The first time Lillian Huber saw the Evans home she was helping to sell, its enclosed 14-by-14 foot deck dwarfed the small round table and four chairs that decorated it.
She advised her client to add outdoor furniture, turning it into a dining/living area. She then converted a too-small indoor dining area into a reading room.
Now, the client's high school-aged girls use the deck for eating, studying and reading, Huber said.
"Their (original) dining room was small," Huber said. "Because the market here is younger families, they needed more family and living space."
Huber is an accredited home staging professional -- a decor doctor for people who are trying to sell their house. Good staging can speed up a home sale and keep it close to market price.
Augusta-area real estate broker Grey Meybohm said that five years ago, perhaps only 5 percent of local real estate properties used home staging. Today, that number has grown to 15 percent or 20 percent of homes sold.
"Even new-home builders are staging their model homes," he said. "You'll walk in and they'll have them decorated to the nines."
A home seller can hire a home staging professional such as Huber. Some real estate agents have earned a home staging credential, Meybohm said.
Sherri Melton, an agent for Keller Williams Realty in Augusta who has that certification, said there's a huge difference between the time it takes to sell a home that has been staged and one that has not.
"A home that's well-staged can sell within three months," she said. "One that is not can sit for 12 months."
Both Huber and Melton say the number one thing they advise clients to do is de-clutter. People need to envision their own family in the home, not the sellers'.
"Take all the magnets off the refrigerator. If you have a lot of counter space, decorate it sparsely," Melton said. "People are not buying the things in the home, they're buying the space the home has for their things."
Excess furniture can be stored at a rented storage center, Melton said. Conversely, an empty home can be filled with furniture from a rental store.
Huber said she doesn't often add furniture, like she did for the Evans client's home. Sometimes small changes -- a different paint color, rearranged furniture, regrouped artwork -- have the biggest impact.
"Most people already have 90 percent of what they need to stage," she said. "You want to create an emotional buy-in for the home. That doesn't mean you need to get rid of every piece of furniture they have in the house."
Sellers should repaint a room if it hasn't been done in two years old. Replace a carpet that's more than 10 years old, or commercially clean one if it's newer, she said.
If a yard is one of the home's selling points, remove pets during a showing, so buyers can walk through it. If there's a great kitchen, make it Q-Tip clean, she said.
"You want to allow people to focus on the assets of the house, and not focus on its weaknesses," Huber said.
Huber adjusts her advice, depending on the seller's time and budget, but in general, home staging and repairs combined should cost no more than around 10 percent of the home's selling price, she said.
Melton said home staging takes some extra money up front but can save money in the long run.
"Your home will sell quicker," she said. "It's less expensive than leaving it on the market and making extra mortgage payments."