Looking for a picture-perfect home makeover? Jennifer Phelps brings an art history degree and a love of power tools to Ms. Fix-It Home Solutions, her Tucson, AZ-based home-staging and organizing business. Her minimalist approach to the form and function of fine living can help transform even the most disheveled dump into a modern masterpiece.
The SpareFoot Blog asked Phelps to share some of her tools for home staging, organizing, decluttering and storage.
We love your slogan—“There’s something hot about a chick with power tools.” How did you fall into staging and organizing?
When I became a landlady, I found I enjoyed doing as much of the work as possible. That led me to start a very small home repair company, but I quickly started putting my organizing skills to use helping people sort through their stuff. From there, I started working with Realtors doing project management to get homes ready for sale and discovered that I really like the kind of minimalist approach to home staging.
What’s the biggest mistake people make in home staging?
Investing too much in areas that will not see a return and not investing in the areas that will. For instance, they may be considering wood flooring, which is a very personal choice that a potential buyer may not like, rather than updating kitchen hardware, fixing broken blinds or drippy faucets, or painting the trim on their house. Right or wrong, potential buyers will assume that small repairs left undone mean bigger, more expensive issues are hidden elsewhere.
Here’s a photo of a client’s home before Jennifer Phelps’ makeover …
Does your art degree help in your day-to-day work?
I think it does. You have to see space arrangement pretty creatively. People will make a decision about a home within 10 seconds of walking in. There’s something subliminal that happens, a feeling that will hit them before they even begin to calculate the details of the space. A lot of that is how open things are, how balanced things look, the amount of light that enters the space.
Is it difficult to work with clutter-prone clients?
It takes quite a bit of tact, frankly. I usually preface by telling people, “This is not a judgment on your taste or your lifestyle; it’s my job is to help your home appeal to the greatest number of potential buyers.” But first, we have to appeal to the Realtors, because the more Realtors who feel that it’s going to be an easy sale, the more traffic you will get. While it only takes one buyer, the difference in finding that one buyer is whether five people or 100 people are brought to the house.
Staging is a great time to edit your belongings.
Packing is an excellent time to purge because you’re putting your hands on every single item that you own. Why waste time packing or paying to move things that you really aren’t going to keep in your new place?
… and here’s a photo of that same client’s space after the makeover.
What’s the secret to getting the most out of a storage unit?
A storage unit should be arranged so you can see what you have, ideally labeled on freestanding shelves with room to sort things. Boxes, wood items or fabric items should be stored on raised pallets. It should only be a temporary situation.
That said, storage units are excellent during a home-listing period, because you can take all that big furniture and boxed belongings out of your house to allow your home to show to its best advantage. The quicker sale will more than make up for the cost of the unit.
What’s not appropriate for self-storage?
Don’t store things like candles and liquids in a non-climate-controlled unit, because they’re going to melt or leak and ruin your other valuables.
Your bedroom should be “a little retreat,” Jennifer Phelps says.
As an organizer, which rooms do you consider key to a successful makeover?
The room that really gives you the most bang for the buck when it comes to peace of mind is your bedroom. Psychologically, your bedroom should be a little retreat—a place to go that is not messy or overloaded with electronics or stacks of paperwork that need your attention.
The other place that’s really important is the dining room table, because that’s where your family comes together. If your family eats elsewhere, wherever that is shouldn’t be stacked with clutter. If you designate one place in the home where everybody just dumps their junk as they’re coming and going, it can help the rest of the house stay restful and purposeful.
If someone has lost the battle to clutter, how do they begin to dig themselves out?
The trick is, just limit yourself. Put on a timer, maybe 10 or 15 minutes—just enough time to go through one box or one cabinet. That will help you nibble away at it without becoming overwhelming. Don’t overwhelm yourself more by trying to dedicate a whole weekend to it, because you won’t do it.