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Here's Why Brokers Say Staging Your Home Will Help It Sell Faster

By Amy Zimmer | June 30, 2015 6:00pm

The townhouse at 5 Plaza Street West in Park Slope that sat on the market for a year before being restaged. The property then sold within days at asking price.

BROOKLYN — A 4-story, nearly 5,000-square foot Neo-classical townhouse near Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope sat on the market for a year as two top real estate firms failed to sell the home.

First it was listed at $4.5 million. Then the price dropped to $3.995 million and finally to $3.945 million when a third firm took a stab at it.

Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Ideal Properties Group — and an interior designer by training — was able to see the townhouse at 5 Plaza Street West "in all its glory," with its delicate wood wainscoting, inlaid parquet flooring, stained glass windows and other flourishes. She also recognized that it "felt old and unlived in, and even worse, only two light bulbs worked."

So her firm shelled out $20,000 and spent 200 hours staging the space.

When finished, the first person who saw it offered the full asking price. The listing entered contract 10 days later.

Many agents swear by the power of staging, claiming it's the best way to get top dollar as quickly as possible. The practice, once reserved mainly for homes that lingered on the market, has now become more commonplace — even though it's a seller's market — as first impressions have become ever critical in whether homes draw crowds and inspire bidding wars, brokers say.

Many firms are now adding in-house staging services, since not only do sellers make out better when their homes command higher prices, but the brokers do, too.

Scepanovic believes that the popularity of home decorating shows has upped the ante for what buyers expect. Plus, when someone is buying a $1 million home — the median price for the Brownstone and North Brooklyn neighborhoods Ideal specializes in — "that space better look the part," she said.

Scepanovic's firm recently added two full-time stagers to its roster. Since then, all 14 of the firm's staged homes either sold at asking price at the first open house or had multiple offers of the asking price after the first open house, she said.

"Staging is a very powerful marketing tool. I believe it may be the critical difference between achieving the desired sales price and just selling the property," she said. "The idea is to make buyers imagine they can live in the space not in the future, but from the day they look at it."

Here's what sellers need to know about staging:

1. Staging is about "de-personalizing" your home.

While selling a home can be an "emotional" process, the moment you decide to list it, you have start "de-personalizing" and view it as a "product," Scepanovic said.

"Potential buyers will not be able to envision themselves in the space if it's so clearly yours," she said.

That means removing clutter, taking down fridge magnets and kids' graduations pictures.

2. … But don't make it look too staged.

When Mark Neuwirth, of BOND New York, started in the real estate business 13 years ago, he brought fresh flowers out during open houses. Now he shies away from that.

"People don't live like that," he said. "Credibility is huge. It's more important to look credible than staged."

Using the old trick of having pleasing scents like freshly roasted coffee or cookies wafting through the air "gives you a sense of falsified picture and starts raising questions in a buyer's head" of what the seller is trying to hide, Scepanovic said.

Instead, she suggested letting in fresh air. "It's kind of like you want to go to plastic surgeon but you want it to look real," she said.

3. Tricks of the trade, like small furniture and repurposing nooks, can go far.

Streamlined furniture can make a space feel bigger and also help play up a home's architectural features rather than draw one's eyes to a home's flaws, brokers said.

Instead of a sectional sofa, opt for a loveseat; instead of a three-seater, use a two-seater. If you have low ceilings, have a bed that's lower to the ground, Douglas Wagner, of BOND New York said.

It's also important to remember the spaces that collect dust, magazines or toys and re-purpose these spaces as some sort of reading nook, a meditation area, a place for plants — "anything but your own little private junkyard," Scepanovic advised.

This three-bedroom unit (pictured above and below) at 419 Carlton Ave. in Fort Greene, first listed for $800,000 in August 2013 and sat on the market for nearly a year when two different firms had the listing. Then the owner re-listed it for $990,000 but gave up after a month. Another broker came in and listed it at $989,000 and then de-listed it after dropping the price to $899,000. Ideal Properties Group, which kept that price, got the listing in January 2015 and staged it —their stagings can be seen at the far right in the images alongside another firm's staging in the middle. The listing sold a month later for $909,000.


4. Staging doesn't have to be expensive

The cost of staging can vary depending on the raw material and size of an apartment and whether there's already furniture there or not.

"Staging is not about spending a lot of money and getting imported furniture from Italy. It's about exactly putting the right amount of money and effort where it has to go," said Neuwirth, who has sometimes used cardboard boxes covered with bedspreads to save money.

Sometimes, a home just needs a "nice bathroom set to make it pop — fluffy towels, scented soaps, a bath mat," said Jeffrey Schleider, of Miron Properties, whose firm has been acquiring a stash of accent pillows, art, towels and other pieces for staging.

"You can do a little bit of work for an extra $50,000 to $300,000," he said.

While staging fees with professional companies often start at $2,000 plus the rental for art and furniture, sometimes a "minor intervention" of having someone come in for a consultation fee to help with de-cluttering and de-personalizing can help, Scepanovic said.

5…But figure out who's going to pay for staging: seller or broker.

Payment for staging is a point that's normally negotiated between the seller and broker.

"They have aligned interests," Scepanovic. "So it's not uncommon the cost is split between the two."

Sometimes firms will cover the entire costs, as Miron does for properties over $2 million.

And since the firm would rather just rotate the furniture it owns for staging from listing to listing rather than store it, sometimes it will stage lower-end properties for free too, if the furniture is available, Schleider noted.