Home Staging: Stage it to sell it
by Jenifer D. Braun/The Star-Ledger
Friday May 23, 2008, 10:40 PM
Mariagrace Welsh, Home Stage HomeA dining room staged by Mariagrace Welsh of Home Stage Home. In July, this home sold for $60,000 more than the asking price, four days after Welsh completed the staging
Once upon a time, getting a house ready for sale meant dusting the furniture, starting to pack and maybe putting cookies in the oven when a buyer dropped in.
These days, that's not nearly enough.
In a cooling real estate market, a practice called "home staging" is gaining adherents among realtors and sellers, and creating a whole new class of design professionals.
Mariagrace Welsh, Home Stage HomeThe same dining room before being staged by Welsh.
Originally embraced on the West Coast more than a decade ago, home staging essentially means redecorating your home so that it will appeal not to you, but to the largest number of potential buyers. And while you can do it yourself, you can also call in a stager who does this for a living -- and who can see your home with fresh eyes.
"We take the space you live in everyday and we reorganize it so it looks like you're having the biggest party you ever had," says Linda Russell, who runs a seven-year-old staging company called House Dressing in Montclair (housedressing.info)
"Decorating is very personal," says Brit Brown, owner of Stage Appeal NJ in Chester (stageappealnj.com), and the president of the two-year-old Central Jersey Chapter of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP), which currently has about 22 members.
"When you decorate a home, it's according to your personal taste. When you stage it, you make it neutral so it appeals to everybody who walks through."
Having your home staged can cost surprisingly little -- most stagers offer a consultation service that includes their advice on all the steps you need to take to make your house more marketable, for $200-$300. Or, you can ask them to do the work for you -- for about $350 per room, they'll clean out the closets, rearrange furniture and artfully display vases, artwork and area rugs from their own inventory around the house. It adds up to about $1200 to $2000 stage an entire four bedroom house.
That's much less, stagers point out, than reducing the home's sale price by $10,000 if it fails to sell in the first month or so on the market -- which these days, with a huge "inventory" of houses on the market, is increasingly likely. (Stagedhomes.com, the website of Barb Schwarz, the West Coast realtor who trademarked the term "home staging," did a study in 2007 that indicated that staged homes sold in 31 days, compared to 160 days for non-staged homes.)
Linda Russell, House DressingA living room, before staging.
And while having a professional do the work is easier -- and buys you decorating expertise, as most stagers originally worked in home design, real estate, or both -- stagers agree that there are some tips would help any home shine.
Linda Russell, House DressingThe same living room, after staging by Linda Russell of House Dressing in Montclair
DECLUTTER AND DEPERSONALIZE
"Today's younger buyer wants to move into a Pottery Barn home," says Mariagrace Welsh, owner of Home Stage Home (homestagehome.com) in Lincroft.
"Now, when you look in a magazine or a catalog, there's no clutter in those pictures. That's not the way we live, but it's how Pottery Barn sells furniture -- and how you can sell your home."
Accordingly, stagers advise that the first thing you do when selling a home is to remove as many unnecessary objects as possible. Tchotchkes on the mantle piece, boxes piled in closets, the detritus of daily living that lands on the kitchen counters -- out it goes.
"You can go online and see pictures that some realtors put up of their clients' homes, and you'll see laundry on the sofa, cereal bowls on the table -- we've found that it really gives the seller a competitive edge when that's not there," says Gail Meyer, a former interior decorator who's now a partner in the Holmdel-based Staged Homes NJ (stagedhomesnj.com).
The next step is to remove everything in your home that marks it as yours -- the pictures of your family, the kids' paintings on the fridge.
Gail Meyer, Staged Homes NJA living room before staging.
"You're taking your home, with all your personal possessions, and turning it into a house that can be marketed as a product," says Meyer.
Gail Meyer, Staged Homes NJThe same living room, after staging by Gail Meyer of Staged Homes NJ
"When the buyer looks at the home, they're making a mental list of what needs to be done to it. We want to eliminate that list," says Brown. So dark or brightly colored walls need to be painted a light neutral shade -- a color most everyone could feel comfortable living with.
"The biggest bang for your buck is a can of paint," says Meyer. "People like to see something fresh -- and you're giving them a chose they don't have to tackle when they move in."
Even furnishings do better in light neutrals -- Russell recommends simple white coverings on the beds, and (clean!) simple white towels piled up in the bathroom.
"Light definitely sells -- allowing more natural light into the home helps, and if you have dark colors on the walls, painting them an nice neutral color is the ideal," says Welsh. Plus, light colors will make a small room look larger -- an objective for the home seller, since space is basically what you're selling when you sell a house.
Mariagrace Welsh, Home Stage HomeA living room, before staging.
There are plenty of ways to bring more light into the room, starting by unearthing the windows. "A lot of times we take off heavy window treatments, and put something up there that's really simple and let's in the light -- so you're looking not at the curtains but at the size of the room, getting a sense of it's potential," says Russell.
If natural light doesn't reach a room, add floor lamps and table lamps.
Mariagrace Welsh, Home Stage HomeThe same living room -- really! -- after staging by Mariagrace Welsh
Often, stagers return rooms to their original purpose. A homeowner may use a dining room as an office, for example -- but a buyer will want that room right off the kitchen to be a dining room, and will be put off by finding book shelves and a computer desk in there.
"If you're marketing the house as a five-bedroom home, the buyer needs to be able to see five bedrooms," says Welsh.
And if there's a "bonus" room in your house that doesn't have an obvious purpose, give it one. Set up a sewing machine, shelves and an ironing board, and call it the sewing room. Put in a desk, lamps and chairs, and it's a study. These pieces don't have to be newly purchased, either.
Gail Meyer, Staged Homes NJA room before staging.
"I always try to use to a client's stuff first, before I go for rented furniture. And it actually allows them to see it in a different light, if it's got a different placement. They'll say, 'Oh, wow -- I love that, it was my grandmother's.' There's a lot of things you have you don't notice when you're living there for a while," says Russell.
Gail Meyer, Staged Homes NJThe same room, after staging by Gail Meyer of Staged Homes NJ
The final step to home staging is to rearrange furniture in a way that will make the home look it's best to a buyer.
"You might have very pretty windows, but if there's too many curtains on them, or if there's furniture in front of them, no one will see them. You're showing off the house and the space, not the furniture. It might be beautiful furniture, but it could still be too much (for the room,)" says Brown.
"Staging is not decorating. A decorator might put lots of furniture into a home, little tables here and there. We don't do that, we take those right out," says Welsh.
This is where you really reap the rewards of a stager's experience.
"It's easy for me to say: Go through those shelves, take out half the books, put a bowl here, and a mirror on top and a lamp, and you've got one vignette. But what I can do for that space is much more complex than I can easily explain; you have to have a real creative bent," says Russell.
Still, some arranging tips are simple: Keep furniture from blocking entryways and windows. "Float" furniture in the middle of the room, or angle it into a corner, instead of pushing it up against the walls --this makes rooms appear larger.
Linda Russell, House DressingA room before staging.
The entry to the home, stagers say, is especially important.
"You want something that looks so good, a buyer will say 'Okay, what's coming in that next room?'" says Meyer, who's dressed up entry ways with fountains, paintings propped on easels, and even an elaborate coat rack festooned with bright, summery hats.
Linda Russell, House DressingThe same room, after staging by Linda Russell of House Dressing in Montclair