a staging coup: did selling the kitchen of 42 West 13 Street loft work better than selling the terrace?

2 fine features, 2 very different outcomes, 1 obvious reason
This one is for all you folks who doubt that staging a loft for sale can be proven to lead to an increased value. The natural world rarely provides such a clean example as this: the “2,200 sq ft” Manhattan loft combo #3CD at 42 West 13 Street sold on October 29, 2012 and on March 8, 2011. I toggled back and forth quite a bit between the two sets of broker babble and listing photos to try to find a reason for these different outcomes: $2.795mm and $2.35mm. (That $445,000 spread comes to a premium of 19% in less than 20 months.) I will wait a minute for you to do the same, comparing this to this (there are no 2011 large format photos available, even on the Corcoran site, but the thumbnails there are a little bigger than those on StreetEasy).

(… waiting …)

The first thing that I noticed is that the visual emphasis in the 2011 campaign was about the terrace, while the 2012 campaign had as many kitchen / breakfast nook shots as of any other room, but this was a red herring. Having done the math ($445,000;19%), I just knew there was something I was missing, but I could not tell from the respective listings. Wrong! Based on the testimony of one informed and very reliable source, the only difference between 2011 sale at $2.35mm and the resale at $2.795mm 6 weeks ago was a bit of staging, including a paint job.

The sale prices are facts, as are the (minimal) differences in the physical environments when the loft was sold each time. Fortunately, the two sets of listing photos line up pretty well for comparison purposes.

what staging looks like
Look at the first two interior photos from 2011 on the Corcoran site (pix 3 and 4) and on StreetEasy from 2012 (pix 1, 2 and 3). There is much more furniture in the 2011 living room, and look at the bookcases: full of books in 2011; not very full of art objects (with a few books) in 2012; with many fewer framed pieces on the walls in 2012.

Look at the master bedroom pictures (Corcoran 2011 #5, StreetEasy 2012 #8): a massive bed with small round end tables and a single easy chair in 2012, where there had been in 2011 a large bed, one very large round table (with multiple piles of books and drapery), plus a long side table on the opposite side of the bed (crammed with photo frames), plus a wicker chair, plus two soft easy chairs, plus other stuff just at the edge of the photo. You can’t see that built-in bookcase in the 2012 photo, but I bet you a quarter it had a few pieces in it when it recently sold, compared to the edge-to-edge books in 2011.

There is no 2012 photo equivalent to the 2011 office/den photo (Corcoran 2011 pic #8), but if there were, you just know it would show an uncluttered room. After all, the room is essentially 14 x 15 feet with two walls of custom bookshelves (the floor plan has not changed). In that fairly large room, count how many items in that 8th 2011 photo compete for your visual attention, including an easel I’d be afraid of bumping into if I walked by too close! Obviously, that is the 2011 working office of a very hard-working person (or persons). It is hard to work hard in a room that is not optimized for your work, but there’s a conflict with having that room remain ‘show ready’. Does that 8th picture look like a big room to you?

I am a bit of a staging skeptic (at least in a Missouri sense), although I have recommended it to every selling client and am on record as believing it can be of some benefit to every listing. See my July 28, ruthless stagers, indeed! NY Times nails story about marketing apartments (and lofts!), about that wonderful New York Times feature on staging, with quotes from Some Very Smart People. But I empathize with people who find it hard to live (and work) in a staged environment. As well, with people who will cull their stuff, but don’t want to move out for a week or two as painters re-do the entire place.

Trying to live always in a fact-based world, here is what I said in that July 28 post:

I have never seen a rigorous study that proves that staging actually does what it is supposed to do: get a higher price in a shorter time. I absolutely believe that it works this way (indeed, it seems obvious), but I simply have trouble proving it. Especially when you are asked (as all sellers do) “how do you know that spending $12,500 [as with the Greenwich Village 3-bedroom] will generate more than that in sales price?” The short answer has to start with “trust me, and my experience, on this”, but that can be a tough sell to a data-intensive or show-me client. After all, one of the main themes of Manhattan Loft Guy is the comps are the comps are the comps. Of course, another theme in this blog over the years has been that individual buyers and sellers reach agreement on value that are not necessarily tied to the ‘dictates’ of The Market, as expressed through comparable sales.

I now have a data point, which is not as good as having a rigorous study, but is pretty powerful for being … large. Four Hundred and Forty-Five Thousand Dollars worth of large. (Less a “2,200 sq ft” paint job [done easily when the loft was empty after the 2011 sale, no doubt], but let’s not quibble.)

Think about this dynamic if you still doubt how powerful staging was in this loft: any 2012 potential buyer knew that the loft had sold for $2.35mm in March 2011 and (I am quite certain) would not have been lied to when they asked the inevitable “how has the loft been improved since 2011?”. For those of us in the fact-based world, we’d be doing all sorts of comp analyses to try to determine what the change had been from March 2011 in the overall Manhattan residential real estate market, or in a north central Greenwich Village loft subset, to be prepared to argue with the selling agent; I guarantee you we would not have gotten to 19%.

Yet the 2011-buyers-turned-2012-sellers could simply say “we want $2.795mm” in answer to any questions. If there were any such arguments, they didn’t take long, and the sellers never budged:

July 22 new to marke $2.795mm
Aug 15 contract  
Oct 29   $2.795mm

taking on all comers
Anybody want to argue about the value of staging? Operators are standing by….

© Sandy Mattingly 2012

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