This is a recent interview I did with Maureen Fyfe, a Guelph interior designer with 30+ years experience. It outlines small DIY projects that can raise the selling price of your home by 10%.
Michael: So there are 2 parts to the interview, I think the easier part of it is talking about your business and then afterwards we can talk about the specific advice for people that are going to sell their home.
Michael: What is your business name?
Maureen: Inspired Designs.
Michael: And how long have you been a designer?
Maureen: 30 years or a little bit more.
Michael: Could you give maybe a 30 second summary of your business and what you do?
Maureen: Sure. First of all I’m a designer and interior decorator.
Michael: So what do you do as an interior decorator?
Maureen: I decorate homes and offices. I redesign homes and offices and I design renovations and alterations and additions and new homes.
Michael: What are some of the examples of some of the clients or projects you’ve worked on?
Maureen: We recently designed a custom home which is ready to be built in the fall of this year and I’ve done an overall renovation and design for Elora’s town hall including the counsel chambers and all the office spaces and I’ve done the Norfolk medical center and many residences and model homes.
Michael: Great and the website and email stuff I know. What about generally about Guelph, why do you live here?
Maureen: I chose to live here, I went to school here and I like the town and proximities to the places I wanted to work which were Oakville, Burlington and the Guelph area and I also thought it was reasonable distance to Mississauga and Toronto where a lot of distributers were.
Michael: Great, and what are some of the places you like in Guelph? Restaurants, parks, etc.
Maureen: Let’s see I have lots of restaurants that I like to go to in downtown Guelph. I like Friends in our Kitchen and Buon Gusto and Baker Street.
Michael: Perfect and I think that sums up the profile pretty well so we go into specific advice. What are some of the do it yourself projects that home owners can use to increase the sales price of their home?
Maureen: Actually probably covering the basics to de-clutter completely and remove all unnecessary furniture and items and then…
Michael: How does someone know which furniture is unnecessary?
Maureen: So seating for four or five people in a living room is ample so if you have a sofa and a love seat you don’t need three or four additional chairs. People need to be able to walk about in a room comfortably without obstruction.
Michael: Okay, so maybe we can go room to room. Is there excess furniture that people normally have in their dining room or office or kitchen or something like this?
Maureen: So for the dining room, storing extra dining room chairs for the occasional time that they are used which is sometimes only the holidays. They have the table fully extended which takes up a lot of square footage with chairs all around it and sometimes chairs off to the side. And simply by resetting the table and getting the chairs around the table to six maximum, again you just give more square footage to the room.
Michael: Okay and that is about furniture examples but what about, I mean you said clutter so is that extra paper, mail and the knick knacks and stuff people have a problem?
Maureen: Yes. Lots of times people will have just an accumulation of items that they’ve gotten over the years but they really didn’t have a spot for it so it was just placed. Lots of times people will have large plants, large lamps and again a few are absolutely fine but four plants in the corner, three of them are deteriorating and not thriving doesn’t add visually to a room.
Michael: Okay so get rid of any of that extra stuff. What about…on the topic of knick knacks and furniture what are the things that people maybe should add?
Maureen: So probably the universal is flowers and potted plants but really two or three in a room is plenty.
Michael: And is this something where people can go over to Zehrs and get a bouquet of flowers and put on the table and it would be enough?
Maureen: Absolutely. The nicest and simplest accessory.
Michael: Okay and what would you estimate the cost to be?
Maureen: Okay, let’s see you can get a bouquet of flowers for under $15 and there are potted plants in the $10 – $20 range so you can probably spruce up each room for $30 – $35.
Michael: And is there anything else people can add before we maybe move on to the next section? What about things like pictures, family pictures or pictures of the kids, would that make it homier? Is that something that raises the value?
Maureen: First of all I don’t want to miss something that is important which is thoroughly and completely cleaning everything. So that’s walls, baseboards, windows, appliances, light fixtures, dust free and also clean so that it is a fresh environment for people to walk into. A few family pictures are absolutely fine, I usually keep those to the bedrooms, so that people that are viewing the house are not distracted by someone else’s personal items and it’s easier that way in most cases to imagine yourself living there.
Michael: Right. So even with the description you gave of cleaning. I mean a lot of people are not necessarily going to give it the elbow grease it really needs so would you recommend a professional cleaner or is this something people can do themselves?
Maureen: I think that if people are self motivated to do it themselves, there are certainly cleaning products available and instructions on how to use them. If it is something that they don’t care to do then it’s important to hire a professional to do it.
Michael: What about deeper cleaning things like carpets?
Maureen: Absolutely, even if you have soiled upholstered furniture or carpet sometimes most of the carpets in the home will be fine, the stairway isn’t so then I would recommend steam cleaning and again that is something you can do yourself but the results will be superior if you go with a professional than to do it on your own.
Michael: What’s the cost of a professional cleaner?
Maureen: I think it’s close to $200.
Michael: Okay and it probably depends on the size of the house.
Maureen: Yes, another thing under do it yourself is to be aware and eliminate any cooking odors, pet odors, anything again that might be a negative for someone’s first impression.
Michael: How do you do that?
Maureen: Well the cleaning makes a huge difference, the steam cleaning helps a lot, keeping your pets bathed helps a lot and cooking odors, use your cooking fan all the time when your house is being shown and then there are other environmentally friendly unscented candles that will help and let fresh air into the house by opening the windows.
Michael: And you talked about un-cluttering and getting rid of extra furniture. What can people do with it? Can they just stack it up in their garage or can they stack it somewhere off site?
Maureen: It’s preferable to be off site because a clean and tidy garage is an asset and if it has to be on site any items I would neatly pack in boxes so that they are not all in view and any furniture I would neatly stack them so that it appears organized.
Michael: Okay so next topic I guess is painting and colors. So when should somebody repaint before selling?
Maureen: If after cleaning the walls, trim and doors still look dull, dingy and old, then repainting is probably the best value of investment they would get after cleaning and de-cluttering.
Michael: Is this just from the walls and etc. or just from the trim and doors and stuff?
Maureen: Ceilings if necessary if there is stains or dingy walls and trims and doors. So everything throughout.
Michael: Okay so that is if they look dingy. What about colors? Can colors be dated or a little too vintage or something like this?
Maureen: Good question. You know what they need to be neutral and not dated and the idea is that most people can walk into your home and imagine living there. So being distracted by a harsh color or a combination of colors that are disconnected. So usually the main areas of the home which would be entry, living, dining room and kitchen can all be one neutral color and bedrooms can slightly vary and bathrooms can slightly vary but not to an extreme degree.
Michael: Right. What are examples of neutral colors?
Maureen: I use the Benjamin Moore color paint chips most often. Most successful colors in model homes are Manhattan tan and grand beige and coastal path, so lights but with still some color.
Michael: And you said that bathrooms etc. can be in slightly different colors. Can it be a light blue bathroom? Would that be okay?
Maureen: There’s a caution around blue in that it’s one of the colors that even if people like it they are not comfortable with it in a decorating color scheme. So the only time I use blue is in combination if it’s already existing in the room with bedding in a bedroom or even if it’s the tile in the bathroom I would probably use the color to neutralize it because blue is the color of it people react to.
Michael: What about timelines. Should people paint the day before showing or should it be weeks before, months before?
Maureen: At least a week before and that’s so they have a chance to get it 100% complete because unfinished isn’t appealing and any odors from the paint which most are odor free now so it’s not so much a concern but they have a chance to get fresh air back into the house and then also have the house put together again.
Michael: Right. If somebody has never painted before or have experience doing this. Is this something that they can do themselves or should they hire a professional?
Maureen: Well painting can be self taught if someone gets the correct instructions and is patient and doesn’t get pressured.
Michael: Where do they get the instructions?
Maureen: Well, Heers that sells the paint that I use are very helpful as far as instructions and there are lots of leaflets and brochures on how to paint and also those items that help…tape to mask off areas and then just having the proper brushes and rollers for the product that you are using.
Michael: Right and those can be bought at Heers. So in an average home there is a kitchen, a couple of bathrooms, bedrooms and all these other rooms is there a minimum or maximum amount of colors that should be used in a home?
Maureen: Yes I would say three to be the minimum and probably more than that. I guess the exception would be the children’s room. So if it’s a four bedroom house often the three children’s bedrooms would be three different colors and that’s where the rules are a bit more flexible.
Michael: Okay so you said the three colors. How would that breakdown?
Maureen: So neutrals would be for the main areas, the master bedroom and en suite should be similar color scheme but they could be a shade deeper or a few degrees different so that its complimentary but not exactly the same and then the bathrooms can also be customized to the tiles that I use and then the counter tops and then other bedrooms or dens can be slightly different but complimentary.
Michael: Okay, great and do you have any tips for the do it yourself job to look more professional?
Maureen: Well using the green painters tape to get straight lines on trim its important and the proper roller and proper lighting when you’re doing it so you can see what you’re doing and see the results.
Michael: Okay great. Is there anything else about painting before we move on to the next section?
Maureen: Remember again, it’s kind of like cleaning. If it’s something that you don’t want to do yourself then you can hire a painter it’s something that is worth the investment to increase the value of your home.
Michael: Alright lighting, is lighting important in raising the sale price of a home?
Maureen: Lighting is important to a degree being that the rooms have to be well lit so people can see everything in the room. The light fixtures need to be cleaned. They can be subtle they don’t have to be the main accents in the room but at the same time a light fixture can be an accessory but it’s not something that is critical to grow and replace unless there isn’t enough wattage or unless it’s so dated it’s a distraction for example the dining room light fixture because that’s a feature in the room.
Michael: Okay so the dining room fixture might be the one to update. Is there a difference between natural light and artificial light?
Maureen: Yes so natural light is important and as much as that can be enhanced for each room its important. People like light spaces.
Michael: So natural lighting is important. Is that something that can be improved with new window treatments?
Maureen: Yes so if the window treatments are light and sparse…so basically minimum that is usually the best route to go because you’re not obscuring the natural light or if there is a view you’re not distracting from it.
Michael: Okay. I don’t know what else to ask about lighting, is there anything else?
Maureen: No I just usually suggest that people make sure that they have the maximum wattage and all of the light fixtures that they have and then the burnt out lights are replaced.
Michael: What is maximum wattage? What do you mean?
Maureen: So if a light fixture takes three sixty watt bulbs then I would make sure it has three sixty watt bulbs instead of three twenty five or forty watt bulbs. Two forties and one is burnt out could send the light unbalanced.
Michael: Okay what about home staging is staging a home important?
Maureen: It can make a big difference if the furniture you have is dated or old or too large for the room. So the proportion of the furniture is often the biggest concern.
Michael: So is home staging about replacing furniture then?
Maureen: Yes and all of the things we already discussed such as the cleaning, de-cluttering, and the painting.
Michael: Right so what would be some tips to better stage a living room?
Maureen: Let’s see, the basics would be to have a focal point in each room. Have something that’s interesting that draws people’s attention. A nice piece of art on the wall can do that over a sofa, the plants that we mentioned, if you have hardwood floors make sure they are clean and in good repair. Usually when people are looking at a house and consider buying it, there’s two or three people in the room at each time so there’ll be one or two people that are purchasers and then the real estate agent and so having the lines of traffic from room to room are important, having line of traffic to the window are important just so that people are feeling spacious experience and not a crowded experience in the home.
Michael: Okay and presumably everybody can do a bit of do it yourself with the advice that we’ve given but when should someone hire a professional?
Maureen: I think if the real estate agent believes the house is priced fairly and it’s not selling then something needs to be addressed and it’s usually the staging of the home.
Michael: Okay so this might be something that is done after the house has been on the market?
Maureen: That’s when it’s definitely time but otherwise it’s just generally a good idea to get the maximum value for your home.
Michael: Okay, great. Are there any other areas to the home where people can do kind of do it yourself improvements to make it sell better?
Maureen: Don’t overlook the exterior. So outside tidying is as important as the inside because that’s the first impression of someone’s home so again, walkways clear and unobstructed and swept. A new mat at the door and maybe a potted plant. Garden has to be well kept and clear at minimum, grass cut and things trimmed and looking well kept.
Michael: Right so again small improvements that can cost $10, $15, $20 each. Okay so if you had to rank off these things we talked about like un-cluttering, the paint colors, lighting, home staging, exterior, how would you rank them from important to least important?
Maureen: So de-clutter, clean, paint, staging.
Michael: And the lighting and exterior just comes somewhere after that?
Michael: Okay great and why should someone hire an interior decorator for their home?
Maureen: Well ideally hiring an interior decorator to help them make their homes the best it can be within the budget that they can afford and if it’s not for their own personal use then just financially it’s a wise investment because they are going to recover the consultation rate by improving the value of their home.
Michael: Right. So even if you pay 2, 3, or 5 hours with an interior designer they are going to get that value back when they sell the house.
Maureen: Yes a good interior designer will save people money.
Michael: Yup. Good. I think that covers all the questions. Is there anything we missed or could have gotten deeper into?
Maureen: I think we’ve covered it. Those were good questions.
Michael: Alright. Thanks!
Maureen: Thanks Michael.