Sunday, May 3, 2009

To Stage or not to Stage

As I mentioned a few entries ago, George the Elder and I may (or may not) have to change dwellings again over the summer. We won't know for a few weeks, but we are taking the bull by the horns and starting to look around.

We've been to our share of open houses for stuff that's for sale. I don't know whether or not this happens in other markets, but here they "stage" houses for sale. Staging, for the unaware or uninformed, is the part of marketing your home in SF where you get to put all your belongings in storage and move out of the property, find other digs and allow the "stagers" to move all their own stuff in to the house. This effectively removes any iota of personality from the place - thus allowing prospective purchasers greater ease in imagining their own stuff in the de-personalized rooms. Yes, properties for sale here have been homogenized and pasteurized thanks to the efforts of the professional stagers.

There are a few things afoot here. First, prospective buyers here in SF are obviously off put by other people's belongings and therefore cannot mentally move their own furniture in to rooms that contain anything but a neutral sofa, leopard print throw pillows and a grand total of knick-knacks not to exceed 10. This number includes all books or plants. Second, in the mind's eye of a "Stager" no one actually owns or uses any electrical appliances including a TV or stereo. These are removed during the staging process and even cool hip facsimiles (such as a nifty coveted flat screen) are not included in the finished pre-sale decor. So, while the average prospective purchaser cannot imagine their furniture in a house they are considering purchasing, they CAN imagine where the TV will go even if they are not prompted to remember it by the "fake" TV in the room. Last, "stagers" un-clutter and redecorate the kitchen. But, forget about anything that one might normally put on their counters (like dreaded and unforgivable things like canisters, coffee makers or toasters). Stagers place more decorative items on kitchen counters like ikea glass funnels full of multicolored wooden balls or a basket full of ginormous lacquered nuts and shells. So, it logically follows that the prospective buyers also need to be able to imagine their lives without all the necessary clutter that, oh I don't know, actually makes your kitchen function as a place to say, um, cook food. If regular kitchen stuff were left there, they would be unable to imagine this. Go figure.

Having said this - the neutralization of properties for sale here (while nonsensical and expensive for the seller) - does have some benefits. These benefits become a more transparent when you start to look at rental properties. These gems are
absolutely not staged. Some of them really really ought to be. Here are some nuggets of advice that may come in handy for people trying to rent their properties:

  • When you say that your property has 4 bedrooms the people looking at the place are going to be looking for 4 bedrooms. "Rooms" should not have been heretofore used as broom closets or underground storage bunkers. The existence of exposed sewage pipes in a bedroom can be a tab disturbing.
  • When you make an appointment to show your property for rent, you should endeavor to clean up the dog shit on the floor before opening the door to welcome in your prospective tenants. It doesn't matter that the crap is in the laundry room.
  • If you are going to continue residing in the house WITH the prospective tenants this should be disclosed in the advertisement. Some people just don't want to share one of the bedrooms or the back door with you no matter how un-serial-killer you may describe yourself as being.
  • If you advertise your kitchen as being "updated" it is preferable that you also mention that said update was done during the presidential campaign of Woodrow Wilson and that the seventeen layers of paint (5 of them likely containing enough lead to make a full set of water pipes) slapped on the kitchen cabinets inhibit the actual closing of all cabinets and drawers.
  • A "family room" in the basement is not defined by the existence of a concrete floor, spider webs and small grubby window near the ceiling. Not unless the family you are talking about is a family of rats.
  • "Easy entrance in to the house" from the garage should not be a bullet point in the advertisement if you need to hire a Sherpa and use climbing gear to get from the parking places up in to the house.
  • There is a little known appliance called a vacuum cleaner. Know it. Use it. Be the vacuum cleaner.
Bottom line is that we have not successfully found the perfect home for our perfect family. We have seen some interesting things - as in interesting for us to live in not interesting as in has-the-department-of-health-services-been-called-in-to-see-this-4-bedroom-property-for-$6000-a-month-you've-got-to-be-shitting-me. But, we have some time and we still have our fingers crossed that our current wonderful landlords will see things our way and decide that we are the best tenants they have ever had and that selling the property is the biggest mistake they could make in a lifetime. Until they come to their senses, we will continue to look. Something tells me that there's gonna be a few more "observations" before we are done.


Molly said...

Would you buy YOUR house if they put it up for sale? It's not like you don't know what's wrong with it and if they don't list it with a realtor, you'll save the commission.

On the other hand, I can attest to the depersonalization. Look what happened to my pitchers!!!!

Chris said...

W: We recently sold my mom's house and the agent included staging as part of the service and positioned it as though we were getting something really valuable. I felt like it was a bit of a joke since he moved approximately 4 pieces of furniture into a 3000 sf house. Sparce is the word. Maybe even Spartan. Regardless, it seemed to have worked. Maybe it was the staging. Or maybe it was the new paint throughout, the new finish on all the hardwood floors, the updated (this year!) bathrooms.