Not your mama’s staging job

Amidst a slow sales market, soup-to-nuts “showcasing” is trending. Brokers hope that outfitting listings with everything down to the flatware scores points with buyers

Aug.August 19, 2019 01:00 PM

Design firm ASH NYC did the showcasing for 732 Hill Street in Southampton, which is listed with Corcoran’s Gary DePersia for $4.495 million.

There’s staging and then there’s “showcasing.” Ignore the difference between the two at your peril, Hamptons brokers.

Rather than staging — which East Hampton designer Greg McKenzie described as setting up a living room and bedroom to look like a hotel room — developers are hiring interior designers to do showcasing, in which they furnish homes down to the very last detail.

When a home is showcased, buyers not only get to see it completely furnished, they can also purchase it move-in ready, without having to pack their own kitchen utensils, let alone decor or appliances, McKenzie said. For staging, on the other hand, furniture is rented for showings and moved out when a sale is secured.

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Another distinction between staging and showcasing? A designer hired to showcase a listing often works with an architect on the initial plans for a house, McKenzie said. The designer helps, for example, with making sure there’s wall space for a family-size sofa and selects custom tiles and flooring to keep spaces from looking generic.

A lot of times an architect is all about symmetry, and a designer walks in and is like, ‘OK, this is great, but where is the TV going to go?’” he said. “All of those things a designer helps with, which in a bad market makes it feel like a much more custom home.”

Any little bit helps. Data shows that there’s a flood of high-end inventory on the local market (see our story on page 28). Douglas Elliman’s second-quarter report on the Hamptons (which does not include the North Fork) shows that the number of luxury listings — defined as the top 10 percent — on the market is nearly double compared to last year.

“Furnished for a billionaire”

With so many homes available, tricks like showcasing are essential, said Corcoran agent Gary DePersia. He represents several fully decked-out spec homes, including 732 Hill Street in Southampton, designed by ASH NYC and listed for $4.495 million. He’s also the listing agent on  490 Hedges Lane in Sagaponack, priced at $17.5 million.

Interiors in the latter were done by James Michael Howard, who executes what DePersia called “mack daddy” showcasing, even having custom carpeting cut specifically to fit whatever shape of room an architect plans.

When he furnishes those houses, they look like they’ve been furnished for a billionaire,” DePersia said. “They don’t look staged.”

Additionally, buyers often purchase at least some of furnishings along with a showcased property, he said. A $5 million home can cost about $250,000 to fill, “so whether you pay a designer to do it or buy the stuff that’s already there, what difference does it make?” And for those who close on a sale in the spring and summer, a pre-furnished home is ready to go for the season.

Naturally, showcasing comes with a bigger bill than simple staging. Showcase fees can run from $25,000 to $1 million depending on the size and scale of a project, sources said. Having a good relationship with a designer, or installing fixtures and hardware from companies that want the visibility for their products, can help keep the costs down.

What I charge a builder is not necessarily what I would charge a client,” explained Elsa Soyars, a local designer who often works in the spec home market. “You have to give a break to those guys because builders are generally on a budget and they’re trying to sell a home.”

Soyars said her consulting rates start at $275 per hour for builders, compared to $375 for residential clients. However, if developers ask Soyars to pull furnishings from her private cache, a rental fee is tacked on.

But there are still some builders who try their luck in the market without any staging at all, McKenzie noted. “Some builders don’t want to spend the money, or they put the house on the market and see what happens first,” he said.

For others, showcasing has become a no-brainer. One proponent is Paramount Custom Homes, the developer behind the Fields, which divides 35 acres of land in Southampton into 28 custom homes (see our story on page 28 for more on the project).

Seven years ago, we could throw anything out there,” and it would sell, often while still in the construction stage, principal Bill Locantro said. Today, not so much. Facing an oversupply of spec houses, his company has had to change its strategy and outfit the homes to the fullest.

Taking note of the trend, the staging department of the New York City design mega-firm ASH NYC has been heading out to the Hamptons to showcase its work in addition to opening an office in Sag Harbor last summer. Along with DePersia’s Southampton listing, the company was hired by Shoshi Builders and MSB Development to do the interiors of 117 Montauk Highway in East Hampton at the suggestion of Compass, the listing brokerage.

The word ‘partnerships’ keep coming up,” said ASH NYC’s director of staging, Andrew Bowen. “People like to align their brand with another.” In this instance, ASH NYC gave the team behind 117 Montauk Highway a discount in exchange for some creative freedom, though the exact fee is confidential, Bowen said.

However, “we couldn’t go too far in one stylistic direction or make it too conceptual because even though it might look amazing, at the end of the day we did it to help sell the property,” Bowen said.

A buyer hasn’t been found yet. The house has been on the market for a year, and its price was recently cut to $2.995 million from $3.5 million. But the ASH NYC furnishings and the publicity surrounding the firm’s work are making a noticeable difference, listing agent Evan Kulman said.

The house wasn’t staged for nine months and ASH just staged it three months ago, and since then our traffic into the house has increased,” Kulman said. “If you look at the pictures [of 117 Montauk Highway], it looks like a very cool, sexy house, versus a vacant, empty house.”

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