash away winter debris and spring pollen.

2. Clean, clean, clean. Because every part of a small space gets well used, dirt builds quickly. “If everything buyers can see is clean, gleaming and well maintained, they will assume that what they can’t see (the plumbing, the air-systems) is, too,” she said. “They’ll think. This is a person who changes her air filters.”

3. It’s not about you. “I constantly tell sellers we want to show off the property not your life.” Remove personal items that could distract. “We don’t want buyers looking at photos of all your magnificent travels. We want them to look at the floors, closets, and light fixtures.”

4. Declutter. In any size home, cutting clutter is critical, but it’s especially important for small spaces. “My rule is one item per surface,” she said. That means, a counter or a table can have one thing on it. The exception can be a working bookshelf, so long as it’s tidy.

5. Organize it. Buyers will know they won’t have much storage space to work with, so the seller’s job is to convey that all the storage spaces are being used in a smart way. Even though Marissa is more minimalist than most, knowing she was going to be moving gave her good reason to thin her clothing and storage closets. Help buyers think: “Okay, this could work.”

6. Create clear living spaces. In small condos, boundaries get blurred as rooms do double and triple duty. Nonetheless, areas need division, Suzanne said. The bedroom needs to feel separate. Buyers also want a place to sit outside the bedroom, and a dedicated corner to work or study. “Show that you don’t have to work on your bed or sofa. You want the place to feel like a home not a dorm.”

7. Come in like a stranger. Buyers walk into prospective properties with their senses on high alert. They take in everything — sounds, sights, smells — and pick up on everything you don’t notice anymore. That first impression is huge. If their first whiff is of your pet or of last night’s Chinese food, or if they see dust lining the baseboards, that could be a deal breaker. While Suzanne and I agree that masking scents with cheap home fragrances is not the way to go, she recommends putting neutral-scented odor absorbers around, particularly in closets, kitchens, and baths.

8. Better furnished than not. Unless the furniture looks terrible, or you have renters who don’t care how the place looks (or if it sells), it’s always better to show a small space furnished. “Smaller homes feel smaller when they’re empty, and buyers have a hard time seeing how they will fit in a sofa or bed and still have room to walk around. When they see furniture in place, they get it.”

9. Bring on the light. In a smaller home, you must show it is not a cave, she said. This is especially true in older buildings, which tend to have fewer windows. Bring in all the natural light you can by opening windows and blinds and washing windows and screens. (If you look onto something unattractive, like the trashcan alley, keep the blinds closed.) Then add interior lighting, too.

10. Eliminate friction points. Fix anything that will make a buyer think “that is something I will have to deal with.” We had made do with the porcelain covered cast iron bathtub, which had worn areas showing through, because it worked fine. But because we knew a buyer would likely ding us for this, we paid the $1,000 to have it resurfaced and looking like new. We only wished we’d done it sooner.

P.S. Within 24 hours of the listing the property, we had three offers. Boom!

CAPTION: Make Every Inch Count — When decorating a small living space, like this 620-square-foot Nashville condo, every inch must pull its weight. To make the place feel like a home not a dorm, create distinctive living areas to entertain, eat, sleep, study or work, and exercise. Photos courtesy of Zach Harrison/Showcase Photographers

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