Home staging when a house is on the market isn't the same as 'homey'
Posted by Karen Taylor Gist, InsideOut associate editor, The Times-Picayune November 08, 200
Although I think a Greek villa with an azure-tinted view of the Aegean would be much more on target, I've made the best with what I have to work with. When my son Taylor was in high school and wanted to paint his bedroom lime green, by golly, we did it. (Although I must confess my motive was more a hope that when the sun hit that neon hue, the glow would force him to wake up on time.)
I was even OK with his poster of Al Pacino from "The Godfather, " although I spent a good deal of time worrying about exactly what "personal statement" it made.
My style? I waffle. Call it eclectic: colorful walls, funky folk art and leather couches, window coverings with fringe and glass-top tables. And Robert, my husband, thinks that his guitars (each and every of them) are appropriate and attractive accouterments for any space.
Now, after investing considerable emotional energy in my surroundings, I've learned that there's an expiration date on all these personal touches. And not just because lime green is out -- was it ever truly in?
The catch comes if one decides to sell.
Recently, I walked through an on-the-market house with Hudson Wolfe and Grace Fitzmorris, of the local franchise for Showhomes, a national home-staging company that specializes in setting up decor designed to make a house move faster. Wolfe, a real estate agent for 14 years, started the business in 2005; Fitzmorris, a former designer for Liberty of London, joined it in '06.
While I've always known I'd have to touch up -- and possibly tone down -- if I ever decided to put my home on the market, some of what they had to say surprised me. For example, I thought that a "homey" ambiance was a good way to make potential buyers buy into a space.
Not so, say Fitzmorris and Wolfe. For a house to sell, it should look less like "my" home and more like a place a prospective buyer can see himself living. That means an owner should remove tchotchkes and photos from the fridge and family portraits from the walls.
"They can make people feel like they're taking a home away from the seller; or, maybe, they (prospective buyers) have no kids and are sad, " Fitzmorris said. Ditto any artwork that may be controversial, in style or content.
As we walked through the brand-new $850,000 house in Kenner's Gabriel subdivision that their company has staged for selling, the two pointed out more tricks of their trade.
In the empty dining room, for example, Showhomes added a table and chairs to demonstrate how the space works: its size, orientation and ambiance. The table was minimally set with unadorned glassware, utensils and charger plates, which serve to take the focus off the furniture itself; potentially distracting linens and china, however, were omitted.
"We try not to put much on the table at all, not to take the eye from the house, " Wolfe said. "Floors, walls, ceiling -- all they have to look at instead of seeing if the furniture fits. They focus on the real points: Does the house work?"
Open woodwork on a side table keeps the piece visually lightweight, and the accessories atop it add height, drawing the eye up toward the gorgeous, thick moldings.
Both Wolfe and Fitzmorris would have preferred adding art, but they said the home's owner was adamant about avoiding nail holes in the pristine walls.
When placing art in other homes, Fitzmorris said, "We use block art, abstract, nondescript, in gold and silver, so it matches all in the house."
Showhomes' warehouse contains about four complete houses' worth of furniture and accessories, Wolfe said. The dining set in this house was purchased at a local auction, one accent table in the house was made by an Algiers artist and other pieces came from Halpern's.
The buying power that comes through affiliation with a national company also comes in handy, allowing the New Orleans business to purchase wholesale from large national furniture makers. Being part of a national franchise also helps them stay on top of trends, Wolfe said, although they recognize that each market is different. New Orleans, Fitzmorris added, requires a more eclectic palette, mixing antique and modern furnishings.
One thing all their inventory has in common, Wolfe said, is that the pieces are open and airy, to make rooms look larger. While the bulk of furnishings are pulled from company inventory, each client home gets individual attention. "This house needed something more in the den, " Fitzmorris said, "so we shopped for the rug just for this home."
In the master bedroom, she said, people who toured the house commented that it seemed small: "I don't know how you'd put a king size bed in it, " was a frequent remark. So Showhomes did just that, demonstrating that a king fits comfortably. The mattress was a blow-up model, all the easier to store in the warehouse, but it was complete with headboard and appealing white linens. On another wall, the stagers added a seating area with a small table and two chairs.
"We didn't feel compelled (to add chests of drawers) because the room has his-and-hers closets and a dressing area and didn't need storage, " Wolfe said.
Showhomes doesn't normally do window coverings, but, like the bedroom that looked smaller than it really was, each client house has its own special needs. The two told of being called in to help sell two Uptown townhouses. The property comprised a row of four, but the ones on the ends hadn't sold because the views from inside skewed toward the less-desirable nearby side streets. After window coverings went up, the properties sold quickly, they said.
"We can't cover up flaws, " Wolfe explained. Rather, "we want people to see how they'd live in the space."
Prices for Showhomes' services vary by package: There's a light staging, or a more complete version. Some plans include bringing in appliances, and there's even a pool table waiting in the warehouse wings.
Most of the homes staged by the company have been Uptown, in Mid-City and downtown. The typical house has been on the market for a year or more. Average prices are $250,000 and up, although there's no pricing requirement. The company has, however, just said no: Wolfe described a house in Broadmoor that needed extensive repairs; he refused the job.
While the company works in conjunction with real estate agents, Showhomes' contracts are always with home owners. It also offers a house manager service, placing a trained professional to live in an empty house and keep it show-ready. Keeping the house occupied, Wolfe notes, also keeps insurance costs down.
While such services are in their infancy in New Orleans, the two said, a national Realtors group says that staged homes sell 20 to 30 percent faster and at 10 to 20 percent higher prices.
For now, I'm content with my house, but if Showhomes wants to encourage me to buy another, it will have to figure out how to add that Aegean view.
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InsideOut Associate Editor Karen Taylor Gist can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3467.
For more information, go to www.showhomes.com