From the August/September 2016 Issue  

Imagine That! Staging a Home

Writer Mary Vinnedge  |  Designer Sandy Levin, Allied ASID
  • Living Room CHALLENGE: This main living area, situated on the second floor of the open-concept home, is so large that it’s difficult to figure out what goes where in terms of furniture and function. Potential buyers “can’t imagine where to put the sofa and television, where the kids will play, do homework,” Levin says. SOLUTION: Her functional layout establishes a television and conversation area that’s great for entertaining and has seating for seven. Gray, a popular neutral, dominates the furnishings for instant appeal. “I added teal. People love teal. And there are accents of lime green, which is also very popular,” Levin says. “It’s warm and inviting. We want people to feel like they can live in this house.” The glass-top coffee table illustrates the design principle that transparency carries an open, airy feel.

  • Sitting Area CHALLENGE: Make the house seem relaxing and showcase the view. SOLUTION: The view from this chair is Sandy Hook Bay. “Buyers can imagine themselves reading a book, putting their feet up and looking out to the bay,” Levin says.

  • Foyer CHALLENGE: The foyer needs to set the tone for the rest of the house and create a coastal vibe. SOLUTION: The painting introduces teal, a beachy color that’s repeated elsewhere. The distressed table has a weathered shore feel that’s perfect for a home looking onto Sandy Hook Bay. “The sizes of the table and picture also are proportional to the area,” Levin notes. “Being proportional is always important.”

  • Kitchen and Dining Area CHALLENGE: With an empty, open-concept house, people have difficulty visualizing how to define eating zones and assessing how large the table can be. SOLUTION: The island bar is set up for breakfast, maybe for the kids. A generously sized table and chairs establish the main dining area. Levin says the runner and vase on the dining table “make it a place where people’s eyes will land,” reinforcing the function and their memory of the room. Bonus: Countertop accessories warm up the kitchen.

  • Office CHALLENGE: Suggest how this room will be used: the desirable perk of a home office. SOLUTION: The desk, chair and area rug warm up the space but don’t fill it up. That’s a key difference from interior design, which would result in a completely furnished space, says Levin, who does longer-term interior design projects in addition to staging. “Staging is about showing buyers how they would live in their house, but it’s not necessary to fill an entire room,” she explains.

  • First Floor CHALLENGE: This first-floor space is overwhelming in size and might lack an obvious role in an unfurnished state. SOLUTION: Levin “sections off each area” so the function of this secondary living space seems logical and practical. “I wanted this one to be open, airy and warm with a conversation area and a television. Using updated colors is very important.” Kids could congregate here while the adults are upstairs. Note that tabletops are accessorized; in an occupied home, a restrained amount of bric-a-brac can remain. “Tablescapes should not be distracting but should be visually appealing. A lot of times I do three objects of varying heights:―That’s a design principle,” Levin says.

  • Master Bedroom CHALLENGE: Potential buyers need to imagine the room as a luxurious shore retreat and may wonder where to place the bed. SOLUTION: The pillows and white bedspread impart the idea of luxury. The bed and nightstands establish the footprint and scale for key pieces. A tea set on the tray subtly implies you could relax with a cup of tea there in the morning, Levin says. The colors in the room echo the shore, including the picture, which coordinates with the bedding.

  • Bathroom CHALLENGE: Bring in the outdoors; instill a sense of pristine pampering. SOLUTION: Sconces with trailing greenery transition to the outdoor views; the white towels, tied with ribbons, are a spalike touch.

  • Roof CHALLENGE: Help potential buyers envision themselves using this rooftop patio. SOLUTION: The seating gives an idea of how many people will fit in this relaxation and entertainment space. “It exudes luxury and comfort,” Levin says. Her other outdoor staging tips: dead plants and branches should be removed; outdoor fur­nish­ings can be added or upgraded, for instance, loungers and umbrellas near a pool.

A pro tells how she stages homes to sell faster and for more money.

Interior designer Sandy Levin of Beautiful Interiors Design Group in Freehold, New Jersey, likes the quick gratification of staging homes for sale. Homeowners, real estate agents, builders and flippers hire her for staging, which she describes as a marketing tool to make a house appeal to the maximum number of potential buyers who view it. The ultimate goal is a fast, top-dollar sale.

Research backs up the effectiveness and return on investment of staging. A survey determined that home staging results in an average $1,780 price increase, which translates to a 586 percent return on investment. And according to a Coldwell Banker survey, staged homes sell in half the time and for more than 6 percent above the asking price.

Staging has two categories: occupied and vacant. The house pictured here, which Levin staged for sale, falls into the latter category.

With occupied staging, the homeowner is living in the house and the stager works with the homeowner and/or real estate agent. Levin begins the process with a consultation costing $300 to $350, based on the size of the house. After walking the interior and exterior, she offers her tips, which are likely to include decluttering and depersonalizing, the first two steps of staging, says Levin, an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the Real Estate Staging Association and Home Staging Resource. “You don’t take everything out though. That would make the home seem cold.” Her tips also include a shopping list for inexpensive items —­ “inexpensive’ because they’re moving.” At this point, “the owners can run with it” or they can hire Levin to finish the project: shopping, rearranging furniture and adding up-to-date accessories.

Budget permitting, Levin will bring in rented furnishings when a home has tired, unfashionable furniture. “People don’t want to buy places with outdated furniture. They think, ‘The homeowners didn’t update the furniture, so the heating system is probably old. They probably didn’t take care of the house.’ And it’s just more appealing to look at.”

With vacant staging, Levin visits the empty house to assess what’s needed. Then she sends her proposal to the property owner a couple of days later. After they enter into a contract, Levin confers with the real estate agent about the demographic profile of people (their ages; income; children, if any, and their ages; home-office needs) expected to purchase the property as well as what will appeal to those buyers in terms of furniture styles and colors. Levin supplements that feedback with her own research. She then rents all of the big furnishings and adds her own inventory of au courant accessories, which she constantly updates.

“The key to staging is to think about how the buyers will live in the house and then to set it up so they can see themselves using the rooms,” she says.

Mary Vinnedge was Design NJ’s first editor in chief and now is a frequent contributor.