Spring Real Estate 2006

Publication Date: Friday, April 28, 2006

Can you imagine this?
Home staging lets you see the possibilities

by Elizabeth Perry

The sign reads "Open House," but the scents and sounds say day spa, romantic get-away - or possibly recent camping trip in the woods.

Catherine Marcus, a Realtor in Palo Alto and the Peninsula, said she uses scent, lighting and music to stage homes to create an environment that is appealing and welcoming to home buyers.

Although staging is not new for marketing houses, the level has evolved from just bringing in a poinsettia to brighten a room to creating a whole new look and feel.

The amount of time and effort in home staging has recently stepped up a notch for high-end homes to create a higher demand on properties, Marcus said. Realtors and home stagers are dressing up million-dollar properties to look their best by renting ornate antique furniture, one-of-a-kind pieces of art and luxurious rugs.

The lavish rugs pamper hardwood floors and the dust-free pieces of furniture perfectly placed in each room allow a buyer to imagine what a property might be like if it turned out to be their new home.

"Staging is about creating fantasy so people can see what it would be like if they lived there," Marcus said.

Instead of looking at blank walls, empty rooms and bare floors, buyer are able to focus on the better attributes of a property and visualize what the house might look like with their own furniture and artwork in it.

Marcus uses an accredited staging professional, which is a person who attends a three-day licensing program to stage properties.

"My stager works with Menlo Rug Gallery in Menlo Park," she said. "They lend us hundreds of dollars worth of expensive rugs that add to the house. Anything expensive creates that fantasy."

When adding more appeal to a property, it ends up getting more interest, she added.

"There was a house on the market that just didn't sell," Marcus said. "The owners hired me, we staged it, priced it higher and we ended up getting more money than we asked for."

Tammy Henschel, who stages properties on the Peninsula, said she has recently been focusing on vacant homes. This means she has to rent everything she uses in the house to accent its features.

"The key is to make the house look open," she said.

Connie Linton, a real estate agent for Alain Pinel Realtors in Palo Alto, said she helps stage some properties with the help of a staging company, JAG.

Linton and JAG staged a ranch-style house that had large walls and tall ceilings. She rented elaborate paintings from Bryant Street Gallery in Palo Alto and hung them on its walls.

The house's kitchen had white cabinets, a brown floor and orange countertops before Linton staged it.

Linton, who has an art degree from the University of California at Davis, said she had to bring warm colors into the kitchen so that the orange counter was a good thing.

"We changed the cabinets to ebony with a hint of taupe to add warmth with the rich orange marble countertop," Linton said.

She also wanted to make the ceiling blend in with the rest of the dÈcor in the room. Originally, the ceiling was a stark white with dark brown beams, making it look like a tic-tac-toe design, she said.

"I decided to paint the ceiling all one color: beige with a tiny bit of peach in it," she said. "The beams were painted the same color but they look a little different because the beams have a flat sheen look."

Within a few weeks, the ranch-style house's owner had received three offers and ended up selling the property for $3.1 million, $105,000 more than the owners' asking price, just a few days after Christmas.

Staging a home can be tricky because you don't want to overdo it, Linton said. She said the point of staging the house is to bring out its best features - not to have the buyer ogling the artwork or rented items in the house.

"You have to work with the house and you can't upstage it with the goods," she said. "Most of the furniture was just there as place holders so that people could see how much room there really was."

Some local business owners are taking advantage of the staging business in order to have another avenue of income by renting out their in-stock merchandise to real estate agents and home stagers.

Chantal Couturier owns a store named Place Bellecour in Mountain View that carries fine French antiques and art. She has a rental program in place for home stagers and a buyer program for those home buyers who choose to keep items that were used to stage the house.

"If people like some of the pieces, they can keep them in the house," she said.

Couturier's hope is to increase sales and revenue by renting out her merchandise and potentially selling some of her goods to home buyers, she said.

"If you put a 19th-century Renaissance table in a room, you don't have to put all of the chairs," she said. "Having a beautiful table is enough to see the space in the room."

Recently, Couturier loaned her antiques to Dianne Vernon, a Coldwell Banker Los Altos Realtor, for a house on the market in Palo Alto.

"It added a touch of grace and elegance. It was a very pretty house, but it needed some pizzazz," Vernon said. She was convinced that staging - and bringing in antiques - made people see the house in a good light. "It helped bring the house to life," she said.

But the bottom line was the Park Boulevard house garnered five offers and sold in nine days - for close to 14 percent over the asking price.

"The antiques were extremely helpful in selling the house. It worked out very well," she said, adding with a smile, "I attribute much to Chantal's antiques and our clever staging in general."