Real Estate

Every home’s a stage and on stage

By From page C2 | July 06, 2012

Whenever folks hear about my living situation they either respond with envy: “Where do I sign up?” Or horror: “You mean you have to make your bed every day?”

Although being a live-in home stager has its perks — no mortgage, no binding lease, and the chance to live in a cool house for considerably less than it would cost under normal circumstances — the gig also brings new meaning to the words clean living.

We stagers are spotless. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, real estate’s “show time,” you’ll find no dirty dishes in the garage or spark plugs on the coffee table. All hair balls, beer cans, greasy stoves and dirty underwear are banished.

We also live with the thrill of uncertainty. Living in a house that’s for sale is like living with an explosive. Count down: Showing, showing, showing, SALE! Kaboom! You’re out.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” said former home stager Jan Johnson of Erie, Colo. “You have to be picky and adapt fast to live like us.” For instance, when you step out of the shower and find five people are at your door for a “surprise” showing, you can’t flip out.

Four years ago Johnson sold her home and had a six-month gap before her new place would be finished. Renting for less than a year is near impossible, so when she learned she could move into places short-term if she decorated them Johnson, who has built five houses for herself, and about 20 more in other states, said, “Sure!”

Her first staging project was a home that had sat on the market two-and-a-half years. After she worked her staging magic it sold in three weeks. The second home had languished 18 months. After she got in it sold in 10 days.

You can be too good at this.

Marilyn Cornelison, of Arvada, Colo., is also a former live-in stager. In 2009 she and her husband rented out their home to a lovely family so they could try the staging life. “We thought it sounded fun.”

A home stager by profession, Cornelison said, “The idea seemed like a match made in heaven …until the sold sign goes up!”

The first house Cornelison moved into sold in six weeks. The second one sold in two months. “We moved three times in five months,” she said. “The third move was on Christmas Eve in a blizzard. I can’t make this up.” After a year they came back to their original home. “I don’t know if I have ever been so happy to move.”

I’ve been luckier. I was in my first staged home a full year, and have been in my second home for almost four months.

Still, Cornelison wouldn’t talk anybody out of the idea. “I’d just give them this heads up: You have to be compulsive, organized and structured.

“You have to have the mindset that the worst could happen,” Johnson added. “But if the timing were right, I’d do it again. You get to live in some great places.”

Brokers love people like us whose stability and sanity are for sale, because studies show staged homes spend 45 percent less time on the market than non-staged homes, and sell for about 6 percent more. Whether staging your home to sell, to impress company or treat yourself to a more stylized lifestyle, here are some staging secrets from those who have lived it.

Set the stage. Create vignettes that let people imagine themselves in the home, said Johnson. Set the table with inviting place settings. Put a tea kettle on the stove with two teacups nearby. I have a bonus room with a staged board game “in play.”

Pare down. “I now see I lived with way too much stuff,” said Cornelison. “I pared down a lot for my first move, and eventually pared that by half again. It looks better, feels better, and makes moving and living much easier. I purge regularly now, and get squirrely if there’s clutter.”

Have towels for show and for use. When Cornelison stages a bathroom, she fills apothecary jars with fresh soaps, and rolls towels, ties them with raffia and tucks a large silk daisy in the tie. “We hung our used towels out of sight, and hid the used soap.”

Don’t over furnish. Keep accessories minimal, said Johnson. Make rooms feel as big as you can.

Go behind closed doors. Cornelison went beyond staging her living spaces to also stage her pantry and closet. “I want to make buyers think, ‘I could move in right now.’” 

Keep it coordinated. “Cornelison had a room in a box. It had rugs, artwork, lamps and accessories that all worked together. That makes the decorating process so much easier. She stuck to her palette of grey-green, red and beige, and her homes just fell together.

Buy versatility. Nomadic stagers, or others in domestic transition, should opt for flexible furniture. Cornelison bought a grey-green sofa sectional that filled large spaces well. In smaller homes, she could pull a section off and use the piece as a chaise somewhere else.

 Be gleaming clean. “Having a home that is clean is the most important quality a staged home can have,” said Johnson. “It should sparkle.” This means being obsessive about wiping fingerprints off the refrigerator, water spots off fixtures, toothpaste off mirrors and crumbs off tables. Beds shouldn’t just be made with “no sheets hanging out, but detailed.”

Add finishing touches. Fresh flowers on the kitchen table, soft music in the background, chocolates on the nightstand all cast a spell on buyers. Pretty soon you’ll realize it’s also a pretty nice way to live every day.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through 

Marni Jameson

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