Kara Woods in three Massachusetts newspapers: Cape Ann Beacon, Salem Gazette, and Marblehead Reporter.

The art of real estate staging
by Barbara Forster

Don (“The Godfather”) Corleone’s philosophy is a familiar mantra among real estate home stagers. “Staging is for the public, while decorating is personal, ” says Betsy Konaxis of BK Classic Collections/Home Stagers in Beverly.

Successful home goods and furniture stores like Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel exemplify the “art” of staging. “They appeal to the masses and they are doing it well,” says Konaxis.

Paula Gaull of New Leaf Redesign in Marblehead agrees. “Staging is preparing a house for the market so that it sells faster,” she says. “Once a house is on the market, sellers should think of it as a product.”

“You’re not selling your home, you’re selling your house,” adds Konaxis.

Admittedly, thinking of the family home as a commodity is difficult, but when sellers opt in and embrace the concept, the results are usually positive, i.e., the house sells faster. According to a national trade association, the Real Estate Staging Association, in 2009, the national average days on market for homes that were not staged was 175, as compared to 36 days for staged homes.

Sometimes the results are even better. Two weeks after Gaull staged a house that had been on the market for two years, the property was under agreement.

Faster sales are one reason the concept is gaining a following here on the North Shore. The popularity of various programs on HGTV is another reason, but a tougher housing market is also having an effect. Sellers and their realtors are looking for ways to position an individual property ahead of the competition.

The Internet is another driving force. Real estate statistics indicate that almost 80 percent of buyers start searching for homes online. “You want them to see good pictures from the get-go and not have them click on by,” says Gaull.

Although staging has become more commonplace in this area in the last six to seven years, the Northeast is, however, playing catch-up with other parts of the country. On the West Coast as well as in Denver and Atlanta, for example, stagers are called in before the ink dries on the listing contract.

“It’s an advanced form of marketing that makes your home stand out,” says Kara Woods, regional vice president, Northeast Region, RESA. “If we can create an emotional reaction, then a sale will follow. If you love something, you will find a way to get it.”

OK, so staging is…

For Woods, decorating is making a house reflect the personality of the owners, while staging is about taking the personality out of a house while keeping it warm and inviting. “It’s like walking into a fine hotel. It’s not personal, but you feel that you want to go in and stay a while,” she says.

“You want people (buyers) to imagine themselves living in the house rather than picturing who lives there now,” adds Gaull, “so that means sellers need to think like dwellers.”

Konaxis points out that staging also helps buyers focus on particular elements in the house. “Staging is all about directing the ‘eye’ to the value in a home — a fireplace, custom woodwork, etc.,” she says.

Staging can also direct attention away from flaws in a room or throughout the house. After all, not every house is perfect.

The process is relatively simple. After assessing the house, and that includes addressing the issue of curb appeal — buyers need to want to come through the front door, de-cluttering and depersonalizing is step number one. Removing personal photographs, along with collectibles, and painting rooms in neutral colors is fairly common, as is simply rearranging furniture to improve traffic flow.

Sometimes stagers bring in furniture and accessories, but repurposing items already in the house is an option. Another cost-effective approach is to hire a stager to do an assessment and a written report. Homeowners invest a little sweat equity and cut costs a bit.

And costs vary from approximately $300 to $3,000 or $5,000. Charges can be monthly, especially when furniture is rented/leased or on project basis.

“Even if a seller spends a couple thousand dollars, that’s generally a lot less than the first price drop,” says Gaull.

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