If “all the world’s a stage” as Shakespeare reflected in As You Like It at the turn of the 17th century, then it may seem that professional real estate stagers are a little late in coming to Manhattan. According to the website for the International Association for Home Staging Professionals, an organization founded in the mid 1970’s by Barb Swartz in Washington State, the New York City chapter was formed only recently in November 2004. Staging as a recognized trade is pretty new. However, with the rising popularity of cable TV shows like “Sell This House” and the demonstrated success of recent “staged” apartment sales, the business is definitely growing.
Much like a stylist, the stager is a design professional who is hired for a fee to present a property for maximum visual and emotional appeal. Often, a stager can be consulted by the hour for a proposal and an estimate. A full scale production might include refinishing floors, painting walls and trim, replacing countertops, improving lighting, regrouting tiles, cleaning carpets, replacing worn furniture with rented props, and adding accessories.
Happy properties—ones that are clean and “show well”—make buyers feel good and bring in the most dollars. With a little polish, a lot of common sense, and the aid of your broker, you too can set the stage for your home sale. Since first impressions are critical, you’ll need to consider your residence as a commodity. You’ll need objectivity to identify flaws you may have grown accustomed to. Think of yourself as a set designer, putting aside ego and emotion, to prepare a scene that will welcome and encourage buyers to imagine themselves in your space.
There’s no need to redo a kitchen or a bathroom. A face-lift is less important than a good scrubbing, since most buyers will renovate to suit themselves. Some of my suggestions below are obvious. Most rely on common sense. It’s best to start at your front door with pad and pen, and work your way room by room. With each noted change, go back to your front door to reassess and continue. Apply the suburban concept of “curb appeal” to every inch of every room. Look with the eyes and senses of your prospective buyer.
1. Clean and dust thoroughly everywhere. Don’t overlook unappealing grime on appliances and their cords, or fingerprints on telephones and switch plates. Get rid of bathroom mildew. Windows should be crystal clear to let in all natural light.
2. Remove clutter from rooms, closets and surfaces including tables, countertops and bookshelves. Rearrange not only the furniture to its best advantage but also the shelves, so books are not falling over one another, and so your treasured knick knacks are displayed artfully on your newly liberated shelves. Give or throw away stuff you haven’t used in years that’s crowding your closets or collecting dust on your shelves. Neat closets look bigger, and space sells. Hang a couple of empty wooden hangers in your front hall closet to look like they’re waiting for your guests’ coats. Discard your collection of wire hangers.
3. Organize cabinets, and clean all visible interior shelves of any dirt that may have accumulated. Expect buyers to open all doors and drawers, so check that they open and close easily, and that nothing gets stuck or tumbles out. Test doors to see that they don’t bump against what may be hidden behind.
4. Repair whatever is broken. A buyer will “kick the tires,” so fix the loose doorknob and leaky faucet. Pay attention to imperfections you’ve long ignored—like painting the patched ceiling where the toilet above may have leaked.
5. Illuminate your home properly. Take down heavy draperies and open the blinds. Clean glass fixtures so they shine, and replace broken ones. Turn on all lights when showing your home, even though buyers will ask to shut them to assess natural light.
6. Reduce odors from cooking, pets or cigarette smoke, but don’t use room deodorizers. Instead, before appointments, boil some cinnamon sticks, or bake some sliced up frozen cookie dough. Clean the litter box daily, and replace the wee-wee pad promptly. Put cedar chips in the coat closets.
7. Camouflage all that is less than perfect. There’s great power in the smallest details. Invest in plump new towels and fresh luxurious bedding—items you can take to your next home. It’s not necessary to set the dinner table with your best china and silver, but do set out a bowl of oranges on the kitchen table and a vase of fresh tulips on the front entry console. Liven a drab corner with a tall green plant, but keep up with appearances, and trim away any dying, yellowed leaves. Throw away the ailing ficus or the leggy fern. Buy a pretty shower curtain to soften the impact of poorly grouted bathroom tile. Dress up a worn sofa with a decorative shawl or throw pillows. Accessorize wisely but minimally. Add a mirror to enlarge a small space or to take advantage of an oblique view. Buy attractive boxes to bring order to children’s toys.
There are clear advantages to staging your home. Happy apartments have happy endings. They sell faster and for more money than unstaged ones. More importantly, they show buyers that your home is worth every dollar you’re asking.