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Staging

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Met with stager this morning to discuss staging the condo.

The first thing that she told me was that the dark green carpet was ugly and offputting and would keep people from buying the place.

This made me sad. I liked the green carpet, and I'm unhappy about the expense and time that'll be required to replace it. (And although I realize she was trying to be diplomatic, I would've preferred not to have to ask three times to get a direct answer to the question “So are you recommending that I remove and replace all of the carpet in the place?”)

(I should note the reason for the green carpet: When I bought the place, most of the carpeting was this nice dark green, but the two bedrooms had horrible thin industrial gray carpet. I had that ripped out and replaced with green to semi-match the rest of the house. I could have redone the whole house at that point, but I liked the green, so I didn't see any reason to change it.)

The second thing she said is that the walls should be repainted. They're all white; I like white walls, but I realize that many or most people don't.

Later, she said that it would be best to replace the ugly ceiling fan in the dining-room area, but that the brown wooden blinds on the living-room windows were attractive and could stay. I have no strong opinions in either direction about the ceiling fan, but I always found those blinds ugly; they look to me like something from a 1970s rec room. I just never got around to replacing them.

But I have to keep reminding myself that I'm trying to make the place appeal to other people, not to me.

Honestly, I'm dubious about the whole idea of staging. Both times I've been in the market for a house, the staging I saw didn't appeal to me. The furnishings that were in my current house did appeal to me, a lot, but those belonged to the previous owners, and were higher-end than a stager is likely to use.

But I'm told that staging can dramatically increase a prospective buyer's interest. So I suppose it's worth doing.

Any of you have staging stories? Anything you would or wouldn't recommend, either as a seller or as a buyer?

21 Comments

Oh! You are selling the condo. Um...are you in a hurry to sell the condo? If you aren't in a hurry, it seems like it would be better to see if people are interested in it "as is". If you don't get any interest then you can consider other options. I just feel like this is a "if you give the mouse a cookie" sort of problem. Ok. You take out the carpet. When the carpet is out, you notice the molding is yucky. Well, it looks like the molding has to go. When the molding is replaced, that reveals some water damage in the drywall. Hmm...so now it is time for some of this, and then some of that.

And why wouldn't you be making the place appeal to you? You bought it didn't you? I'm not sure I understand this whole 'staging' thing. It makes sense if you can't get a buyer in a few months and need to shake things up a bit, and advice is always useful, but perhaps just having a clean, nice smelling, well lite condo might be good enough (that's was enough for you). Why don't you take up baking cookies or bread? That is suppose to really clinch house sales : )


I can understand why realtors recommend staging, but as a buyer I hated it.

I think it's terribly wasteful because it's likely that whoever buys the house or condo will undo or redo at least some of it. The two times Matt and I have been house-hunting, we've been really put off by staging because it's usually a) not our style (so we would want to redo it) and b) brand new (so we would feel guilty about just ripping it out). I'm sure there were houses that we didn't seriously consider precisely because they had been done up in ways that we didn't like and would have to undo. Even without permanent or semipermanent changes, the aesthetics of staging are usually incredibly sterile, and they have the effect of making every place look the same. Whenever I walked into a staged house, I would try to imagine how it would look with our furniture in it. I really wonder about the psychology of staging -- do people really think "oh, if I bought this house my floors would always be gleaming, my house would always smell of cinnamon, and my children would have perfect teeth?"

The house we bought in Alameda in 2000 was not extensively staged (it was completely unfurnished). When we sold it in 2006 we did some touch-up painting and various handy-man stuff that we'd been putting off, and we had the carpets cleaned -- which was probably more than we needed to do. I think we also took out some of the bookcases to make the rooms look bigger, but we were moving anyway, so that was no big deal. But we didn't rent any furniture or put in new flooring except in one of the bathrooms. It sold the first weekend for over asking, but then that was the summer of 2006, pretty much the top of the market. The house we bought in Palo Alto in 2006 was also not extensively staged, and what staging there was (new, but cheap, carpet and paint) we replaced as soon as the house was ours. The house and yard were in crummy shape, but there was a beautiful crape myrtle tree in the back yard covered with dark pink blossoms, and I told the seller's agent that they were smart to put the house on the market when the tree was in full bloom. In both cases, we liked the "blank slate" feeling of a house that was not all done up. Mature trees, a big yard, and a great location were more important than walls and floors that we could easily replace, and a kitchen and bathrooms that we could feel justified in remodeling because they had barely been changed since 1956.

So that's my two cents. Your stager is probably right about what will get you the best price, but I wish more buyers were smart enough not to fall for this stuff.


Remember how car dealerships went through a tectonic shift when some manufacturer decided to publicly announce that their showrooms would not haggle over and negotiate prices, but simply post a price on each car, and that was that? Not every dealer adopted it, and not every buyer liked it, but for some people it was a blessed relief to deal with a company without the feeling that you were being manipulated or taken.

I hope the meme spreads to do the same thing with respect to staging. It seems like some of the things that happen in staging are designed to give a misleading impression of the building. Not so much with painting walls and replacing carpet, actually; I'm more talking about things like when some friends were advised to put these odd upward-pointing lights in corners, to brighten the space and make it look larger. Still, I wonder whether, if you changed nothing and made that a selling point -- explicitly telling buyers you were not staging the place but showing it as you lived there -- you might not attract a certain type of buyer...


I think dark green carpet sounds lovely, but then, I was going to buy a dark green rug for our living room (but ended up with dark blue) so I am clearly the kind of person who likes that sort of thing. I hate the idea of ripping out perfectly good carpet to put in something blander and more generic that may just go to waste if the buyers want something else anyways.

I recall seeing some nifty-looking ceiling fans at Home Depot then when we were shopping for ours, you should totally replace an ugly one with something spiffy. (Like where the blades are carved to look like leaves, and then with the green rugs you've got a jungle theme?)


I sold my first house to the people who were renting it at the time, so didn't do any staging there, obviously. :^)

When I sold the condo in Pasadena, my relator had advice about cleaning things up and moving things around a little to make them look nice, but this mostly involved chucking clutter into boxes into closets or the garage. The critical problem there was that mine was the sixth back from the street, and the fence that ran along the sidewalk from the street past all the units was in terrible shape, with visible ugly damage, looking like it was about to fall down... The HOA had decided to replace it, but hadn't gotten it done yet, and I'm pretty sure that I didn't get any offers before I moved out in large part because walking past that fence put people in a bad mood on the way in, and on the way out. :^p

After they (well, "we" technically) replaced the fence, I got an offer a week or two later, despite the fact that the house was now entirely empty of my furniture. (I think -- actually, now I'm not entirely sure, my realtor might have come up with a bed and a couch and a few other things to make it look less empty.) It was entirely empty when I bought it, and I very much like looking at entirely empty houses when buying (or renting) -- makes it much easier for me to imagine how I can set it up, rather than focusing on how it's set up right now.

In any case, I had never heard of "staging" before, and my first reaction is that I don't like it. :^p I like the idea of showing it before you do a bunch of work on it, and see if you get any bites; especially if what you're talking about doing will involve not showing it for a week... If you'd need to take it off the market for a month, that might be problematic, but replacing the carpet and repainting sound like a few days, not a few weeks.


I've watched a MILLION home-buying shows; it's a shameful addiction and I admit I have a problem.

I generally think the wisdom of repainting is good--if it's been more than a year since you painted the interior, fresh paint is a major advantage for little price.

I would add that you could stage the green carpet itself with light colored area rugs if you didn't want to replace it; that can help also to define spaces in a room.

Why does everyone hate ceiling fans? I love them--their function far outweighs any ugliness (though I grant there are better and worse ones).

As for the most outrageous stagings--setting tables so people can imagine entertaining, baking cookies so your house smells sweet--give me a break.

Good luck to you.


Thanks for all the comments! I'm fascinated by the differences of opinion—most of y'all seem to be opposed to staging, but I had comments on Facebook saying to definitely stage it.

I should add a little more info:

Whenever my real estate guy looks at the place, he looks vaguely distressed. He tried to take photos of the interior but found that the carpet made the photos too dark to use. He feels that if the place is going to sell, it'll sell quickly, so we should have it looking as good as possible before we put it on the market.

When I bought the place, it was not in great shape in various ways—I was expecting to have a couple weeks' worth of work done on it before I moved in. (As it turned out, it took over two months, but that was partly because the handyman I hired at the time kept disappearing without warning.) So it's not really a case of "its current form was good enough for you when you bought it"—I bought it with the expectation of having to improve it (and at a price that reflected the work that needed to be done).

I was going to talk a little about my thoughts on pricing strategy here, but it occurs to me that potential buyers might read this entry and adjust their offers based on whatever I say. So I think I'll refrain from talking about that in this public place.


CJ: Good points about ever-escalating stuff to be addressed. ...I'm not in a huge hurry, but it would be nice to sell it relatively soon if possible.

Janet: Good points, especially re wastefulness. I dislike the idea of putting in carpet that the new owners will likely rip out and throw away.

My real estate guy and the stager both said that most buyers these days, especially younger ones, are looking for a place they can just move into, without doing much work on it. I was surprised at that; that's certainly what I wanted, but most of my friends who are looking for houses seem to be expecting to make substantial changes after buying.

Jim: My impression was that most car dealers didn't do what Saturn dealers did re haggling, but I could be wrong.

I actually don't see anything wrong with brightening a space or making it look larger, because the new owner can do exactly the same things. It's not an attempt to lie to the buyer about how big or bright the place is; it's showing the place's best face.

Another analogy: people usually dress up for job interviews. That's not a lie, or even misleading; it's presenting oneself in a way that others will (ideally) find pleasing.

If I don't stage it, I won't be showing the place as I lived there; I'll be showing it empty, a year after I moved out. And I won't be there when most prospective buyers visit; they'll be there with their real estate agents.

As for "attract a certain type of buyer," that's a way of thinking about it that I'm trying to avoid. It's very tempting to say "I want to market this to someone who's a lot like me"—but in the space of all potential buyers, the buyers who are sufficiently like me are probably a very small percentage. So I could either leave it alone in hopes of selling to someone like me, or I could make it more appealing to the other 90% of buyers. The former saves me time and money in the short run; but the latter seems more likely to bring in a better price sooner.


Amy: :) re jungle theme. I don't object on principle to replacing an ugly ceiling fan with a nicer one, but I don't find the one that's there especially ugly, and I don't know that my idea of a nicer one would match the stager's.

Josh: Thanks for the story about the fence; good point.

Staging is very common; probably about a third to half of the places I looked at (that weren't occupied) were staged, especially the newer places. The theory as I understand it is that staging is supposed to make the place look neutral so that the prospective buyer can imagine their own stuff in the space. An empty place doesn't necessarily have that effect.

If you want to imagine your sofa in a living room, is it easier to do that in an empty living room, or in a living room that has a sofa in it even if it doesn't look like yours? I gather that the theory is that the latter is easier for most people. I'm not sure it's easier for me, but I'm not most people.

The "put it on the market and see if it sells" thing sounds reasonable, and is tempting, but I think the idea is that part of who I'm aiming at is real estate agents; they'll come around and look at it as soon as I list the place. So if they show up and see a dark, gloomy, dingy, empty condo, they might not come back a few weeks later after I decide to replace the carpets and paint the walls.

Fran: Yeah, I'm pretty sure I haven't painted since I moved in, in late 2003. And my tenants had a young child, so there are even more smudges and such on the walls then there were when I lived there. It's not awful, but painting is probably not a bad idea, and if I'm painting anyway, I suppose I might as well use a non-white neutral color, since everyone but me seems to like that.

Interesting re area rugs. I'll think about that. But I sort of got the impression that the stager wasn't interested in working with me unless I replace the carpet throughout the condo, and the stager is someone whose work my real estate guy particularly likes.

Re ceiling fan: I think she was saying that I should replace the ugly one with a more attractive one; she recommended a particular brand that's on sale nearby.

I don't think she's planning to set tables or anything; I think it's just gonna be putting some furniture in some rooms. She'll be sending me a proposal sometime soon, I think.


One more note: turns out several people on Facebook are also dubious about staging. Must ponder further.


I don't know about staging, per se, but when I sold my house the agent was particularly concerned with first impressions - among other things I replaced the screen door on the front door and got a new brass mailbox, then decorated the porch with potted evergreens (it was too late in the year for flowers). I had also recently had the front sidewalk replaced, and got the outside of the house painted the year before so the front looked quite nice and well-kept. I also replaced the front hall ceiling light so it looked modern instead of 70s and had the front hall repainted.

Inside, I agree that fresh paint can really freshen a look, but you don't necessarily have to paint everything. A number of rooms in my house, I just thoroughly washed the walls (which is the first step of responsible wall-painting, anyway), and then removed ugly marks with something called "Magic eraser" - a melamine foam abrasive that you can get as Mr. Clean Magic Eraser or 3M Scotch Brite Easy Erasing Pad. It really works.

My main take on "neutral" colors is that a lot of that palette is too cold for my taste. When I bought it a lot of the walls of my house were either a blue-grey or greenish-grey off-white that I eventually found really depressing.


Replacing the carpet seems like the biggest expense, and it's definitely the biggest environmental impact if a buyer would have wanted the old carpet or replaces the new carpet. On the flip side, by doing it yourself you can choose eco-friendlier options for padding and carpet (or even non-carpet flooring options).

Photos of the property will be really important, since that's going to set a real tone for buyers before they ever see the place in person. (And if there are a lot of properties on the market, it will help determine how many people choose to see your place in person.) If your realtor can't take usable photos of a dark carpet, that's a point in favor of going with a light-colored flooring. It also may mean that you'll want to hire a better real estate photographer before going on the market. Photography is something that a lot of realtors are not terribly good at, and may not even realize it.


A comment about staging: painting, decluttering, and replacing carpet are steps that sellers have taken for a very long time as part of selling a home. The part that seems new and bizarre is renting motel-room furniture and decor, which apparently appeals to a lot of buyers but turns me off. I'd probably still go along with doing it, though, since I know I'm not the typical buyer.


I think it's important to remember that all real estate agents are optimists, and it is to their advantage to believe that "if it's going to sell, it will sell quickly".

There are generally cycles to the real estate market around here. They roughly coincide with school schedules in the spring and fall. Houses will be spiffied up and put on the market for each of these, and then withdrawn from the market and posted months later as "new" to have the freshness and excitement of a new listing. If you're just entering one of these cycles (by my reckoning, we're about the middle/end of the spring one now) it probably makes sense to dress things up as much as possible.

How much difference it makes probably depends a lot on why someone is interested in buying your house. I think the biggest assets the condo has is its amazing proximity to a massive employer. Staging to some extent speaks to wish fulfillment on the part of the buyer (look how perfect this canvas is for your dreams). But a condo, to a certain degree, is a condo, and perhaps I am wildly unromantic, but I think that someone who falls in love with your place and must have it is going to do that for practical reasons having to do with proximity to work and freeways, more than "oh this carpet makes me think of our future life here".

But as you know, I'm not a big romantic. :)

I'd say, if the cost/bother is sufficient that you're not feeling sanguine about all of the stager's recommendations, do what you like, and post it (perhaps privately?) to local employer "house for sale" lists and see what happens. If you can stand to wait out a cycle, test the waters with spring/summer and no staging, and then stage it professionally and have it relisted as 'new' in the next one.

On a related note, if you'd like a ceiling fan in dull white/brushed steel, I pulled one out of the second bedroom and it is sitting on a shelf. It's nice in a bland vaguely art deco sort of way and I'd be happy to install it for you if you want to come pick it (and me) up. :)


What matters is not the 95 out of 100 people who SAY that staging won't encourage them to make an offer or pay a higher price, but rather the 75 out of 100 people who are ACTUALLY more likely to make an offer or pay a higher price when a home is staged.

I just made up the foregoing numbers but I have been in the business for a long time (not residential re-sales but developing and selling new condos is part of what I do) and I think the numbers are in the ballpark.

My theory is that some creative people (perhaps are represented disproportionately in your blog readership) are less likely or think they are less likely to be influenced by staging. I am not that creative and freely admit that I am influenced by tasteful staging. Most people, even creative types (interior designers and many others excepted!), tend to have little "vision" when buying a house or a condo...which is perhaps a counterpoint to the first sentence of this para (you say wishy-washy, I say nuanced). Our firm developed a condo project at Hollywood and Vine, the building is filled with creative types, mostly music industry, and both our model units and staged units significantly helped the sales process.

Finally, have a photographer take pix of your condo, not your r/e agent. Given how much of the r/e sales process takes place on-line, quality pix are imperative. Amazing how some people, even folks selling a 5-7 million house, just use casual pix taken by r/e agent. If you don't want to hire a professional, at least use a friend with a high quality camera who knows how to frame a shot and shoot interiors.


I basically agree with Jay. Call for details. :-)


I'm afraid my feeling about professional stagers is not unlike my feeling about feng shui practitioners. Even if I were to believe in the whole concept, how can I possibly know whether the person I'm paying is competent? It's predicated on the idea that I can't trust my own judgment.

Having said that, while feng shui makes no sense to me as a concept, staging does—I am willing to admit that my mood and my attraction to a place is affected by a bunch of totally irrational things, things I probably don't notice. But I would be very very very skeptical of anyone who was after my money to advise me on it; I would need to see some sort of track record, ideally verifiable.

Thanks,
-V.


I'm all for the baking, in the hopes that the individual has to do so much of it that there is plenty of cookies and bread for all!


once again proving that you are much more clever than the rest of us be enticing Jed to talk to you in person!


Heh. Not clever. Just wrote a LONG response a few days ago that somehow got eaten by net, and had no patience to retype it all. :-)


Staging is tricky, because like many advertising techniques, it's something we all want to believe we aren't influenced by. And yet clearly enough people are influenced to make it seem like it's worth doing.

From my own recent househunting experience, I can say that a totally empty house can be a bit offputting. Rooms often bizarrely look smaller when they're totally empty, and the procession of empty rooms can seem monotonous.

On the other hand, I really tried to discount any unappealing items of decor that we would probably change anyway after buying the house. One of the first things I said about the house we ended up buying was, "The master bedroom carpet must go." (It wasn't even particularly ugly, just clearly old and worn.)

And while generally speaking, the houses that appealed to me most were ones which had a sense of the owner's personality, there was a definite double-edged sword quality to it. For every house where I was charmed by the whimsical bathtub or the teenager's bedroom containing a shrine to the Twilight novels, there were houses where I was put off by a profusion of crucifixes in the decor or the expensively remodelled kitchen that was clearly never used to cook in.

On balance, I'd say some kind of staging (or at least not showing the place totally empty) is probably a good idea. Whether you really want to go through the effort and expense of replacing carpet and other easily replaceable fixtures, I'm not sure.


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