When prospective buyers look at your home, remember this: There is no second chance to make a first impression.
"Our goal is to highlight your home so you can get the best possible price," explained Pleasanton resident Holly Flores, co-owner of Picture Perfect Staging.
First she meets with clients -- and often their Realtors -- in the home.
"We walk from room to room," Flores said. "We figure out what we can utilize that is already there. Sometimes they have nice things, but they have way too many."
She directs homeowners to move extra furnishings into the garage, as well as removing accessories and clutter.
"We want buyers to focus on the home itself, the size of the room," Flores said.
Their first look at a home is often in photographs, which are most effective when rooms have large art.
"We want to grab them at first glance," Flores said.
Large bookcases require special treatment, she said, so they don't look "busy."
"I say, scale down to 20 to 25 books, usually hardbacks," Flores said. "We will have a shelf of books, then a shelf with greenery, then skip a shelf."
"Staging is trying to make a home look light and bright and airy," she said, at least here in California.
Unique decorative items also have to go because they don't work well with decorative pieces that will be brought in.
"Empty houses are my favorite because we can really design the entire house from beginning to end," Flores said.
They usually estimate their price based on square footage.
"A 2,000-square-foot home that is occupied and might just need art, accessories and towels, runs around $800-$850 and that includes the consultation," Flores said.
The Realtor often pays the fee, depending on the commission rate.
"The cost for an empty house depends on how many rooms we are staging," Flores said. "Typically we do kitchens and bathrooms -- anything with counters -- and the living room, family room and the master bedroom."
"Sometimes in homes that are occupied, if people don't want to pay to bring in a lot of furniture, we just do the front room. At least the first impression when opening that door is good."
They know every item available in their storage facility.
"If we are doing a 2,000-square-foot house, it takes six hours to pack for that -- match this bedding, put something on these nightstands -- then the staging itself takes two-and-a-half to three hours," Flores said.
"When you are not working, you're shopping for more things," she added.
Recently they staged a home that was occupied, including by five cats and some rescue dogs.
"You have to pretend like you don't have animals. We have them board for a little bit," Flores said, quoting the saying: "If you can smell it, you can't sell it."
"Tact is one of the biggest things," she noted. "You want the homeowner very comfortable with you. You are coming in and turning things upside down and doing things they may not be ready to do. You help them see what will help them in the end."
Holly entered the staging profession after years in customer service at AT&T, which she said honed her personal skills.
"My mom had been staging, and I knew I wanted to do it," Flores said. "And I always loved 'staging' my home -- I was always changing it around."
She and her best friend Christal Arroyo took courses, became accredited staging professionals, and now have more than 15 years of real estate and staging design experience. They also keep up to date on design trends.
They opened Picture Perfect Staging a few years ago, and most of their customers come from Realtors.
"Or people come to an open house and really like the decorating," Flores said.
After clients are in their new homes, they may call again.
"A few have said, 'Come to my new home and help me pick colors and furniture.'"