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Homeowners told to set stage for sale


For some home sellers, a house is a stage, complete with props, a musical score and an audience that aspires to replace the old cast.

These sellers "stage" houses, using furniture, artwork, sounds, smells and objects to engage the emotions of prospective buyers. The theory is that sellers will pay more if they imagine themselves in the house, enjoying delicious food, entertaining delightful friends and snuggling up with upscale magazines on lazy weekend mornings.

A well-staged home dramatizes reality instead of reflecting it, says judy johns (she spells it lowercase), a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty Partners in suburban Kansas City, Mo.

"The way you live in a home is different than the way you market a house," johns says.

Johns says there's a difference between sprucing up a home and staging it. When you repair a leaky toilet, you're fixing up; when you artfully arrange wine glasses and candles in the master bathroom, you are staging.

The first time a prospective buyer walks through a house, "they look emotionally," johns says. If the house speaks to their psyches, "you've just elevated your chances of getting an offer." Most staging takes place on an aesthetic level. The seller might rearrange furniture or bring in new decor.

"Typically, we'll bring in an interior-design specialist," says Cubby Fitts, a real estate agent with Jack Conway & Co. Realtors in Duxbury, Mass. "Typically, these home-design specialists have a warehouse full of tables and chairs and stuff that they can bring in. If there's a beat-up old coffee table, they'll say, 'Let's get that thing out of here and bring in my mahogany table.' "

Or you could follow Jason Mockabee's example. He and his wife, Jodi, moved this year to Tuolumne, Calif. They bought furniture for the new house before they sold the old house and installed some of it in the old house, to make it look better. They got three offers three days later.

The first order of business in staging a house is to eliminate clutter.

"The task is usually subtractive," says Ralph Gillis, principal with Gillis Previti Architects in New York City. "People don't think of their homes as cluttered," he says, "but you find that problem all the time."

For johns, staging a house goes far beyond that. "Every room has something to sell," she says. The idea is to direct the visitor's attention to it. You might have a gorgeous fireplace, but the couch blocks the view of it. So, move it, preferably at an angle, johns advises. The new arrangement might not be as comfortable, but it looks better, and that affects the sale price.

The emotional stuff really fires johns' imagination. Take the candles and wine in the master bath: In the mind of the buyer, "you want to create an ambience of, 'Wouldn't I feel great sitting in this tub enjoying this?' " she says.

Johns recommends turning on soft jazz with the volume low. Fitts says the music should match the house -- soft jazz for some places, classical music in others.

More subtly, some stagers hang extra mirrors on the walls. The idea is that potential buyers will see themselves in the mirrors and, by extension, in the house.

Finally, there are the little props that the seller can spread around the house to connote coziness. Johns favors throwing an afghan on a chair or a bed and placing a book by a chair "in a way that says, 'This is where I snuggle up to read and relax. This is my thinking chair.' "

Just make sure it's the correct reading matter -- that is, it should be a prop, there not to express the home seller's personality but to flatter the buyer's good taste. "A copy of Wine Connoisseur magazine on a table can create the right mood," Fitts says.


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