By Robin Herrick

robinherrick@reporternewspapers.net

Thinking about selling your house? I know, it’s right up there with smashing your thumb with a hammer on the list of things you want to do. Start with a tough home-selling market, add the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac debacle, and compound that with the new affliction known as “specific taste,” and you have a rough road ahead of you.

Specific taste is the new term for those of us who love their velvet Elvis paintings, collectible kitty plates and those fabulous crying-clown pictures — in short, Martha Stewart wouldn’t be caught dead in your home.

But there’s a cure for this disease: the home stager.

After being diagnosed by my Realtor with specific taste disease, mostly because of my extensive Disney collection, I was handed to Jackie Gasparre from Dwelling Solutions, who specializes in staging homes.

“Home staging is the opposite of interior decorating,” Jackie said. “You’re basically un-decorating your house with a stager, creating an environment that appeals to a wide variety of people.”

An interior decorator personalizes a space for you; a stager is trained to target the needs of buyers and remove your personality from your house.

When buyers are looking at a house filled with personal items, they tend to focus on those items instead of the house. They can’t imagine their stuff in the house. Plus, they may wonder what flaws are hidden beneath the family photographs and tchotchkes.

Stagers help you take the first step in turning your nest into a house someone else can fall in love with. It’s an emotional process for some people.

“A good stager knows how to talk to people without insulting them,” Jackie said, unlike the shows on HGTV and Bravo on which a real estate agent or stager delights in belittling homeowner’s decorating choices.

The first step to staging your house is a consultation with a home stager. Stagers can be accredited by the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, but many Realtors and stagers say staging is as much a talent as it is a certificate. Check out a stager’s before-and-after-photos to get an idea of what will happen to your home. Some Realtors offer staging as part of their marketing package, and some will refer you to an independent stager.

Expect to pay a consultation fee of $200 to $300. For this fee the stager should go room by room and create a punch list of recommendations, with a budget for each change. Beware of any stagers charging a large fee upfront. Beyond the consultation, you can hire the stager for an hourly wage to shop with you for appropriate pieces to stage your home.

A lot of home staging involves rearranging your own items, renting items from the stager and purchasing pieces (you can bring them to your next home after the staging succeeds in helping sell this home). If you have a house that’s overwhelmed with clutter and junk, some stagers will include in their consultation everything from hauling trash away and listing items for sale in classified ads to repainting and making minor repairs; stagers even will recommend moving and cleaning companies. The other end of that spectrum is staging vacant homes to appear warm and inviting; filling the space with chic and appropriately sized furniture usually will sell a house faster than echoing walls and lonely dust bunnies.

You can choose the scope of your staging project, from a simple checklist to start-to-finish hand-holding.

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” Jackie notes.

In a buyer’s market, a staged home increases your chances of selling quickly. Cleaning — on-your-hands-and-knees-scrubbing-with-a-toothbrush cleaning — and hard-core decluttering are vital first steps and are good to do before you hire a stager. Before Jackie arrived, I cleaned, cleaned and cleaned some more and packed away most of my collectibles.

What she encountered were rooms painted without a unified palette, in colors with limited buyer appeal; who knew lime green didn’t work for a master bedroom? I re-painted the rooms a neutral hue, and Jackie took it from there. One of her favorite colors to work with is Macadamia by Sherwin Williams, which she said is “a good neutral that works in almost every room.” Shaker Beige by Benjamin Moore is another good choice.

Jackie recommends always removing or painting over wallpaper. Some people love wallpaper, but most do not. Even those who love wallpaper might not love your wallpaper. “Most buyers expect turnkey houses now,” Jackie said. “They don’t want to deal with stripping wallpaper.”

Because of the market glut now — Atlanta home sales fell 18 percent in July, according to a Re/Max report — buyers can be picky. If they don’t like your paint colors or wallpaper, they’ll just go to the guy down the street who hired a stager and who’s uncluttered, depersonalized walls gleam with buy-me Macadamia.

If you want to do as much of the staging as you can on your own, start by updating and unifying elements. Go with brushed-nickel or rubbed-bronze finishes because most buyers consider brass dated. Change the light fixtures and knobs, and make sure your carpets are beautiful.

Don’t neglect the outside and the curb appeal. Many stagers will work on the exterior of your house as well. Bushes that hide the house, overhanging tree limbs, dead plants and a lack of annual flower color can keep a buyer in his car, driving to the next house. Jackie will often photograph houses in the neighborhood with good curb appeal as a reference to help a seller bring the exterior up to speed.

A house that beckons buyers to hang their metaphorical hat is a house on which they can easily decide to make an offer. Realtors can help buyers envision what your house could look like, but staging does the work for them, no imagination required.

I’m even enjoying living in my sophisticated new environs, and I have promised my husband not to paint a master bedroom lime green again. Although I’ve heard toasted pumpkin is hot now.

Editor’s note: Reporter staffer Robin Herrick was in the process of placing her home on the market while working with the home stager for this article. After the staging, several people toured her home, resulting in more than one offer on the property.