Help Your Real Estate Listing Clients: How to Stage a Kitchen in the Age of Dining Out and Fast Food

Today the kitchen has lost its position as the "heart of the home" that it enjoyed in generations past. According to a 2004 report on dining out, published by Restaurant.org, single professionals eat over 50% of their meals away from home. And, in recent trends data... the National Restaurant Association (NRA) reports that restaurant sales will rise nearly twelve-fold from the 1970 figure of $42.8 billion to a whopping $511.1 billion this year! So, where does this leave you when you are trying to show a home? It makes it essential that you outline the ideal kitchen and help your listing clients ensure that their kitchen shows well.

Yes, some people are gourmet cooks, some families still eat dinner together every night, and some individuals consider their kitchen the only real place to "congregate with friends." But many homeowners eat out more often than they cook at home. Add to that the number of meals that are "delivered" and the number that are eaten "en route" to work and school...and you may find that the kitchen has taken a back seat when you are showing a home.

According to the Meal Consumption Behavior report, "Males between the ages of 25 and 34 eat commercially prepared meals most frequently -- an average of six times per week" and higher income earners are even less likely to prepare food at home.

Those with a household income of $75,000 and above dine out more often than lower income households. These higher income households spend 46.7% of their entire annual food budget on eating out [http://www.restaurant.org/research/consumer/spending.cfm].

Despite these figures, homebuyers still want a "traditional home." People who are buying a house often imagine themselves as "settling down" - and they want all the time-honored options ... including a nice, roomy, well-organized kitchen.

When you show a home, the kitchen must be inviting. Want to help your listing client create a show-friendly kitchen? Share the following information with them:

What are the top five ways to lose a potential buyer with this one room?

  1. Cluttered counters and walls - The more "stuff" on the counters, the less counter space your room will appear to have. The more bits and pieces plastered on the front of the fridge -- the more disorganized and cluttered the whole room will seem to be. The more "decorative" items you have strewn on the walls, the less able your potential buyer will be to imagine their stuff on the walls. The idea is to make the buyer imagine living here... the less of YOU they see, the more of THEM they can project.
  2. Grimy floors/sink/cabinet tops/appliances - In a matter of moments, a floor can become gritty. Add to that a few water spots in the sink, a slight coffee stain from this morning's essential cup of java and a few crumbs perching on top of the toaster... and what do you get? A kitchen that seems dirty and uninviting. Be sure you take a look at the kitchen with fresh eyes. Stand at the door and pretend you have never seen it before. (Imagine you are the grime police.) What do you see? If you were your mother-in-law (or maybe your mother) what "tiny little comments" might you make? Fix those. Now. Be so bold as to scrub the sink and SHINE it (pay special attention to behind the faucet and the rim around the sink - use an old toothbrush). Sweep, mop AND wax the floor. Thoroughly clean all appliances - even in the nooks and crannies. Make it simply spotless.
  3. Unsavory smells/odors - Avoid cooking strong smelling food when your house is on the market. Day old fish, boiled cabbage, onions, etc., will turn off the most interested buyer. Avoid "covering up" smells with strong sprays, over-scented candles and products. Your favorite "gardenia" smell may send your potential buyer into sneezing fits. Instead, consider leaving out a single appliance - a bread machine, with the timer set to be mid-way through the baking process when the house is to be shown. How many people do you know that don't like the smell of fresh bread? (Yeah, I can't think of a single one either!)
  4. Disorganized or insufficient storage space - If your cabinets are brimming with "stuff" or (goodness forbid) things tend to tumble when you open them, you need to remove all but the most essential items while showing your home. Pack up all the extras in a box (or boxes) and put them in storage. Eliminate your "junk drawer" and be sure that your plates, glasses and bowls are close together and are located close to where you will use them. Organize your pantry area and be sure all food items are neatly stacked and appropriately organized and are not located in various cabinets throughout the kitchen. Consolidate them into one general area. When you finish cleaning and packing away, make sure that what remains is neatly organized and that everything is located where you are most likely to use it. People WILL look in your cabinets. They will try to determine from your use of the area if there is enough storage space. If you can't live in the space, why would they believe that they can? If you can't keep it organized, how will they?
  5. Dark and/or claustrophobic d├ęcor - Dark colors in the kitchen make it less inviting. It makes it harder to cook when you have to strain to see what you are doing. Ample light is a requirement. Natural light is best. If your kitchen doesn't have quality lighting, you need to add it. Consider "natural light" light bulbs, add additional light sources under upper cabinets, and make the room brim with warm, bright light. If your lights flicker or are dull - replace them. In one kitchen I saw recently, there was no window to the outside, but the owner had added a mirror with "window panel" framing over the sink and a light above it to add light, reflect it and give the impression of a window. It wasn't perfect, but I was a vast improvement over facing a solid wall while doing dishes. Claustrophobic decorating would include oversized decorative items in a small kitchen, anything that requires you to dodge, move or step around to do simple tasks. Heavy, low-hanging items that "close in" the space in a kitchen are also ill advised. I recently saw a wrought-iron pan rack that was hung (too low) over an island in the center of a kitchen. It was covered in pans and it created a visual wall in the center of a modestly-sized kitchen. The cook continually had to 'bend down' to talk to people on the other side of the rack. This type of decorating was too "claustrophobic" for that space. Replacing the rack with higher-hung lighting would have eliminated the "squeeze" effect and would have lightened, brightened and expanded the entire room.

What do most people want in a kitchen? They want enough counter space to work and clean line of sight (so kill the do-dads and tuck away the cabinet-top appliances). They want modern, clean, easy-to-maintain appliances. They seek cheerful, well-lit areas (think "natural light feel") and enough easy-to-reach outlets (extension cords in a kitchen are both unsightly and unsafe).
People looking at a home's kitchen want to see a space that is inviting and easy-care. They want a kitchen that makes them WANT to stay in for meals -- a place to "nest" that adds comfort, relaxation and other nourishing qualities to daily life.