A woman staging a home.

It may be a seller’s market for real estate in the Golden Isles but that doesn’t mean people should expect to get top dollar for their homes without doing a little work.

Cece Bowen, owner of Transform Your Interiors, helps people stage their homes so they sell quickly and for the highest possible price.

“It’s the most important thing you can do,” she said. “You have to decorate to sell a house.”

Homeowners who fail to stage their homes can cost themselves as much as five percent of the final selling price, she said.

“You need a competitive edge in a hot market,” she said.

The goal is to set up a house so potential buyers visualize themselves living there. They want to picture themselves living in your home and it’s hard to do if they see lots of family photos, personal items and keepsakes.

It’s also recommended that people erase all signs of pets, including toys, food dishes and water bowls. And pets should not be in the home when it’s being shown, no matter how friendly they are.

Houses with no furniture don’t sell as fast as properly staged homes, Bowen said.

“They can’t visualize at all in an empty house,” she said. “It’s really a science how you set up a room.”

Bowen will move furniture into empty houses to help it sell faster.

An emerging trend in high-end homes is live-in stagers who temporarily move into a home after it is vacated. They are tasked with always making sure the home is ready to be shown in the best possible way. It’s especially helpful to people who don’t aren’t in the same community as they house they’re trying to sell is.

When Bowen meets with a customer, it can take anywhere from several hours to several days to prepare a home, depending on the clutter.

The furniture is arranged in a way to make the rooms look bigger. The master bathroom should have new bath towels. Towels drying after a morning shower are not a selling point.

In some instances, Bowen will recommend putting some items in storage or the garage. But the garage cannot be totally filled with items that were once inside the house.

“Some people get storage units,” she said.

Bowen said she will sometimes use slip covers on couches and chairs to give them a more up-to-date look.

Other ways to help stage a home are to increase lighting everywhere, including using higher wattage light bulbs, cleaning windows and opening blinds.

Neutral wall paint that is also gender neutral throughout the house helps potential new owners owners better visualize possible uses for specific rooms. And those little details such as touching up old caulking or grout or outdated hardware should not be overlooked.

People with small children are advised to ask their real estate agent to give them two hours notice before the house is shown to give enough time to clean up any messes.

After the house is staged, it’s important to keep it in pristine condition. Property owners may want to consider hiring a weekly cleaner or give themselves a few tasks everyday to keep everything in great shape while they’re considering the offers.

While homeowners can do much of the work, professional home staging is often recommended by Realtors before a house is placed on the market. Doing much of the work yourself, such as deep cleaning, decluttering and improving lighting, and outdoor work, including landscaping, pressure cleaning, patio work and repairing chipped paint will save money.

Full-service professional home staging is one of the best ways to ensure the seller is getting the most money.

“It’s an important piece to the puzzle,” Bowen said. “Why not do it?”