To Furnish or NOT to Furnish a Vacant Home?

Unfurnished listings may appear cold and unremarkable, while their furnished competitors appear warm and inviting (and sell faster). But not all vacant listings are created equally.

Before committing to rental furniture, consider the following:

Price Range

A moderate- to high-priced home is a better candidate than a home priced for first-time home buyers. A more expensive home may need the added glitz that furnishings provide, supporting the asking price. A few accessories here and there for the lower-priced home might suffice, especially if the profit margins aren’t there to support the investment.

Competition

How does this home stack up against the competition? All things being equal—price, square footage, location, floor plan, age—the best-looking and most updated homes sell first. If better-looking, better-priced homes in the same area keep entering the market, they will keep pushing the others to the bottom of the list, including an outdated but staged home. Perhaps money spent on updates will be the better investment.

Location

Is the vacant home in a highly-coveted area where homes typically sell quickly? The only reason this home might be furnished is to get top dollar for it and/or to sell fast. Is the home on a busy street? The addition of stunning (and sound-muffling) landscaping and/or a fence may be a better investment. (Read more in blog post: Selling on a Busy Street.)

Days-on-Market

If the average DOM for the neighborhood is high, you can bet the furnished homes aren’t selling either, warranting a different approach. If the average DOM is low, are there other issues that need to be dealt with first. What’s the buyer feedback?

Buyer Feedback

Does the home need a good scrubbing? Is the Inspection going to reveal a long list of small but annoying issues? Is the dated wallpaper creating a sense that it will need too much work? Spending money on furnishings won’t cover up the flaws that will still need to be addressed. (The old “lipstick on a pig” syndrome, no offense to pigs!)

Seller’s Budget

Did most of the budget go toward repairing the foundation and installing new windows, leaving many cosmetic issues left undone? Better to put the money into some of the cosmetic issues than into rental furniture. I’ve helped prioritize many successful To-Do Lists for sellers to maximize the impact of available funds.

Family Estate

Trying to get the children of an estate to agree on how to spend money is like herding cats. If the home hasn’t been updated for a few decades, paying for a pre-inspection might reveal important issues where limited funds might be needed first. Simply emptying, cleaning, and making glaring changes or fixes can be the best use of time and funds. Then, list the home at a lower price to create excitement and draw more buyers. Chances are, a buyer who’s looking for a “fixer” at a lower price will snatch it right up! (I call this, “Drop ‘n Run.)

Unique Features

Having a screened-in porch in a neighborhood of tiny decks will buy a lot of forgiveness for showing vacant. A massive walk-in closet or beautifully updated kitchen become the draw, and no one really notices there’s no furniture. Be sure rooms with the cool features become the top five photos on the Internet.

Quantity of Showings

How many showings have there been? Is the home priced as it should be? Many showings with no offers indicate that something about the house itself is the culprit. That “something” should be dealt with before furnishings are brought in. Few showings indicate that the issue might involve the price, bad Internet photos, or both.

Internet Photos

Are the photos white on white on blah? Are there close-ups of features but no photos of the entire room? Were the exterior shots taken in February and it’s now May? Poor or uninteresting photos can eliminate the house from the “to-see list” because they are not doing it justice. Invest in a good photographer for new, better photos.

New Construction

If none of the high-priced new construction is also vacant and not selling, furnishings could well be the best option. It will help the home stand apart from its vacant competitors.

Buyer Pool

Are there many competing $700,000+ homes on the market but not an abundance of buyers for that price range—furnished or otherwise? Spending a few thousand dollars on furnishings sounds better than a $30,000 price drop. If a home is furnished in conjunction with being updated, having no “issues” and priced correctly, the home has a fighting chance.

Design Issues

Furniture can resolve the “How do I arrange furniture in this room?” question, especially if the room appears too small or large, too open or angled. I once suggested staging only the master bedroom of a desirable bungalow, because it appeared too small for a queen-sized bed. The feedback had been the same for weeks. Adding a bed showed the footprint for the bed and the walk-around space. It sold to the next person who saw the home.

Furniture Quality

Whether leaving furniture behind or bringing some in, make sure it’s not the pink floral sofa borrowed from Aunt Mabel, or the plaid sofa dragged up from the basement and the dog’s favorite napping place. No furniture is better than the wrong furniture.

Price Reductions

How long ago was the price lowered? Is the new price more in line with the market and comps? One option is to wait a week or so after lowering the price to see if it generates more interest before spending money on furniture. Another option is to time the price reduction with furniture and take full advantage of the renewed interest. Take fresh photos.

Idea

Sometimes the Internet photos were shot when the home was furnished, then the sellers moved out, leaving the home barren and cold. I’ve suggested outputting photos of each room and standing them in a frame in each room. Buyers may forget what they liked on the Internet when walking through a now-vacated home. The photos show how it was arranged, and remind them of their initial positive first impression.

Tips

If showing a home empty is the only option, here are a few things to remember:

  • Leave a bottle of Windex and paper towels behind for cleaning after a wet day.
  • If selling in winter, be sure there is a rug in the front entry.
  • Leaving toilet paper behind is very thoughtful.
  • Rooms with no overhead lights will benefit from a torchiere left in the corner, especially a corner not seen dead ahead when first entering the room.
  • Even though it’s tempting to conserve on the temperature setting, leave the home comfortable for buyers.
  • If the home tends to smell musty, don’t overdo the scent. One per floor, in an open hallway, away from the front door, is best.

Feel free to schedule a Walk-Through Consultation—remotely or in person. We can then determine if furniture is needed, or another solution!

Copyright © 2021 by Cynthia Gentry Black
All rights reserved. No portion may be shared, reused or republished in any format without express written consent of the author.

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