Are You Trying to Sell the "Dreaded" Vanilla Box?

Industry Observer

There is no denying that real estate marketplace is in a major depression. Nothing seems to drive home that grim point more then a quick drive through any neighborhood, for placed in the front yards of so many homes is a vast array of For Sale signs. But while a sign in a front yard drives home the point for what is happening with single family home sales, what is taking place in the condominium market is sometimes harder to see. Why? Well, often there are no for sale signs "up" for condos, so it is easy to overlook the fact that there are many condos for sale today too.

In some ways selling a condo is even more difficult then selling a single family home. First, it is not uncommon that in larger developments, one condo in a building is competing with another condo configured with the exact same floor plan, features and finishes. Plus, except for slight cosmetic changes to the exterior façades, it is also not unusual to find one building full of condos to be pretty much the same as another building full of condos in the same neighborhood.

Your sellers need to realize that with so many condos to choose from, they all start looking very much alike.  In the buyer's eye, without much distinguishing one condo from another, they all become just another Vanilla Box.

While through the years there are many versions of the Vanilla Box, the typical Vanilla Box of today has the front door near a central corridor, sliding patio doors to a balcony in the front, and a kitchen in the middle with stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops and an island that separates the kitchen space from the open plan dining/living room area. Dreadfully, so many condos are pretty much the same...floor to floor, building to building, neighborhood to neighborhood.

Because so many condos are relatively the same, the chance for a sale can become quite competitive. Plus, if your seller is currently living in a Vanilla Box in a neighborhood that offers similarly priced NEWLY constructed Vanilla Boxes...  the  shiny new Box will most likely be more appealing to a buyer, than a scuffed, scratched, worn and torn used Box.

Good news is that the hope for a sale of a Vanilla Box is not a lost cause... for either your client who is trying to sell their unit, or for the builder trying to sell one or more units. Both types of sellers, for different reasons, can benefit from hiring an EXPERIENCED home stager.

Realtors will be glad to know that a Stager offers creative custom solutions that will help individual seller trying to sell their unit in a number of ways. First, they will point out the problem areas that make a used home look used, and then offer low cost suggestions that make the condo feel new again. Next, while it is a fact that a furnished property is easier to sell then vacant; your sellers need to understand that due to size constraints of the home (typically condos are more compact) furnishings in the condo needs to be re-set in a way that they actually helps the condo show and flow better when being toured by buyers... and a stager can help here too.

Staging is much more then decorating, and the more a realtor understands this the better it is for both the realtor and their sellers. In fact, good staging is a balance between adding the right amount of visual appeal, without having the interior décor distract the seller's eye from the property they are considering buying.

For the builder, a Stager can also be of great service. Who hasn't been a bit surprised to experience a builder's empty vanilla white unit after touring their lush and lovely model? For this reason large builders have for years had model properties for buyers to first tour. Today, the opportunity and benefit of having a model unit need not be a selling advantage reserved only for the larger builder. Smaller builders can hire a Stager who can provide low cost, yet beautifully designed staged-model solutions. PLUS, if the builder is selling multiple units in one building and the staged model unit does sell, the model can then be easily moved from one unit and re-set in the next. The added flexibility of a "rolling" model offers yet more flavor and appeal to the Vanilla Box.

So yes, without a doubt this is a tough market to sell in, especially when it comes to condo sales. But properties are selling. Fortunately, Realtors have a opportunity to truly help their clients, be they a builder or an owner, who are trying to sell a Vanilla Boxes. Realtors that work with stagers can change the flavor of their listings from FOR SALE to SOLD.

Flavor It Forward...

PS: As I was writing this post the following comment came in from a seller whose house we staged just 32 days ago. "Good news we have an offer on our place and are currently working out all the details.  I really think the staging did the trick so I can't thank you enough!" -DG

Stagers hear this all the time... I encourage you to find an EXPERIENCED home stager in your area. Know how and when to use them and you and your sellers will win... I guarantee it.


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Jeff Dowler, CRS
Solutions Real Estate - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad

You raise some excellt points, Craig. It is so true of the condo market, expecially in larger buildings. But it is also true of the tract housing, especially the more affordable homes where the only differentiaton may be the landscpaing that the homeownr has done or the interior. Ihave shown plenty of hum drum homes and condos, and buyers comment on this. It's blah, ho hum, and so on. As competition becomes even more intense differentiating thes properties becomes even more important, unless price is vastly different.


Jul 22, 2008 10:56 AM #1
Michelle Finnamore
Toronto GTA, Alliston, Newmarket - Vaughan, ON
Preparing your property for sale

Hi Craig, this is a very common problem in my area. Since 1998 they have built approximately 5, 000 homes a year in our immediate area. That is a whole lot of very like houses. Staging is the one definitive way for a Realtor to make their listing stand out amongst the crowd.

We do have to get the word out to the Realtors that it is up them to interview Stagers and look at the Stagers portfolio to see the type of work they do and if it fits in with their market. What type of experience do they have with Vacants,  Some Stagers have never done a vacant, others specialize and do nothing else.

Jul 22, 2008 01:02 PM #2
Julia Maher
Nestings: Connecticut Home Staging and Model Homes - Fairfield, CT
Connecticut Home Stager

Thanks for this post, Craig!  I just finished a big staging job for a model condo, and have been checking out some other models that have come on the market.  You can really tell the difference, I believe, when a Stager has been hired or a designer or "other" (usually a relative of the builder - lol).  When a Stager is on the job, the layout and traffic flow are better; there are no distracting themes, such as a "chicken kitchen"; the details are subtle yet somehow dramatic, enhancing the features of the house.  Happy Staging - Julie

Jul 23, 2008 12:15 AM #3
Kimo Stowell
HI Pro Realty LLC RB-21531 - Honolulu, HI
REALTOR Associate® RS-76763 - Honolulu Hawai'i

Aloha Craig,

My partner and I used to say that all Real Estate is a variation of four walls a roof and a floor. A room becomes a canvas, where composition, color, form, and function play out to engage the viewer/buyer in three dimensions. Many people believe that composing a space is easy without understanding what design is and how it emotionally connects to the viewer. Design is like singing, sure everyone can 'sing' but does anyone really want to listen. Thanks for the blog.


Jul 24, 2008 08:08 AM #4
Michelle Finnamore
Toronto GTA, Alliston, Newmarket - Vaughan, ON
Preparing your property for sale

Aloha Kimo, or as my family describes my singing by saying I can't carry a tune in a bucket. :)

But boy oh boy can I Stage!

Jul 24, 2008 08:10 AM #5
Tracy Santrock
Fonville Morisey/Santrock Realty Group, Inc. - Cary, NC
Raleigh - Cary Realtor/Broker In Charge

I truly believe in staging, and if anyone can pull off staging a vanilla box, it would be Craig Schiller.

Aug 22, 2008 02:29 PM #6
Kathleen Lordbock
Keller Williams Realty Professionals - Baxter, MN
Keller Williams Realty Professionals

Vanilla is a lovely flavor but usually needs to be added to something(s) to really work. It just does not stand alone well.

See, I am just here for the food.

Aug 23, 2008 04:08 PM #7
James Wexler - Scottsdale, AZ

vanilla seems to be the safe choice. however, does not stand out enough.... anything else that doesnt offend is better

Aug 31, 2008 05:26 PM #8
Margaret Oscilia
Creative Concepts-Home Staging and Contracting, Salem Oregon - Salem, OR
Home Stager, Salem Oregon

Excellent wording on your post Craig -- We all want something extra in our "box"!  I don't get too excited about vanilla - but pour on the hot fudge sauce . . .

Nov 06, 2008 10:56 PM #9
DeAndrea "Dee Dee" Jones
Home Buyers Marketing II, Inc. - Manassas Park, VA
The NorthernVARealEstateLady & DMVRealEstateChick

When working with a client, I flip thru photos in the mls trying to narrow down which properties to show.  A staged home always stands out.  But In this market anything well taken care of will peak interest.

Nov 07, 2008 01:31 AM #10
Marte Cliff

In our neck of the woods, it isn't condos or tract homes - it's manufactaured homes. Or, as we of the non-politically-correct era used to say: trailer houses.

I've switched from real estate to copywriting now, but I well remember days spent staring at a blank piece of paper trying to think of something good to say about a manufactured home that looked just like all the rest. Especially the 14 X 70 variety.

Had even one of them been staged, it would have made a big difference, if not in the descriptions, at least in the photographs. And I'm sure it would have made a huge difference in days on the market.


Nov 07, 2008 02:18 PM #11
Benjamin Clark
Homebuyer Representation, Inc. - Salt Lake City, UT
Buyer's Agent - Certified Negotiation Expert

Marte - I'd like to see staged trailer houses. Anybody tackled those and have photos in their portfolio?

Nov 11, 2008 05:02 PM #12
Terry Miller
Miller Homes Group - Tyler, TX
Miller Homes Group and Tyler Apartment Locator

Thanks for the great advice. I will check back often. I really like the blog. I am new at blogging but I am beginning to learn quite a bit from reading blogs like the ones I find on Active Rain. If I can ever be of help just visit my blog or my website:   

                                                                 Thanks, Terry

Nov 16, 2008 01:59 AM #13
Sonja Adams
Samson Proprties - Purcellville, VA

It definitely is hard to make some homes stand out from the crowd and its amazing what staging can do to the appeal factor!

Nov 26, 2008 12:35 AM #14
Ginger Sala
Wilkinson & Associates, Wilmington NC - Wilmington, NC
Wilmington NC Real Estate & Relocation~

Hi Craig, Just stopping by to say hi & we miss you round here. Hope you are enjoying life!


Feb 27, 2009 01:42 PM #15
Maya Thomas LLC, Broker
Key West, Key Haven, Geiger, Sugarloaf, Cudjoe, Summerland - Key West, FL
Key West FL Historic Old Town Estates, Bungalows

Staging sells homes!  I ask every seller to have their home staged.

Mar 20, 2009 01:34 AM #16
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

You are right on Craig.  Vanilla needs to be spiced up and a good stager is worth 10x the fee they get paid, imho.

Mar 25, 2009 09:09 AM #17
SarahGray Lamm
Allen Tate Realtors Chapel Hill, NC 919-819-8199 - Chapel Hill, NC
Realtor - 100K Hours of NC Real Estate Experience

Here, here! Staging works in all price points! I tell my sellers that we will not be activating their listing until the pics are great and then send in my stager. The resulting visual is usually so good they want to know if I'll send them a stager for their "new" house so they can live that way from the beginning!

Mar 28, 2009 04:52 AM #18
Von Richcreek
Crye-Leike, Realtors - Nashville, TN

I personally agree that staging it a great way to market a home. I am considering adding a staging consultation to my listing packet.

Apr 13, 2011 10:21 AM #19
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