Setting the Stage: Home Staging to Help Sell Houses

Remember the old days of house hunting, the hours trooping through what seemed like an endless succession of poorly decorated or empty homes?

Not only was it challenging to envision yourself living in many of those places, but certain houses could even elicit a kind of sadness. They felt slightly forlorn, like they were waiting for something. That experience is becoming increasingly rare, according to multiple-time Dan’s Best of the Best winner Allegra Dioguardi, home-stager at Styled and Sold. How a home looks inside—the design and décor and feeling these elements create—have become critical components in the art of selling.

“You want people to fall in love with a house,” she says. “You want them to be able to imagine themselves living in the house, to say to themselves, ‘If I lived here, my life would be wonderful.’”

Vacant, empty houses are harder to imagine living in (much less imagine as the key to a wonderful future) than are homes that have been carefully, tastefully decorated with an eye toward attracting future occupants. This is why home-stagers are frequently brought in to decorate both older properties and newly constructed homes—to allow customers to see how the spaces could be lived in, even before they enter the physical property.

Yes, home selling is as immersed in the practices of the internet age as everything else. Dioguardi says most people under 50 do their initial real estate search online, arriving at the broker with a pared-down list of houses. “People get on their laptop and go through listing photos. They skip over houses that they don’t like the looks of, so professional photos of well-staged homes are critical.”

Of course, the staging of a property itself comes first. Dioguardi, drawing upon 30 years experience in the real estate business, describes home-staging as “selling a lifestyle.”

That lifestyle can be created from scratch in a new home, but one that is lived-in can be idiosyncratic to the current owners’ aesthetic—perhaps too much so, so a home-stager can be a crucial resource for neutralizing a seller’s design choices that might not be to everybody’s taste.

“It’s not personal,” Dioguardi laughs. “I’ve had clients with walls that were literally covered with deer heads, and that would not help to sell a house.”

It’s not about completely depersonalizing a house, she stresses, which would run the risk of making a home seem bland, but rather it’s about putting a house’s “best foot forward.”

One area where a home-stager’s skills are also especially important is in managing awkward spaces. Not every house is perfect, but with a little staging finesse drawbacks such as an oddly shaped kitchen or the like don’t have to be deal-breakers. As Dioguardi puts it, the stager’s job is to “minimize flaws and maximize assets.”

And what about the old cliché about staging a home by baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies and having the smell wafting through while the customers are looking around?

“There’s nothing wrong with baking chocolate chip cookies,” Dioguardi offers, “but it won’t compensate for a home’s flaws. Today’s customers are a lot more savvy.”

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