Doctors in the house

Despite the boom, it can be hard to sell your house. But Christopher Middleton meets a duo who can help
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The Independent Online

If you want someone to buy your home, then take a deep breath and get rid of all your family photographs. "It may sound harsh, but potential buyers really don't want to see all those pictures of your aunties and uncles", says Heidi Clark, of the property stylists MILC. "What they're looking for is a clean, clear space upon which they can impose their own personality. All your sentimental clutter just makes it harder for them to envisage the place as theirs."

Yes, hard though it may be for us to comprehend, would-be purchasers just aren't interested in the amazing resemblance between ourselves and old Great Grandpa Bertie, or in the fascinating collection of knick-knacks we've brought back from our foreign holidays. And it's the job of Heidi and her fellow-stylist Polly Maxwell not just to hide all our prized possessions away in the cupboard, but to get us thinking about selling our home in a more businesslike way.

"Let's face it, the minute you put your property on the market, it becomes a commodity", says Polly. "And in order to fetch the best price, your house or flat has to fit the buyer's idea of a home, not yours."

Given the unpalatability of such a message (how could people not love your adorable little display of glass animals?), it's unsurprising that Heidi and Polly (both former estate agents) are frequently called in after a place has remained unsold for weeks, if not months. By that time, the vendors are usually more receptive to the gospel of de-personalisation.

Once Heidi and Polly are in the door, they move straight into action. "Shoes and coats out of the hall and into a cupboard, children's toys stacked up and stored out of sight, and we recommend that if you've got a pet dog, then someone takes it for a walk while people are viewing your property", says Heidi. "Creating nice aromas with coffee and baking bread is all very well, but the absolutely essential thing is that there are no nasty smells that are going to put people off. Which means if someone's coming round for a viewing in the morning, you should avoid cooking anything too pungent the night before."

And that's just the start of it. As well as coming round to your house for a one-day bossing-around - sorry, makeover - from £175, the girls can go one further and start hiring in furniture and fittings that will make it look like the place is lived in by people of taste and substance, rather than just you.

So out go the lumpy duvets and the fluorescent lighting, and in come (temporarily, at any rate) the crisp white bed linen and the elegant, dangling table lamps. Plus, if necessary, a swift coat of paint over the mustard-yellow walls that seemed a good idea in 1986.

Of course, none of the lovely throws and cushions and statuesque flower vases will be there when the new buyers move in. Having worked their magic, they'll be safely back in Heidi and Polly's warehouse, awaiting their next showbiz role.

Spectacle and illusion, it may be, but it does have tangible results, according to Paul Kelly. He's a senior negotiator with Peterman's, a south-east-London estate agency which offers a free session with Heidi and Polly to any vendors selling properties for £300,000 or more.

"We had a house on our books where there were four children under the age of 10, and there was so much clutter you could barely see the furniture", says Kelly. "We sent Heidi and Polly in, and after a bit of persuading, the vendor took their advice about painting the walls and putting down a new stair-carpet. I think she spent about £2,000 altogether, as a result of which we were able to get £540,000 for the house when previously we'd been doubtful about getting £500,000.

"Then there was this other house in Clapham which had been on the market with a whole variety of other agents, and which hadn't been that well looked after. The girls went in and softened it up, putting kettles and teacups all round the kitchen, and hanging neatly-folded tea-towels on the oven. We sold it at the second viewing."

No question in Polly and Heidi's mind that the kitchen and main reception area are the two most important rooms when it comes to making an impression.

"Followed closely by the bathroom", says Heidi. "Buyers know that whereas a bedroom can be redecorated relatively cheaply, a bathroom or kitchen is going to take a lot of expensive repositioning of units and services.

"What vendors don't realise is that they're in direct competition with other vendors", says Polly. "And if someone can get exactly what they want for less money, they're going to buy that place, not yours. No matter how nice you are."

Or, indeed, how photogenic your relatives.

MILC Property Stylists, (020-7373 7700; charge £175-£225 for a one-day makeover, or £200-£300 for a written report on suggested improvements. Styling costs £200 per day.