While working in accounting for 15 years, Audra Walters daydreamed about interior design and real estate, perusing the web for photos and information on the subjects whenever she got a break in her workday. At nights and on weekends, she dipped her toe in the waters by flipping homes that she moved into, renovated and sold with her husband. Walters says she remembers coming home one day to their first house in Savannah, Georgia, to find her husband had removed an entire wall of windows. “It was a poor installation, so we rebuilt them more solidly,” Walters says. “Next, we ripped out the kitchen. I realized we could turn something ugly into something beautiful; it was how my love of real estate started.”
Once she made the leap to full-time real estate sales in Charleston in 2014 through Front Porch Properties SC, she enjoyed instant success, which hooked her even more into a love of everything related to residential real estate. Along the way, she realized she was spending a lot of time trying to sell vacant homes and thought there was a better way to help homeowners market their properties to sell faster. “I bought tons of furniture so I could stage the homes in appealing ways,” Walters says. “It was scary as hell, but I just knew I could make a difference for my homeowners.” When she found her clients’ homes sold so much faster after staging them, she formalized her design process through a new company called Staging Charleston.
The convergence of Front Porch Properties SC and Staging Charleston was gold. “In a market that is slower compared to six months ago and leaning toward being a buyer’s market, staging has become almost mandatory,” she says. She tells the story of a recent West Ashley condo listed with two other real estate agents before she got a chance to sell the property. It had languished on the market for 80 days, but Walters staged it and sold it within one week of taking the listing.
In a recent study, the National Association of Realtors® discovered 82% of agents report that staging a home made it easier for homebuyers to visualize it as their next residence. The International Association of Home Stagers reports that staging a home increases its sales price by up to 20% while helping the sales contract close three to 30 times faster than an unstaged home.
It’s not surprising that other Lowcountry real estate agents find it helpful to have Walters stage their properties through Staging Charleston. “I include staging as a no-cost real estate service if homeowners use Front Porch Properties to market and sell their homes,” Walters says, “but I also help out other agents who need a designer’s touch to boost their market potential.”
Walters has a few tried-and-true rules when she stages a home. “It’s hard to stage when every room is a different color,” she says, and she often begins by unifying the house by painting every room in a neutral color, such as Benjamin Moore’s ‘Chantilly Lace.’ “Then declutter, declutter, declutter,” she adds. “But most people don’t understand what that really means. It’s not just about removing the knickknacks and family photos but also scaling down the design to only the big pieces of furniture. Have a rocking chair in the corner? That probably needs to go as well as your collectibles on top of the kitchen cabinets.”
She also advises homeowners to remove patterned curtains and window coverings in dated colors, replacing them with white ones. Similarly, neutral upholstery with added pops of color via throw pillows or well-placed accessories is more appealing to buyers who are trying to visualize themselves living in the house.
From staging homes to moving clients’ furniture in one of her trucks or even storing it in her warehouse until the family can find their new home, Walters provides all the extras—included at no additional fee—through Front Porch Properties SC. “Whatever it takes,” she says. “If a home seller lists with me, I pull out all the stops to find them a buyer as quickly as possible.” *
Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and art.