It doesn’t matter how perfect your home is—if your listing photos don’t stand out, potential buyers won’t come by to take a look. In our series “Lessons From Listing Photos,” we dissect the smart updates sellers have made to their homes, and how their listing pictures highlight the home’s best assets.
In 2020, nothing is for certain—and in many places, that includes the real estate market. That’s not true for Berkeley, though. This Northern California city, located on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, is experiencing an upswing in an already booming real estate market. In fact, October 2020 racked up the most single-family home sales for the city in nearly two decades.
High demand is likely to have been part of the reason the former owners of this two-bedroom, one-bathroom bungalow in Berkeley were able to make such a profit when they sold it recently. They purchased their home in February 2018 for $615,000 and sold it less than three years later, in November, for $1.35 million.
But the seller’s market isn’t the only explanation for why they more than doubled their money. This type of gain typically occurs when a house is flipped or undergoes a major renovation, but, judging from the before and after photos, the interior upgrades were minimal and purely cosmetic.
So what gives? We chalk it up to the one-two punch of a hot real estate market and smart home staging.
If you’re getting ready to put your home on the market, there are plenty of lessons to learn from this successful sale. From clever design decisions to the little details that made all the difference, here are the moves that made this cozy home appealing to buyers.
This living room may feel completely different in the before and after photos, but if you look closely, you’ll notice there weren’t any major changes. Instead, the owners made a few smart cosmetic updates and did a great job of staging the room.
“The ‘before’ of this room felt small, dark, and choppy, due to the use of multiple paint colors breaking up the visual flow of the space,” explains designer Gabrielle Aker, of Aker Interiors. “The fresh coat of white paint instantly brightens the room.”
Danny Davis, owner and broker of San Diego Brokerage in Encinitas, CA, agrees that color was a key factor in the living room.
“In my decades of experience in real estate, no one has ever told me that they were looking for a dark and gloomy home. Everyone wants light and bright,” he says. “Incorporating stylish, minimalist furniture and light paint and stain colors often make a smaller space feel larger and more livable.”
Real estate agent Natasha Wood of Balaj Realty Group says making the floors more visible also made a big impact.
“Hardwood flooring can increase a home’s value by up to 5%, so showing that off is key,” she explains.
“Choosing the right professional photographer and staging company is very important when selling your home,” says Davis.
He explains that each listing must attract a buyer in the first few photos, or they’ll just keep scrolling. In the case of this kitchen, he says the listing photos showed exactly what buyers want to see.
“This kitchen, where families tend to spend most of their time, is so much more inviting in the ‘after’ photo,” he says.
“That warm wood island makes such a difference in this space,” adds Susan Covell Sands, owner of Susan Covell Designs. “The floor-to-ceiling white tile, new textured stone floor—all of it looks much cozier and workable than the ‘before’ photo, with its gray walls and old, orange-toned wood floors.”
Before the overhaul, this nook just off of the kitchen was a strange bit of wasted space, a real shame in a small home.
“What a difference it makes to give a space a specific function,” says Covell Sands. “Showing the shelves with a laptop, lamp, and stool gives the potential buyer the understanding that this space could be more than just extra storage shelves.”
Davis explained that thanks to COVID-19, most of us are now doing many things at home that we used to do elsewhere, from working, to exercising, to school.
“It’s more important than ever to showcase an area where people can have a private space to work and take Zoom calls away from the rest of the family, pets, and mess that a home must accommodate in today’s lifestyle,” he says.
“Creating a useful space that has a dedicated function, especially in a small home, will invite buyers to imagine themselves in that space, instead of wondering what to do with it.”
Even in the before image, this unique dining room was a showstopper, but after a few tweaks, it’s a home buyer’s heaven.
According to Davis, staging was a huge factor in this room.
“As for staging, it’s imperative that you stay away from bulky furniture in small areas and finish off a room with accents like window shades,” he explains, which is exactly what happened in this space.
Kendall Severson, co-owner of Interior Design Partnership, LLC, agreed.
“I love this transformation!” she says. “The ‘before’ picture makes the space feel heavy and small. They toned down the color and focused on white and natural elements. … They really hit the nail on the head when it came to scale and proportion in this space.”
Wood noticed that the stairs are also visible from this room.
“The updated stairway follows the natural movement throughout the home and creates a cohesive feel,” she says.
Having an extra bedroom that doubles as both a guest room and an office may sound like a great way to utilize a space, but our experts say that often sends buyers running.
“Defining a space with a specific purpose definitely helps a buyer envision themselves and their belongings in a home. That’s why staging is so valuable to home sellers,” says Davis.
He explains that the previous owners, once again, pulled off a major win in this room.
“Oftentimes, multipurpose rooms—such as a guest room/office—only point out to the buyer that the home doesn’t have room for both purposes, and that can have a negative effect on buyer perception,” he says.
Staging this room as a cozy bedroom makes the whole house feel more inviting and livable, he argues.