Dr. Carrie Buchanan
Tim Russert Department of Communication and Theatre Arts
John Carroll University
Question Everything

Staging the house

Staged successfully for resale

Peggy Follis repairs old spaces, turning a tired bungalow into real estate star that sold in a flash for more than the asking price.

How sweet is that?


Originally published as a freelance article in:

The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Page: H1 / FRONT

Section: Homes: Resale/Rental

Byline: Carrie Buchanan

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Idnumber: 200605060079

Edition: Final

Story Type: News

Length: 1229 words

Illustration Type: Colour Photo Black & White Photo

Illustrations: Colour Photos: Kier Gilmour, The Ottawa Citizen / The living room sparkles with fresh colour and less furniture after Carrie Buchanan turned to staging pro Peggy Follis to give their bungalow a fresh look, followed by a quick sale.



By Carrie Buchanan


In a tough market, the best techniques for selling a

house happen well before it goes on the market. No

longer can you slap on a coat of paint and call it

ready. Today's sellers are decluttering and staging

their homes to get a better price and a quicker sale.


My husband and I figured six months was plenty of

time to prepare our suburban Nepean home of 23

years for sale. Fresh paint indoors and out, serious

clean-ups in the garage and basement, and we figured

we'd be good to go. So we started in July, aiming to

get on the market by February.


A couple of confessions: We are not slobs, but in 23

years we had accumulated a fair bit of stuff. We had

not parked the car in the garage in years. And the

basements shelves were filled with things we never

touched, just in case we might urgently need that old

macrame plant hanger or kid's Grade 3 project.


Second, our weekends did not, until recently, begin at

Rona or Home Depot. Repairs we did as needed but

home improvement projects were not our idea of fun.

So our basement decor still featured mirror tiles,

while the bathrooms and light fixtures were straight

out of the 1970s.


Our preparations began outdoors: painting, realigning

the front walk, cleaning up tangled gardens. By fall

we were indoors, painting and ripping up old carpet.

That's when we came across a major surprise: mould

was hiding in a bedroom closet under the rug. On the

other side of the wall, in the bathroom, we noticed

paint peeling and ripped it off to reveal more mould.


At this point we knew we needed serious help. Mould

can be a liability issue: you must track it to its source

and get rid of it. But we had no idea where to turn.


A friend told us about Peggy Follis, whose company,

1st Impression, specializes in getting houses ready to

sell. This woman is no mere "fluffer," our friend said.

She does major repairs. But she also declutters and

decorates. And she's thrifty, doing only what you

need to sell the house.


Ms. Follis is not the only such professional in town.

My intent is to help you recognize when you need

help, and what the process can be like.


For $150, Ms. Follis will prepare a plan along with

estimates for the various projects. You can choose

whether to hire her for all, some or none of the



The first thing she did was to snap a lot of pictures,

which she put into a booklet outlining her

recommended fixes. Those photographs came as a

shock, showing room after room of clutter and tacky

decor. We realized just how much remained to do,

and why Ms. Follis recommended an "extreme



After much agonizing, we hired her to manage the

entire project, doing some parts ourselves. The

estimated cost was $22,000. The total included (in

round figures):

- $4,000 for decluttering and removal of junk;

- $6,000 for bathroom repairs and renovations;

- $3,000 for redecorating the basement family room;

- $3,500 for kitchen redecorating, including a new

sink, counters and fancy trim on cupboard doors;

- $2,300 for painting.


The balance covered a myriad of small, fairly

inexpensive touches that combined to make the house

look spiffy: new light fixtures everywhere;

peel-and-stick tiles in the front hallway and bathroom

that look a heck of a lot like expensive stone;

mini-blinds for all windows in the house; and finally,

the decorating and cleaning that made the whole

place sparkle.


A few items presented themselves along the way,

driving our total up somewhat by mutual agreement.

For example, our ancient refrigerator, when we got

the kitchen done, looked perfectly awful. Follis found

us a used replacement for $450.


Work started in mid-December, with an intense

10-day period from Dec. 13 to 22 and another from

Jan. 16 to 24. In the intervening weeks, contractors

were in and out of the house, but we could both work

there. We arranged 10 days free over Christmas. And

we agreed to vacate the house for four days in late

January during the final all-out push.


The first week's focus was decluttering.

It is hard to describe what this process is like

for a lifelong packrat like myself. A

combination of grief, thrift and an ethic of waste

reduction made it an overwhelming task to tackle on

my own. So Ms. Follis stood beside me for a few

hours each day exhorting me to choose, for each

item, one of three categories: things to keep, things to

throw out, and things to "re-gift" to charity.


Whenever I hesitated, she would ask, in a firm but

understanding tone: "Would you pay to move this to

California?" or "How long has it been since you've

used this lovely item?" She stood ready, with her

marker pen and boxes, and of course, I was paying

her for her time.


Sometimes these decisions were so obvious we

collapsed with laughter. Why had I not been able to

get rid of this junk?


The professional declutterer requires certain

personality traits: a sense of humour as well as

compassion, and the strength to keep pushing when

the job gets tough. Congeniality is essential -- you

really don't want to go through this with someone

who makes you uncomfortable.


For my husband, just the fear of decluttering caused a

flurry of activity, usually before Ms. Follis appeared.

He got things done to avoid her standing beside him,

holding aloft a crumpled piece of obvious rubbish,

asking, "Do you have important plans for this item?"

Once things were boxed -- or for larger items, coded

with coloured marking tape -- Follis had a system for

numbering the boxes, recording their contents and

stacking them that quickly put our house in order,

and made them retrievable later.


Most gratifying were the truckloads carted away to

Ottawa Neighbourhood Services and the dump. By

Friday there was space in the garage. And the

basement, despite boxes stacked to the ceiling in a

places, was positively roomy. We would use this

space for storage, in the weeks to come, during

painting and renovations.


The following week we tackled our offices, again just

a few hours each for a couple of days. By mid-week

the offices were shipshape, the upstairs bathroom

ready to use and the major living spaces cleared for



After the break, we had a relatively easy time in the

first two weeks of January as the contractors

continued working in the basement and second

bathroom. That changed during the week of Jan. 16

to 20, when painting began in my office and the

kitchen. I was huddled in the dining room,

surrounded by boxes, trying to work. By Thursday

night, we were eager to leave for a four-day weekend

in the country.


When we returned, the interior of our house was like

a hotel. Silk plants, fashionable decor and a

remarkable spaciousness made it a lovely home we

were proud to show. Within a week we were on the

market, and the house sold in five days, with two

bidders competing to make the final offer better than

our asking price. We couldn't have asked for a better



Contact Peggy Follis and 1st Impression at



Carrie Buchanan is an Ottawa writer.