When New York buyers tour an apartment, they usually see bare walls or furnished open houses full of the owner’s possessions.
However, home staging, a sales technique that started on the West Coast, is starting to present visions of perfection – homes full of specially selected furniture, artful drapery and tasteful decorative touches that create the critical first impressions that make prospective buyers fall in love and close the deal – often on favorable terms for sellers, which means bigger commissions for brokers.
Washington real estate agent Barb Schwarz is credited with inventing the concept in 1972. Schwarz, who divides her time between Seattle and San Francisco, has trained 500,000 brokers and interior decorators on concepts such as the “three Cs” (cleanliness, clutter reduction and color) to give homes more appeal. She even trademarked the term “home staging.”
Nationally, more and more homeowners are discovering the merits of setting the stage for home sales, but in New York, there are few home stagers. That s starting to change.
One company trying to get in on the ground floor of the trend is run by Alejandra Ligotti and her partner, architects from Argentina who formed Tango X4 in New York a year and a half ago after Ligotti learned about home staging from a visiting San Francisco friend.
“In California, the properties were mostly large empty houses,” Ligotti said. “Everybody uses a stager before they put their homes on the market.”
Conni D’Emidio, a real estate agent with East Coast Realty in Queens, said she was one of the first accredited staging professionals in the New York area. She runs her own home staging and decorating business, Take Center Stage.
Other staging businesses include First Impressions Home Marketing, started by Christine Kenny Frisbee, a broker at Stribling and Associates, with offices in New York and New Canaan and Stamford in Connecticut.
D’Emidio started her business two years ago when she arrived from California. She said she was stunned that staging wasn t done here, and even more surprised that real estate agents she talked to thought it was a crazy idea. Since the rising popularity of cable TV shows such as “Sell This House,” which features a home decoration expert advising on changes to make a home sell, she says attitudes are changing.
First impressions are critical – they are the point of the whole enterprise, Ligotti says. At a recent staging, she had an apartment painted, spurred her client to get a new couch, new shelving, put cabinets in the kitchen and added new curtains. Everything was done in less than two weeks.
Ligotti said the goal is to make the home welcoming, charming and tasteful. While new features are sometimes needed, she says she can also work with what the owner already has. “We can clean up the space by putting things out of sight and improving the lighting,” she said.
Ligotti and D’Emidio agree that it s necessary to put some distance between the property and the family that lives there. “When you walk in, you don t want to see the family that lives there staring at you from every corner,” D’Emidio said. “I have to train owners to look at their house as something that is being marketed. Then they can distance themselves and I can go to work.”
For vacant apartments, since it s hard for people to imagine living in a house that is completely empty, D’Emidio often uses rental furniture to show off a space. “Furniture rental companies love the idea because the furniture they rent to stagers doesn t get used,” she said. “It goes into homes that no one lives in.” D’Emidio has also collected some pieces to use for her apartment stagings.
D’Emidio, who works mainly in Manhattan, charges clients $85 an hour. Ligotti offers a free consultation, then makes a proposal and estimate.
Christopher Mathieson, partner and co-owner at JC DeNiro, said his is one of few brokerages in New York City that stages apartments.
As part of the process, brokers meet with an interior designer to learn the best way to present a space.
“It s the first impression that sells it. We might paint, but it s really about taking the furniture out and editing the personal objects and cleaning the windows,” Mathieson said. “Staging is huge and really affects the price. The time invested really pays off, and if an apartment shows nicely it will sell quickly and we will realize a better price for the seller, regardless of the current demand.”
But Lisa Strobing of Bellmarc said it s enough, especially in the current market, to generally fix up a place without the use of professional staging services.
“I tend to think of staging as something that s professionally done,” she said. “I tell sellers to put out pretty candles with a nice smell, clean the blinds, get the dirty dishes out, and clean out the closets to look presentable.”
“I would hope that most sellers would have done some of that before calling us,” she said. “But with the market the way it is right now, you don t need to. You could have a dump with black walls in the basement and it s going to sell.”