From the February/March 2009 Issue:

Home Staging Strategies

  • Writer: Lee Lusardi Connor

Home “staging” — the art of marketing one’s home for a quick, profitable sale — promises a competitive edge in a slow market


Article Photo
enlarge | Photo courtesy of Churchill Corporate Services - Furnished rooms show much better than empty ones. Churchill Corporate Services chose mostly neutral colors with some dark accents to create simple, elegant vignettes in this living room.
As the name implies, home staging has a bit of show biz to it. The star — the house for sale — has its best features played up, its possibilities revealed: Furniture is moved and removed, lighting enhanced, artwork added and homey tableaus arranged. It stands out from the crowd of all those other homes-on-the-market. In the grand finale — if all goes well — the home is sold for its asking price, or more.

Anecdotally, at least, this scenario plays out often these days. Home staging is featured on TV and in a steady flow of how-to books; interior designers are opening sideline businesses and accreditation courses are proliferating. Home staging’s proponents say it helps a home sell for about 7 percent more than it would otherwise and in about half the time — no small feat in a sluggish real estate market.

“A couple of years ago we might do two home-stagings a year,” says Bob Mroz, account manager for staging and furniture rental at the Hawthorne office of Churchill Corporate Services. “Now we’re doing two a week.”

Gail Meyer agrees. “Realtors, builders, and investors are teaming up with professional stagers who do this 24/7,” says Meyer, an interior designer with Staged Homes New Jersey in Monmouth County. “Realtors taking a listing automatically tell customers their staging team will contact them for an assessment of the home. It shields the Realtor from being the bad guy and helps the homeowners to give the very best first impression of their home. Some builders will even pay a stager for an assessment of a prospective buyer’s current home so they can sell it and purchase a new one.”


Article Photo
enlarge | Photo courtesy of Churchill Corporate Services - Faced with a lot of space that might have looked unmanageable as one room, Churchill Corporate Services divided the space into a bedroom and a sitting area. The color scheme is the same as in the living room and dining area, which makes the entire home feel pulled together. Notice the art on the walls is nature-related rather than pictures of family members (which would be too personal), the sliders and windows are covered in blinds rather than light-blocking window treatments, and the patterns in the rug, pillows, and lamps add interest without being overwhelming.
Range of Options
Home staging can involve simply weeding out and rearranging the owner’s own possessions or fully re-doing certain key rooms with rented furniture and art. “People are reluctant to put money out when they’re selling a house,” acknowledges Susan Conroy of Blind Design/Magnolia Interiors in Ocean City. “But what somebody spends on staging is really a fraction of the amount they would lose if they had to reduce the price.

“I staged a beachfront home that had been on the market here in Ocean City for a year and a half. It had been used as a rental property and believe me, it looked it. After the staging was completed, the home sold in 18 days.” Although Conroy spent about $40,000 on the beachfront home (which sold for $2 million) she and other stagers insist that striking improvements can be made on just about any budget.

For the DIY’er, there are literally dozens of home staging books. The non-handy — or just too busy — homeowner may prefer the fresh eye and expertise of a home-stager. (Be sure to ask about training and references, and ask to see a portfolio.)

Rates vary widely; they can start at about $100 an hour for a walk-through with verbal commentary and rise to $300 for a two-hour inspection and written report or $500 or more per day for more hands-on work such as rearranging furniture and bringing in art.

What the Buyer Sees First
Real estate agents know buyers often reject a house even as they pull up to the curb (or on the basis of its photo on the Internet). It goes without saying the exterior should be in pristine condition and the lawn and flowerbeds manicured — but an extra touch may be called for.

“I just did a very expensive home in Fair Haven,” says Staged Homes’ Gail Meyer. “It was a beautiful home, but it needed something to get you in the front door. I covered the entryway with huge mums in this great cranberry color that complemented the outside of the house, and I added white wicker furniture with cushions on the porch.”

Another option is to rent or buy urns holding topiaries, she says — “to show there may be a little spark inside too.”

“I see a lot of really nice houses with the same junky aluminum door from Home Depot,” says Montclair-based designer and “space guru” Greta Goss (www.gretagoss. com).“ I suggest throwing it out and replacing it with a wooden door painted a terrific color.” Think red, whether in the door color, the wreath, or the potted flowers, advises Faye Kapler of Rosewood Interiors in Red Bank: “The color red draws the eye and hints at excitement inside.”

“Lots of people have terrible house numbers and mailboxes, and that’s easy to change,” Goss says. “Make sure you have adequate lighting in the front so the numbers are easily readable and the house looks impressive. People don’t realize that prospective buyers are going to drive by at night.”

Big-Impact Entryway
Once you’ve enticed them with the exterior you’ve got to wow them with the entry foyer, the experts say. “This tells the story of the residence,” explains Bergen County-based designer Roberta Green of Interior Restylists.

Green cites a small — about 3-by-5-foot — entryway of a two-bedroom Fifth Avenue apartment that had languished on the market. “We put up a simple, pretty mirror for people to see as they came in,” she says. “Underneath, we placed a narrow bench, to the right a footed planter with some greenery, and to the left a little table that we’d taken from elsewhere in the apartment, so if somebody came in they could put their keys on it.”

The motives behind the moves: A mirror not only makes a space look larger, it brings energy, Green says. Foliage adds texture and charm in any space; and the little table gives the small space a sense of purpose. The apartment had been on the market for two years and sold within a week after its staging makeover.


Article Photo
enlarge | Photos courtesy of Staged Homes New Jersey - This bachelor pad needed to be warmed up and made more inviting. Gail Meyer and Debra Dolinsky of Staged Homes New Jersey in Monmouth County rearranged the furniture for better flow and added the window treatment, plants, trees, area rugs, and colorful pillows.
Every Room Tells a Story
As a rule, experts say, well-decorated houses sell better than empty houses, which tend to look forlorn and smaller than they really are.

If the house is already vacant or is only partially furnished, Churchill Corporate Services will rent furniture on a piece-by-piece basis. (Figure about $350 a month for a three-month minimum package; for more information, see www.furniturerent.com). Its staff designers can also fully furnish and stage several key rooms in the house, such as the master bedroom, a second bedroom, the living room, and the dining room. “We suggest a good rule of thumb is that home-sellers should spend about 1 percent of the asking price on staging,” Bob Mroz says.

Ideally, the house is decorated with its target market in mind — much like model homes in new developments. “You have to know your community and who the buyer is going to be,” says Joy Anderson of Belle Mead, who used to have her own design and staging business, Joy Anderson Interior Staging, and who now is vice president of sales and marketing for Metropolitan Warehouse, which offers designers “white-glove” delivery service. “Will it be a couple looking to downsize? They’re going to want things a lot simpler so you’ll want to emphasize views and space.

“For a younger family, you’ll go for a cozier look, accentuating fireplaces, the kitchen — places you know a family will want to hang out in,” Anderson says. “If you’re looking at more of a first home for a working single or couple with an easy commute to New York City, you’ll go for a more modern effect.”

Some lifestyle scenarios a stager may suggest: pillows and two wine glasses in front of a crackling fireplace; colorful, informal place settings at the dining room table to evoke sitting down to a home-cooked meal; and fresh flowers, relaxing music and pleasant smells that you might find at a party.

Accessories also evoke lifestyle. “I keep an inventory of nice oils and originals, nothing mass-produced, to lend,” Goss says. People notice. A certain level of artwork will determine, in the buyer’s eyes, the status of the house.”

Goss insists that each room telegraph its exact purpose. “If there’s one thing a prospective buyer needs to know, it is ‘which room am I standing in and why will I need this room?’ Putting a television in every room is never a good idea, it seems to me, because then what do you have a den for?” The living room, she maintains, should clearly be a place for adult conversation and entertaining, reading, or listening to music. If the dining room has been used as a home office, restore it to dining room status. The basement may be of little use to the current homeowner, but the addition of inexpensive wall-to-wall carpet and a TV can be a worthwhile investment in terms of enticing a potential buyer.

Although the point of home staging is to market the house, a nice side benefit is that all the decluttering and rethinking can make it a nicer place to stay in. Says Goss, “I cannot tell you how many people have said, ‘Gosh, Greta, if only we’d hired you when we first moved in. You’ve taken the confusion out of our house. “Our house makes sense now.’” -DNJ

Lee Lusardi Connor
writer and editor in Morris Plains.

This is her first article for Design NJ.


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Two Essential First Steps
The first two commandments of home staging:

Depersonalize Take down family photos, children’s artwork, cherished collections, and the like — the better to allow potential buyers to envision this as their home, not yours. If necessary, repaint rooms in neutral colors.

Declutter Ruthlessly prune the contents of your closets and the furniture in all rooms, taking care to leave a clear path for good flow of foot traffic. Interior designer Gail Meyers suggests using PODS (Portable On-Demand Storage units) instead of the garage for storing excess furniture and household goods. A rough estimate for one month’s rental, storage pickup and delivery of a 16-foot container is about $500, not including packing materials or insurance. Visit www.pods.com.

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Ten (Relatively) Inexpensive Updates

1. Floral arrangements or plants throughout the home.

2. Decorative, easy-to-see house numbers
(see www.restorationhardware.com).

3. New or newly painted mailbox
(see www.walpolewoodworkers.com).

4. A sisal rug or other natural-fiber rug to update an older kitchen floor
(see www.naturalarearugs.com or www.sisalrugs.com).

5. For an older backsplash: new tile or a new coat of semigloss paint
to give reflection and depth to the space

(see www.benjaminmoore.com).

6. Updated light fixtures
(see www.lampsplus.com).

7. Pretty woven or woodstrip storage baskets to organize closets
(see www.target.com).

8. Reglazed tub.

9. New bathroom vanity top
(see www2.dupont.com).

10. For the bedroom: A decorative drapery pole and two pretty panels
(see www.smithandnoble.com).