Think of Your Home as a Stage

home staging article featured in Edmonton Journal

. . . so when it comes time to sell, be prepared to play it up

EDMONTON -- We seldom, if ever, think of our homes as stage personas. Yet when they're on sale, they're in the spotlight.

Home stagers, also known as house stagers, are acutely aware of this. Like stage directors, they strive to get the best out of their actor/houses, to create the most positive impressions in hopes of wowing the crowd of would-be buyers. They can also be of use when someone is moving into a new home, hoping to sell an empty one, or any time a home could benefit from a fresh, unbiased eye.

We asked four Edmonton-area home stagers to describe their work and explain what to expect from a home stager. Gabriele Campbell, an interior decorator, and Shelley Sadownyk, a professional organizer, started their home staging business three years ago; Connie Williamson, a 13-year interior decorator, created her house staging company Serenity Redesign about five years ago; professional organizer Angela Clissold founded her staging company Sort and Style after moving to Canada following a 10-year career as a British Airways executive.


CAMPBELL: "It focuses on presenting the house in the best possible way. It takes each room, room by room, and develops a focal point, a primary purpose for each space. The biggest mistake most homeowners make is, they think because they're happy and comfortable in their house, everyone else will be too. Nothing could be farther from the truth! When buyers go in, they want to be able to visualize themselves and look past your stuff and think, 'This space would be great for my stuff.'"

CLISSOLD: "We're using the buyer's eyes. We're also playing down the faults in the home while bringing forward the good features -- often when you live in a home you can't see them, you forget you see that fantastic view every single day. You may even stick the DVD player in front of it. Staging is also a key marketing tool. If you're serious about getting top dollar and working to a time frame, that's what staging does -- it showcases the space. People also want to be move-in ready. They are cash-rich and time-poor. So staging is a service."

SADOWNYK: "When we come in, we're not there to criticize how (homeowners) live or how they have their furniture. We want to make it as simple as possible for a buyer to come in and see the space."


CAMPBELL: "We focus on three Cs: clean, clutter- free and colour. When we say clean we mean clean like never before, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Nothing eats up valuable real estate like clutter. In that category comes table tops, night stands, shelving counters.

SADOWNYK: "It's also cupboards and closet spaces. If your pantry is so full and you can get that much stuff in, great. But someone else might see it as so full they don't think it has enough space. If the cupboards are packed full of dishes you only need once a year, let's clear it out and concentrate on cleaning it up so people can really see how much storage there is."


SADOWNYK: "We talk about depersonalizing the space, taking down personal photos and collections, because other people want to picture themselves in the home. They can also get intrigued and start looking at your stuff, and you want to eliminate that. For safety reasons, no one needs to know who's living in the home -- we worked with one client, a single mom with three daughters, and nobody needs to know that. You also need to start detaching (from your home), so depersonalizing helps."

WILLIAMSON: "The basics also include fixing the minor repairs, things like broken mouldings, leaky faucets, updating small things like your light fixtures and plug-ins. It really makes an impact -- (potential buyers) see the updates, not necessarily the largerticket items. Another word we use is neutralize. It's picking out neutral paints. Now is not the time to play around with colour."

CAMPBELL: "On the exterior, there should be no more than three colours. On the interior, it should be neutral. Beiges, tans, taupes are very popular. You should choose colours pleasing to the broadest public and avoid saturated colours, dark reds and deep blues."

WILLIAMSON: "One of the best things is to paint. It can yield back 110 per cent! It smells fresh, looks clean and does an amazing transformation.

Sometimes home staging involves the smallest of details.

Rearranging some furniture.

Making sure buyers don't miss that you have a fireplace, and that it works by having it lit. It's creating that lived-in feel.

Some may have dated furniture, so it's a matter of covering it with slipcovers."

CAMPBELL: "It can be as much or as little as clients need. Sometimes it's just going in and doing a couple of rooms that are problem areas.

Then they've learned so much they can implement (changes) through the rest of the house."

CLISSOLD: "Can you swap things out? People might be open to renting accessories and furniture.

We have connections on short-term rentals, right down to a week, and we use storage companies. A lot of my business is taken up by accessory rentals.

It might be a lamp in a corner, a mirror over the bed, something strong to detract from something else."

SADOWNYK: "People can look to hire in or beg, borrow or steal from friends. If people buy something for use in their next house, can they use it before they sell? We also have a referral base of people we work with who know it's short notice.

Maybe it's painting a couple of rooms so they can squeeze us in, or quickly change the faucets."


WILLIAMSON: "I read an article not too long ago and one professional home stager described curb appeal as 'your 24-hour billboard,' because people drive by your home all the time. And in many cases it's the drive-by that initiates the viewing." Sadowynk: "We've had places where you pull up, there are some weeds, the grass is a little long, there are some dead plants and you walk in and it's beautiful! But for a lot of people, they might drive by and not even want to look in. So you need a clean lawn, a painted house, a door in working order, lights that work. So when they open the door they want to see more and they like everything so far."

CAMPBELL: "They're looking for defined space. If there is patio furniture, depending on the season, we say put it out and put in a portable fire pit. If there's a place for a play structure, put in a play structure.

If there's a shed, it needs to be clean and operating properly."


CLISSOLD: "We work with homeowners and with realtors. We're a second opinion from another professional.

"Often a realtor doesn't want to offend, if the homeowner is reluctant to make changes that should be made. We support the homeowner by being the go-between."

WILLIAMSON: "When I began five years ago, homeowners were 90 per cent of my clients. Now, it's 50-50 (realtors, sellers). Realtors are on board, they're introducing staging to their clients; they see the benefits and homeowners are seeing it as an additional tool."


CLISSOLD: "Homeowners are now getting a bit bolder, using things like Comfree (no real estate commission), and they're thinking 'If I'm not using a realtor I need to cast (another) professional eye over what we're doing.'"

SADOWNYK: "Having a home on the market is a lot of stress, leaving your house every day, hoping everything is perfect. If it's on the market for three days as opposed to three weeks, that alone is worth it in stress and time. The advantage to sellers to getting the best price, the advantage to buyers is they get a house that's ready to be lived in immediately, and for realtors, they can show that house with absolute confidence."


SADOWNYK: "It makes them feel wonderful.

'Ooh, now I don't want to sell!' -- you'll get that every once in a while. One client said, 'Why didn't I do this before?' Every homeowner, once we've staged their house, they've learned something they can take to their new house. They say 'I'm going to put my furniture the way you had it, I never thought of it this way.' "

WILLIAMSON: "After you've staged the home, most people are so excited. They've never felt like this in their home. The second question is, do I really want to sell? A client phoned me a couple of days ago and said, 'I don't care if it sells or not.' She's sleeping better in her bed since her home was staged."

(Edmonton Journal)