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'Staging' your home for a quick sale

By Holden Lewis
For some home sellers, a house is a stage -- with props, a musical score and an audience that aspires to replace the old cast.

These sellers "stage" houses, using furniture, artwork, sounds, smells and objects to engage the emotions of prospective buyers. The theory is that sellers will pay more if they imagine themselves in the house, enjoying delicious food, entertaining delightful friends, and snuggling up with upscale magazines on lazy weekend mornings.

A well-staged home dramatizes reality instead of reflecting it, says judy johns (she spells it lowercase), a real estate agent in suburban Kansas City.

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"The way you live in a home is different than the way you market a house," johns says. "Notice that I transition from 'home' to 'house' -- 'house' is less emotional and 'home' is more touchy and emotional and personal."

Beyond sprucing

Johns has been selling houses for 28 years, and now her sons, Dave and Steve, are her business partners, working as a family team with Keller William Realty Partners. In her years of experience, johns has discovered that there's a difference between sprucing up a home and staging it. When you repair leaky toilets and repaint the exterior, you're fixing up the house; when you leave a cookbook opened to a mouth-watering photo on the kitchen counter, and artfully arrange wine glasses and candles in the master bathroom, you are staging.

The first time a prospective buyer walks through a house, "they look emotionally, with their body," johns says. If the house speaks to their psyches, "you've just elevated your chances of getting an offer." The prospective buyers will then look around the house a second time, in more of an intellectual mode -- and with any luck, they're already hooked.

Most staging takes place on less of an emotional level and more of an aesthetic one. The seller might rearrange furniture or bring in new decor.

"Typically, what we'll do is bring in an interior-design specialist -- someone who has a real knack for positioning of furniture and for colors," says Cubby Fitts, a real estate agent with Jack Conway & Co. Realtors in Duxbury, Mass. The designer will rearrange stuff or suggest improvements such as new light fixtures.

Fitts adds: "Typically, a lot of these home-design specialists have their own stuff, too -- a warehouse full of tables and chairs and stuff that they can bring in. If there's a beat-up old coffee table, they'll say, 'Let's get that thing out of here and bring in my mahogany table.'"

Fitts and his design team will look around to see if the furniture and decor are appropriate. Is it an antique-style home, but filled with sleek, modern couches and chairs? Time to borrow or rent more suitable furniture.

Extreme staging

Or you could follow Jason Mockabee's example. He and his wife, Jodi, moved this year from Orange County, Calif., to Tuolumne, (near Yosemite). They bought furniture for the new house before they sold the old house. Then they installed some of the new furniture in the old house, just to make it look better. They got three offers three days later.

Besides putting in furniture for the next house, the Mockabees replaced light fixtures, put in a new flower bed, placed flower pots on the front porch, stocked vases with fresh flowers in almost every room, and kept the Labrador retrievers at his parents' house.

And they eliminated clutter. "The real estate agent came over and said, 'Well, my job is done here,'" Mockabee says proudly.



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-- Posted: Dec. 9, 2004

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