Read an Excerpt
Have you ever told a story in front of a crowd, only to have it fall flat? Or have you ever made a suggestion you’re excited about, only to meet with an awkward silence or a quick dismissal? It is a startling and uncomfortable feeling to realize suddenly that you’ve misjudged your audience whose outlook and taste and sense of humor are quite different from yours. When what you’re putting forward is your home, and your audience consists of the people who are coming to look at it, and not one of them likes it enough to put in a bid—now that is a very unpleasant feeling. This book will help you avoid having that feeling when you try to sell your home. In fact, it’s designed to help you sell your home quickly and for a price that makes you happy.
To make people laugh at a story or to sell them an idea, you have to know something about who they are and what they like. You don’t have to know each individual in your audience, but you have to be able to sense their mood and preferences as a group. Selling your home works the same way. You won’t know your potential buyers as individuals—in fact, you may not meet them at all unless they put in a bid—but you must have a feel for the group of buyers you’re trying to attract. To draw buyers in, you need to create a visual story of how they could live in your home. You need to prepare your home in such a way that it “tells” them a fairy tale—in the best sense— of the wonderful life that awaits them, the life they’ve always wanted, in a space that not only meets their needs, but also speaks to their dreams. In
short, you need to stage your home.
Home staging had its origins in California in the early ’70s and has been booming since the early ’90s, even though many people still haven’t heard of it. I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s in New England. My childhood was one of antiques and ponies, of country lanes and moms who didn’t work. Our houses were not “decorated.” Fabrics were chosen to last a generation.
When the fabric on a chair gave out—meaning that it split open, not that it went out of style—my mother had that one chair reupholstered. Once she had two chairs done at the same time; I remember it vividly. Threadbare chair arms reflected a worldview more than a budget. The summer I was thirteen, my parents sent my sister and me to camp
so that they could have the kitchen redone. They embarked on this renovationout of dire need, not new appliance envy. Prior to the redo, we had lived for years in a post–World War II kitchen, with lemon-colored rug squares that mom had put down and that had slowly turned brown in paths traveled most frequently by the dogs and us kids.
Houses in the right neighborhoods were bought and sold discreetly, often with handshakes. My father once bought a house over the phone, having been only in the living room for cocktails. To ask for a preinspection would have been an insult of great magnitude. Houses were often lived in for a lifetime, a backdrop to the lives lived within them.
Times have changed. Today, many buyers and sellers never meet. The buying and selling of homes have become transactions conducted at arm’s length, with litigation looming behind every curtain. And the meaning of our homes has changed as well. Once upon a time, a home was primarily a shelter from the elements. Today’s homes still provide
shelter, but now they define us in socioeconomic ways as well. In the past ten years, the self-equals-home equation has become even stronger. What type of building we live in, what we fill it with, and how we use it reveal a lot about who we are and where we fit into our society. We judge other people by their homes and how they live in them, just as they are
judging us. Does a home have overly ornate, formal curtains? A high-tech media system? A wildly disorganized home office? Immaculate tile grout? All these choices provide outside observers with clues about the people
who live in that home.
Right or wrong, how we live in our homes has become a visual mission statement. Collectively, image matters—although which image we’re shooting for depends on which social group we aspire to. Culturally, we are selfconscious about image and the concept of home as never before. As outward manifestations of our inner selves, our homes have become emotionally loaded in entirely new ways. Living well—however we define “well”—is now pursued by all.
This is why the shelter industry is booming in general. The mega chains have made good design and decorative arts available to all of us, and we are buying. In our homes, we’re in control of our universe.We want that sense of control, to create our desired sense of self in a world grown increasingly complicated. From the safety of our homes, we feel entitled to shoot for the stars. We’re buying the dream of the life that we want. The staging industry answers these desires. At some point in the past ten years, trend spotters began to realize that if sellers could manipulate the messages their homes were sending to potential buyers, they could make more money on their home sale. Home staging started with the tactic of baking bread before open houses, and it has grown into to a full-out sensory pageant designed to excite prospective buyers’ senses and fuel their dreams. Home staging has infiltrated the selling process all across the
country. It’s a self-feeding industry, in that every staged home raises buyers’ expectations for every other home they see. A 2007 HomeGain® survey of 2,000 realtors nationwide found that 91 percent of the agents recommended that their clients have their homes staged before selling them. Clearly, staging boosts sales prices.
Most people have more of their net worth tied up in their homes than in any other single asset. Postwar bullishness and decades of skyrocketing real estate prices encouraged people to view their home as an investment. Now, in the wake of a prolonged housing slump, many people are scrambling to realize the financial plans they made when they bought their home. If you can properly stage your home, you’ve greatly increased your chances not just of selling it in a tough market, but of selling it quickly and for significantly more money than you would have otherwise.
To sell your home, you must have a sense for the mood and preferences of the group of buyers you’re targeting. In Chapter One, I’ll show you how to figure out which group that is, but you may be wondering how it’s possible for an entire group of people to share enough preferences that you could somehow make your home specifically appealing to them. The answer is that we are all products of a particular place and time in history. We’re all products of the generation we grew up in. We’re individuals, but we’re all also members of our generational group, whether we’re Baby Boomers, Gen
Xers, or members of another group.
As one example of this, just look at the trends in baby names. My husband and I named our second daughter Lillie after his grandmother, whom he adored.We thought it was an uncommon and fun choice. And then I took my darling Lillie to toddler music class. Many other girls in the class were named Lillie, Lilly, or Lily. There were three in her kindergarten alone. Did we know we were naming her the equivalent of Mary in the 1950s or Karen in the 1960s? No. We tho ught we were being original, but we were unwitting parts of a trend. All of us are products of time and place, and anyone
who thinks otherwise is seriously mistaken. So, yes, you can get a feel for the group of buyers you decide will most likely want your home, and you can stage your home to appeal directly to that group.
My company, Tailored Transitions, stages homes in Philadelphia, a city endowed with a diverse and rich architectural heritage. We stage multimillion-dollar homes, new build apartments, Louis Kahn houses abutting Fairmount Park, starter homes, and the Philadelphia Story altars of stone for which our city is known. (About three years ago, we actually moved clients into the house where The Philadelphia Story was filmed.) By walking you through the process of staging and using numerous anecdotal and visual examples of work that we’ve done, we are going to demystify staging.
Staging is so popular and successful that I believe it responds to some deep need. Much of staging involves simplifying a home’s contents and making them more neutral; perhaps we long for these characteristics as our society grows ever more stressful, complex, and partisan. As you go through the process of staging your home, you may find that you can apply the principles of staging to other parts of your life (including your own search for a new home, but also the parts of your life unrelated to buying or selling real estate). I have found this to be so in my own life and in my clients’ lives, and
this aspect of staging interests me most: It can make our lives more satisfying on so many levels, beyond merely the sale of our home.
Primarily, though, this book is designed to help you tailor your home for a fast, easy, and profitable sale. I recommend that you work your way through it in an orderly manner, rather than dipping into it randomly. You may want to go back and review certain sections as you move along in the process, but basically the book is set up to guide you step by step through preparing and staging your home before you put it on the market. Here, in a nutshell, is what each chapter covers:
Chapter One discusses what staging is, how to say good-bye to your home, why it’s crucial to know who you’re staging for, and how to figure out your most likely group of potential buyers.
Chapter Two emphasizes the importance of creating a great first impression for buyers, then tells you how to improve the look of your home’s exterior and entry hall to do just that.
Chapter Three guides you through the hard work of removing your own personality from your home to make room for
your prospective buyers’ visions of the life they could lead in your home.
Chapter Four tackles the issues of repairing and deep cleaning your home.
Chapter Five guides you through the process of staging each part of your home, now that you’ve created more space within it and have gotten it beautifully clean and in working order. You’ll learn how to bring the elements of focus, flow, color, and balance into play in staging your home to appeal directly to your most likely buyers.
Chapter Six covers the nuts and bolts of getting great photographs of your property, includes a section for people who have a severely limited amount of time in which to prepare their home for sale, and provides a list of what you must do each day that your home is on the market in order to keep it ready to show.
You’ll find more than forty-five features throughout the book that offer staging tips and useful information on everything from “Pruning Your Shrubs into Elegance” to “Cleaning Up After Rodents Safely” to “What About the TVs?” The book also includes sixty-five photographs, many of them beforeand- after pairs, to help you better understand what good staging looks like and to illustrate points along the way. To see any of these photographs in full color—and for additional full-color photographs, information, and staging help—visit my Web site at www.tailoredtransitions.com.
Best wishes for the sale of your home, and have fun staging it!
Starr C. Osborne
President and Founder