Dress up a dingy home? Why not fix it up?

#422 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 2003, Hills Newspapers

Why put clean clothes on a dirty kid? That’s what I was wondering this week when we saw a dingy house all dressed up with staging. Seems only sensible that a bath would come first.
We got to this small, unoccupied house and immediately spied the lockbox attached to the front handrail. While Anet was retrieving the key, I was standing on the tiny front stoop staring at its chipped and stained paint. The door threshold was also worn and shoddy.

Inside, a perfect orchid plant stood on the living room coffee table. The room had been obviously staged by a professional in Pottery Barn style – nubby moss green fabric sofa with a lavender chenille throw, sisal rug on the floor, gold-framed botanical prints on the walls.

The furnishings were in top shape, but there was loose dirt on the wood floors and spots of paint on the tile ones. No one had cleaned this house but the stager had gone right ahead with her job anyway. She placed her goods ignoring the floors and walls and counters because, I suppose, it wasn’t her job to clean.

The stainless steel kitchen sink looked awful in spite of the brand new dishtowels and fresh bar of soap laid beside it. Water marks, paint splatters and grease could easily have been removed with steel wool and a little time. Had I had any steel wool with me, I might have scrubbed the sink myself right then.

There were crumbs on the tiled sink counter, too, possibly leftovers from an agent open house, and the stove burners had not been scrubbed.

I don’t get it, why the money was spent to bring in finery without making the base ready beforehand. I believe in staging, truly appreciate how attractive a house can look when properly attended to.

Especially if the alternative is an empty house, staging makes a considerable difference to the view of people who see it. Empty houses are hollow and cold. They feel and look unfriendly, and there is no where to sit down.

There are stagers who approach and see each house freshly. These are talented and energetic people who appreciate and utilize what is unique about every house they work on. And although they may place only a few items in a room, rather than a full complement, the things they use will emphasize and highlight the best parts of that room making visitors aware of them as well.

Once we saw a staged house the living room of which held a magnificent upholstered chair in screaming cherry red. It was wonderful! I stayed long in that room. I wanted to see every detail that was of kin with that chair.

Another time, in another house, the stager had gone to the trouble to select, make and hang as curtains in the dining room a lovely clear yellow fabric with flowers on it. It was a knock-out because the piece and the placement were beautiful, and because nothing exactly like it could be seen, or had ever been seen, elsewhere.

A stager who frequently works with our clients once made the eye-catcher in a living room a large squash. The orangey-cream colored pumpkin-like squash was placed inside a wide pottery dish. Together they stood on a slice of reddish colored marble, and all three were stacked on a mahogany table.

The reason for the placement was an adjacent royal blue couch with stripes which was made fabulous by the squash and therefore, so was the room.

That stager made me see that room in a new and wonderful way. The same stager also knows how to trick me into looking away.

In one of our listings was a rather beat up kitchen stove which stood lonely against a plain wall. Our good stager had a shelf put up over the stove on which she placed some colorful containers and cooking implements. Then she hung a wood-framed mirror over the shelf.

It worked like a charm. When I went into that kitchen, I didn’t see the stove anymore. Instead, I saw the shelf, the mirror, and the far more visually interesting opposite side of the room reflected in the mirror.

Also reflected in that mirror were very clean surfaces. Clean is paramount and should, we think, never to be overlooked, even in houses that are in dismal repair. We’ve had listings that needed new foundations and roofs, neglected houses that would require new kitchens, baths, complete make-overs. Nevertheless, when they came on the market, they were clean.

There was not too much in the rooms of these houses but there was at least one comfortable spot in which to sit, and there was sufficient lighting for viewing after the sun went down.

In all of our listings the rooms – indeed, the entire houses – had been cleaned before the stager arrived. If there were things left undone, the stager either attended to them personally or asked us or the seller to fix them.

No one met any of our “children” and wondered why we didn’t bathe them before they were dressed.

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