JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My BFF next door is getting ready to put her house on the market. Again - her sales saga started three years ago, when she first decided to move back west to be closer to growing grandkids and aging parents. Unfortunately, the market was not so hot in Maine at that point, and she wound up renting the place to a fabulous group of organic farmers, of whom I have written here before. Now they've moved on to their own 80 acre farm (yay!) my friend and her husband are back in Maine, getting the house ready to get listed.
The first time they went through this, after living in the space for seventeen years, it was a question of 'how much can we pack up and store in the barn and still have clothes for work and pots to cook in?' As anyone who has ever tried to sell a house knows, the Realtor wants it as empty as possible - something that's hard to do when you're still, you know, living there.
This time around, my friend is in a Realtor's dream - she and her husband moved back with just a few suitcases and their laptops. All the rest of their worldly goods are in storage out west (and yes, THAT was a job and a half.) Now, along with painting, waxing wooden floors and overseeing plumbing and carpentry work, my friend has a new challenge: staging the house.
Turns out, the Realtor doesn't want it TOO empty. Prospective buyers need to be able to see suggestions of how they, too could live a gracious, cozy, efficient (yes, all at the same time) life in their new home. So her husband is haunting area Goodwills and scouring Marden's Surplus and Salvage and accepting neighbors' donations.
I had BFF over and we shopped my house for tablecloths, art, centerpieces, and other decorative touches. Since she's not working with items she already has (because they fit her taste in decor) she's free to create a kind of home fantasy - a dining room table set for two with crystal and white linen (ignoring she had her husband are more earthenware-in-the-kitchen types,) a desk and prints in the study suggesting a traveler writing her memoirs, a cozy living room with squishy sofas (that the neighbors' kids used to jump on, but buyers aren't actually going to SIT on them, are they?) and chunky knit blankets. Lots of bare space to see the details of the architecture of the 1837 house. It's perfect. Not anything anyone could LIVE in for long, but perfect.
Reds, have you ever had to stage a home? Help a friend or relation selling her property? Have you ever seen some crazy staging while house hunting?
RHYS BOWEN: When we were transferred back from Texas in the 80s we realized our home might be hard to sell. It was on a golf course in an exclusive country club with lots of rich neighbors and plenty of homes for sale. And our furniture--think garage sale classic. I'd just received a nice check for a book so we went out and bought new living, dining, family room furniture. (What a good excuse). It made the house look great.
We put all our junk into storage and allowed the kids about 2 toys each, yelling at them each morning to put those toys away and no, they couldn't leave their stuffed animal on the bed.
And the irony of that: John loved that sofa so much that he refused to get rid of it. Our grandkids dubbed it "the soggy couch of 1979". Finally I dragged him to a furniture store and we have new sofa and love seat. I'm so happy!
HALLIE EPHRON: What a job, and Julia you are a saint to help.
We bought our house in 1975 and haven't moved. Can't imagine moving. Can't imagine staging! Well, I can, and it's a nightmare. Do they still suggest baking cookies before the open house?
Do you really HAVE to stage it? I'd be up for lowballling the price and skipping the aggravation.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: We've been in our house for 21 years. I can't believe it. I well remember the horrors of trying to sell the previous house while we were still living in it (with budding teenager and dog and cats). Rick hated the having to "live for the realtor" so much that he swore we'd never move again. So far, we haven't, but I think the only way we could do it without murder being committed would be to rent some place to live and put all our stuff in storage while the house was on the market.
Now I am plagued by the need to refinish our heart pine floors. They are the original 1905 floors, and were done before we moved in. Now the heavy traffic areas are really worn, but I cannot face having to move everything out of the downstairs into a POD in order to have them refinished. Suggestions, anyone?
Oh, and my daughter is a realtor, so any questions you have about staging I'm sure she can answer.
JENN MCKINLAY: Reporting from the frat house -- I can barely maintain a meningitis free environment living with three knuckle draggers. Pro tip: Buckets of sanitizing wipes are your friends, especially if you put them in every room. All right, I'm exaggerating -- but not that much. We've been remodeling our house room by room with the intent to sell but with life coming so hard and fast, it's hard to keep up with what needs doing. Scratch one thing off the to do list and three more appear. I have a feeling we will buy first then sell when our house is empty and we can get it all done without having to live in a construction zone. We have recently begun shopping for a new house and I definitely agree that bare houses freak me out since I can't conceptualize the flow of things. Then again, a too lived in house makes me feel like I'm intruding. I think what you've done, Julia, is lovely. I bet it sells in a hot minute!
LUCY BURDETTE: My brother-in-law recently put his house on the market in an area where homes have not been selling well. The realtor arranged for a stager to come in, and she brought furniture, artwork, and knickknacks. It did look amazing when she was finished, and it sold pretty quickly. The only thing that annoyed him was when they removed the books on his nightstand that he was actually reading!
Debs, about the floors, my only advice is just do it. It helped a lot that we were out of town, but it's still a drag. But the pain is short-lived and the floors will be gorgeous when they are finished!
INGRID THOFT: Can someone explain the huge bowl of Granny Smith apples to me? Or the lemons? Every time I see a staged house or a renovation reveal on HGTV there's always a huge bowl of apples or lemons on the counter. Yes, it looks lovely, but it bears absolutely no resemblance to my life. The fruit in my fruit bowl can be quite lovely due to my proximity to the Pike Place Market, but there's always a few browning bananas in the mix! I am a huge proponent of getting rid of stuff so I actually feel like our home wouldn't require too much work. My sister is an architect/developer/designer and one of her tricks is to make a fake headboard by stretching an interesting fabric over a wood frame and stapling it in place. You mount it over the bed, and voila! a fancy headboard.
DEBS: Ingrid, that is too funny. We keep a bowl of granny smiths on our living room table, just because the color is so pretty with the turquoise bowl. (We also have pops of that color throughout the house.) It only costs $4 at my supermarket for a bag that will last a month.
We used to have faux apples in the bowl, but the dog ate them:-)
JULIA: And then...? Ingrid, we keep lemons in a wooden bowl in the kitchen, but that's because we use them for drinks.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, it's like dressing up for a job interview, right? You make yourself look tempting and desirable. Oh, and smart. :-) So, same with homes. The key is I guess, to make it look less like your personal house and more like "it could be yours!"
I've seen beautiful ones, and I've seen disasters--a pal of mine had hers professionally done, and it looked more like --"who would want to live here?" A lovely cozy home with artwork and family photos (apparently verboten) was made all weird and pseudo-modern. A decorative plastic dog in the fireplace, I am not kidding.
And Ingrid, a bowl full of (certainly beautiful) Granny Smiths is proof NO ONE lives there--in real life they'd be brown or gone.(Can you imagine the Mom saying to the kids--DON'T eat those! And the kids saying--they're FOOD!)
JULIA: Wish my friend good luck, everybody - her first showing is today! How about you, dear readers? Tell us your staging stories!