Staging is not decorating. In fact, they are opposite in many ways! When you are preparing a house for sale, knowing the difference is important. The purpose of interior decorating is to personalize the house and make it your unique space, fitting in with your taste and life style. Staging has as its purpose the depersonalization of the space with the goal of opening it up and appealing to a wide audience.
What follows is a tale of two houses: One whose seller agreed to make some changes and another whose seller decided cut some corners.
The first seller wanted to put her already lovely house on the market in the best possible condition.
It needed only two minor repairs, and the owner quickly had those done. Then came the staging part. The pristine house had walls that were all painted white and a dining room with expensive, but dated, wallpaper.
Reluctantly, she agreed to have the walls painted neutral colors and to get rid of the wallpaper. She even agreed to a sage green color for the kitchen and dining area, though she would never have chosen any shade of green herself, and allowed the stager to switch some of her ornate decorative pieces for more modern, sleek items. A few pieces of furniture were tucked away in storage. Finally, floral cushions were replaced with solid, brightly colored cushions, a new graphic piece of art graced the livingroom's long wall, window treatments were tweaked, and bed linens and bath towels were replaced with plush new, color-coordinated items in bright shades.
The house sold the first week it was on market. The second house did not do so well.
Our sellers were a motivated young couple that needed to sell quickly due to a job transfer. Unfortunately, they had owned the house less than a year and the only equity they had in the house was their downpayment, which had been eaten up by the downward spiral in housing prices. A quick evaluation of the comps showed that their house would be at the top of its range if they listed it where they wanted it priced. Our best bet at getting the top price is to have the house staged and then price it as aggressively as you can, we told them. They agreed, so we made an appointment for a staging consultation.
After meeting with the stager, they decided to do some of the heavy lifting themselves and then call her back for the finishing touches in time for Realtor® tour and open house the next week. They cancelled the appointment later in the week. Why? Because one of their mothers talked them out of hiring a stager. After all, everybody agreed that Mom has good taste and her house, which she decorates entirely on her own and always has, is the envy of everyone around.
The decorating was completed just in time for Realltor® tour day and for the open house the next weekend. It was sparkling clean, the furniture had been thinned out as we asked, and the minor repairs we targeted had been done. The heavy lifting was finished, but something just wasn't right. You could tell that young people lived in the house, but things just seemed somehow incongruent. The livingroom featured an appropriately sized, appropriately placed painting of lovely FLOWERS, not the the graphic, geometric, edgy piece you might expect in a house that needed to appeal to the 20-30 something age bracket.
Bathrooms, while nicely done, featured shades of blues and mauves, as did several floral arrangements. Livingroom and bedroom furniture were placed in the typical spots flat against walls, instead of employing angles. The entire house looked good but unremarkable, except for the fact that it looked liked somebody's Mom helped with the decorating.
Decorating, however, is NOT staging, and the house sat on market for weeks with no offer. What stagers say is true: The cost of a stager is less than the cost of the first price reduction.
I beg you, sellers, do not try to go it alone. Hire a professional stager who can look at your home objectively and get it market ready. I am not a stager, and I don't even play one on TV. Neither should you if you really want to or need to sell.
11/5/2010 UPDATE on the second house: The house is now rented and off market, because it did not sell! I honestly believe we could have sold that house if only we had been able to present it properly to the correct target audience. These young people are now landlords in their old location and tenants in their new location.