Fall Real Estate 2007

Publication Date: Friday, October 12, 2007

Turnkey for the 'now' generation
Fully furnished homes offered by agent/stager partners

by Carol Blitzer

Potential buyers walk into the elegantly staged home on Gordon Street in Menlo Park. He loves the structure of the custom-built house, from the etched-glass pantry door to the walk-in closet in the master bedroom. She finds the apple-green jute rugs, urns and touches in the artwork are just perfect.

Wouldn't it be nice if they could just buy the whole package, as is?

That's what Coldwell Banker agent Caroline Huo's dream was -- to wed a house on the market with furniture and artwork designed for that space, all offered as a turnkey home. Fall in love with the master-bedroom linens? No problem: A binder in the room lists the price of each item.

The actual buyer isn't required to buy the furnishings but would get first dibs, Christine Cooper, president of Stagers in San Carlos, said. But others who walked through an open-house event, or visited with an agent, and spotted something they desired could get on the waiting list.

Huo, whose husband's Cerros Partners LLC developed the Gordon Street home, has worked with Cooper to stage other homes on the market. But this time, they wanted to introduce the concept of turnkey homes.

"We've taken staging to a little higher level. ... A buyer can just bring their clothes and personal items and move in," Cooper said. "Everything is custom-designed for the house."

Many of the potential clients are what Cooper calls "move-up" buyers. "A lot of their things are hand-me-downs. It's a whole new start and they want new stuff. They don't have time to shop, or wait six weeks for a sofa," she said.

She also sees the turnkey house appealing to a newly single buyer -- say, after a divorce -- or professionals with small children.

Although Cooper has a degree in interior design from San Jose State University, she spent much of her career as a real estate agent, ending up as a vice president and director of training for Prudential. She started Stagers 12 years ago, and today she has enough furniture to display in 60 homes at a time.
She's created staging in everything from a one-bedroom condo to a three-story Hillsborough mansion with an indoor pool.

Much of the staging is what Cooper calls "enhancement," meaning she has to work with the seller's color scheme, style, furniture pieces. "It's just tough. I have to make it function, show the house to best advantage."

For the Gordon Avenue home, Cooper bought everything brand new -- in a week. "I have some incredible suppliers who can get me things overnight," she added.

She opted for a contemporary look, with mainly Ashley furniture with dark bases and glass table tops. Many of her touches came straight out of Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma.

She stopped short of supplying electronics, mattresses, light fixtures or window coverings.

"We're offering a service to the potential buyer, to see how furniture looks in a room," Cooper said, pointing to the apple-green accent pieces that seemed to make the fireplace pop against the chocolate-brown wall. The house had a neutral palate of beige and black, so she looked for punch colors -- apple green in the family room, red in the living room.

Of course, staging a house and living in a house are two different things. "We want it to look spacious. We have to think about how people (on tour) move through the house," she said. Scanning the sparsely furnished living room, she added, "This works for people who love it but have a few pieces of their own."

Cooper put the finishing touches on the Gordon Avenue home just in time for a couple of real-estate agent tours just after Memorial Day weekend. More than 220 agents walked through the home, which was offered for $2,395,000, Huo said.

"The response was, 'Why didn't we think of this?' because it showed so beautifully," Huo said.

But even before the agent tours, Huo had a pre-emptive offer in hand. That $2,450,000 offer was accepted and contingencies were removed, so no further open houses were held.

As for buying the furniture, it turns out the new owners "had just gone out and purchased all new furniture so it was not a good fit," Cooper said. "However, I was able to sell some furniture and there was a huge amount of interest."

In June, Cooper was working on two other turnkey homes and had interest on four more.

"I was amazed at the level of interest from the real estate agents. This can be used as an additional marketing tool for them ... and in a competitive market having all the tools you can find is always a plus," she added.

Huo said the turnkey staging was "absolutely worth it. The exposure, the way the house looked: Everything fit the house. She really brought out the personality of the house."

"We have a 'now' generation that wants it now!" Cooper added.

--Assistant Editor Carol Blitzer can be e-mailed at cblitzer@paweekly.com.