March 18, 2012
Setting the Stage For Sale
BY PEDRO ARRAIS
The old sales aphorism, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak,” perhaps explains the increasing use of home staging for new developments. Home staging refers to the art of preparing a property with furniture and other items to create a welcoming and appealing atmosphere. Some people are convinced the trend toward staging homes started soon after October 1997. It was on that date that HGTV started broadcasting home-improvement programs about homes and gardens.
The generation that watched the show — and the others that followed it — have become accustomed to images portraying well-designed residences. “People have become spoiled,” says Tracy Menzies, a real estate agent with Pemberton Holmes. “They like to see how the home fits their lifestyle. If they can’t picture themselves in the home, they leave” and keep looking until they find a place that lets them feel at home. Menzies says developers would rather not stage a property. But they skip this step at their peril. Real estate agents agree that a well-staged home can reduce a listing’s time on the market. It can also fetch a better price than a home that is empty or with dated or unappealing furnishings.
She says the services of a professional stager isn’t cheap. A suite can cost $2,500 (or much more) to be staged, and a monthly rental fee for all the props the staging company provides for the suite — right down to the soap in the bathroom — adds up. On average, a suite may have up to 500 items to give it its particular look. Brent Melnychuk, the senior designer at Dekora Staging in Vancouver, won’t go into how much he charges to stage a listing, only to say it depends on the project. “My job is to make the prospective buyer picture themselves living there,” says Melnychuk, who has been staging for more than a decade.
“Stagers walk a fine line. The displays have to create a utopian lifestyle for the buyer, but can’t be too specific. I try to shoot for a design that shows how a person can live in a space now — and also in a decade.” A home stager gets important information from the developer or sales agent: What is the age of the target buyer? Are they single or married? What is their net worth? Is the development low, middle or high-end? Once the target demographic is identified, the home stager tries to find emotional “hot buttons” that resonate with the buyer.
“Sometimes, as I am showing a suite, a client notices an item on display and says, ‘Oh, my goodness, where did you get this?’ and will ask where they can buy one,” says Menzies. That’s music to the ears of Melnychuk, who staged four suites in 601 Herald St., a recently completed development near Chinatown. While the goal is a feel of what he calls “tasteful and timeless” for the four suites, each individual suite gets a tweaking for the target demographic. A small, 450-square-foot one-bedroom suite is designed to evoke the feel of a boutique hotel room that emphasizes cool functionality and youthful appeal. The larger two-bedroom has a balcony and is targeted toward empty nesters with warmer, softer tones.
The building’s architecture and its location also have an influence on how a room is presented. Sometimes the décor is so attractive that buyers have been known to ask for the furnishings to be included in the sale. Melnychuk says that’s not a problem and his staff will itemize the objects used in the staged suite — right down to the aforementioned soap in the bathroom. “People buy on emotion,” says Menzies, a 15-year sales veteran. “But people these days also have less time. They typically don’t want to take the time to fix up a place. A staged home is appealing because it means they can have it all — and have it right now.”
Melnychuk says home-stagers come from the same family as interior designers. An interior designer might be involved with a project earlier to set the overall tone. The stager comes later, to give a show suite the finishing touches. “We don’t create a fantasy, we just make a home look more desirable by altering reality.”