ruthless stagers, indeed! NY Times nails story about marketing apartments (and lofts!)

to be bookmarked by 98% of sentient agents
Honestly, I would applaud the featured article in tomorrow’s Sunday Real Estate section in the New York Times, Ruthless Came the Stager, even if Elissa Gootman had not spelled my name right (or had not spelled it at all). She hits some very important points about how staging (changing the home that sellers live in into the home that buyers connect with) even if some things can only be hinted at, even with a piece that takes up the valuable real estate of half the front page of the real estate section and a full interior page. And that set of Before and After photos is an awesome set of real world examples (in sliding interactive form here), showing both what can be done and how hard it can be to live with it after it is ‘done’.

always beneficial, though not always worth it
It is a fascinating thing to see the end result of Gootman’s reporting, after having been part of the process. She (and her editor) had their own ideas about the article, which were not clear in our “let’s talk about staging” conversation and follow up emails. Of course if I had written it it would be a different piece, but I make that obvious point as an observation rather than a criticism. The thing that makes the article valuable, to me, is that Before / After slideshow, with the high-end loft on 17th Street being at one end of the market and the brave-but-anonymous Village 3-bedroom being in the heart of the market.

Of course I wish that she had quoted me more often, as I said some very insightful things. (Ha!) One of them is pretty evident, in a reading between the lines (and the pix) way. Staging a property for sale is always beneficial (it will make a loft more attractive in buyer eyes), but it is not always worth it.That perhaps counter-intuitive point is based on two kinds of costs, one of which Gootman tots up and one of which is particularly evident in the Village teenager room photos.

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.

Here is the main ‘expense’ that I think keeps many sellers from staging on a significant level: the stress and strain of living in The Future Buyer’s Home while you are trying to sell. Gootman has specific difficult choices the two sets of sellers made:

  • the 17th Street vegetarian swallowing the cowhide rug
  • a treadmill sent into storage
  • the “very valuable” lamp and parrot having to vacate the Village apartment, along with the family dining table (where did the parrot go?)
  • the 17th Street children trading in their playroom (and train table) for a very adult breakfast nook
  • (and my favorite example) the Village teenager trading in her oh-so-authentic ‘lifestyle’ for a “parent’s dream of what a teeenager’s bedroom could be”

Let’s focus on my favorite: think about how hard it is to get a teenager to (a) be comfortable living in that After bedroom or (b) keeping the After room from drifting into Before condition. (I have never met a stager who can get a teenager to keep clothes off the floor.) That poor kid loses her stuffed animals, and her fan, and her posters; I doubt that sleeping in a full-size bed feels like sufficient compensation.

“Ruthless” is the right word for a stager who can do that to a teenager, or one who can create two “showcases of minimalist design” where there had been regular old children’s rooms on 17th Street.

Selling your loft, staged or not, is a high-stress activity. Even buyers who are highly motivated usually tire of the effort required to keep a space show-ready, the ‘small’ things such as

  • retrieving the kitchen appliances that used to sit on a counter from a cabinet, every time the Cuisinart is to be used or bread is to be made (the coffee maker usually wins)
  • hiding the shampoo, etc, etc, etc after every shower
  • resisting the temptation to post your child’s latest ‘art’ on the frig

The longer it takes to sell your home, the greater the basic stress, compounded by any artificial living constraints from staging. (It doesn’t count if all you get out of the staging is a set of lovely photos, kinda like we real estate agents with glam shots on our business cards who show up for appointments as our everyday schlubs.)

I once had clients who lived in a very small 2-bedroom with two pre-school children. Their motivation to sell was high, and their commitment to de-cluttering was 11 on a 10 point scale. Every day when the parents took the children out for a playground visit or a play date they spent 20 minutes putting every last toy in storage boxes and clearing the kitchen counters. I don’t expect to ever have clients like that again.

I may have to revisit this staging article, as there are lots and lots of things to talk about. So I sympathize with Gootman and her editor, and commend their excellent work. I will close for now with a link to my July 12, a tale of 2 lofts: did (removable) decor add $126/ft to value of one 32 West 18 Street loft?, a post I wrote after talking at length to Gootman and somewhat with this topic in mind. That was a rare exercise of aesthetics for me, looking at two essentially identical lofts with totally different ‘feels’ because of how they were decorated. There was nothing wrong with the one loft, but that other was just spectacular, a difference accomplished with only a few changes in materials, but mostly with minimalist decor and (especially) window treatments.

NY Times web gap?
The jump page of the hard copy newspaper articlehas a text box, You Won’t Recognize the Place, with “some more obscure home staging tips, courtesy of the professionals”, including one identifying me as “a broker who blogs as Manhattan Loft Guy”(!!). I can’t find that text box anywhere on the Times site on-line. Am I missing it??

To be continued…

© Sandy Mattingly 2012


Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply