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Neutralizing a Home for Sale is No Longer Automatic

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

It’s been just over 17 years that I’ve been an active real estate agent. It’s always easy for me to remember how long I’ve been involved in the buying and selling of houses and commercial properties because it was during my first office Christmas party that my grandson Richard was born, and he just celebrated his 17th birthday.

A lot has changed in the real estate industry during that time and a lot has changed in my own head about how I conduct my affairs within it. Sometimes, I reverse myself about real estate matters. For instance, for many years I advised my sellers, as I was taught in the real estate courses I took, to “neutralize” their homes for sale so that buyers can more easily project their own taste into what they see. Nothing was to be too overstated.

Maybe I received an early lesson in that philosophy, if somewhat outdated today. When I was about 15 years old, I decided that my bedroom needed to better express who I was. Against the wishes of my parents, I painted the walls a bright blood red. I loved the results, which made me feel encompassed simultaneously by warmth and excitement.

But when it came time to sell that house, my mother reported to me that one couple, upon entering that room, exclaimed “Wow!” My mother was convinced that the bold statement in my room turned off the prospective buyers. If my memory serves correctly, I believe my parents repainted that room a neutral beige.

During the many intervening years, I bought my own homes (two of them), both historic structures, one in Brooklyn Heights and the other in upper Westchester. In both cases, I wallpapered most of the rooms in highly personalized wallpaper patterns, and against realtors’ advice at the time, I didn’t bother to remove the wallpaper before I put the homes on the market. I don’t think that decision deterred the sale of either home. Today, HGTV has educated the prospective homebuyer to look beyond the personalized taste of the current homeowners and to project in their imagination their own tastes in any property they toured.

To me neutralize is equivalent to dull and I would never recommend it to my sellers. Why not present bold statements to the buyer that can present a more dynamic design for living? Over the past weekend, the real estate section of The New York Times coincidentally echoed the same sentiment.

That said, there are certain staging essentials that I would recommend. Chief among them is to de-clutter. Remove large pieces of furniture that tend to diminish the size of a room by placing them in storage and clear table surfaces of unnecessary items. If there are heavy draperies, remove them to lighten up the room. Arrange furniture in a way that looks most welcoming when standing at the entrance to the room, as a prospective buyer would first see it. One caveat: remove photographs of family members. This tends to personalize the house and shares with the prospective buyer information that should be private to the seller.

Remember to appeal to other senses, not only sight but smell. One thing that is difficult to discuss with seller clients is that sometimes there is a certain odor associated with a home that is unpleasant, whether associated with animals or spicy cooking. It is necessary to discreetly approach the subject and to suggest an air freshener.

While some advisers may suggest that a home for sale be neutralized to the point of eliminating all distinction and personality, I would strongly advise against it. Don’t strive to make it too “stagey” as though it’s ready for a photo shoot for a magazine feature. The family life you show may not be the same as the buyer’s, but for lands’ sake, show them that the house was a true home, both lived in and enjoyed!

Bill Primavera is a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester ( specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development. To engage the services of Bill Primavera and his promotional talents to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.

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