Have fun ‘staging’ home for sale

#545 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2008, Hills Newspapers

I’ve just been looking at photos of houses we worked on and sold fairly recently, enjoying again how good they looked, how much fun it was to show them off. Houses are all so different and what we do to them is different too. Many times it is the case that we’ve never thought of that look before, haven’t used that paint color anywhere else. That’s a lot of the fun of it.

A cottage we listed last year has the most wonderful front porch that goes all across the width of the house. The floor is natural wood, sanded and sealed like an interior wood floor, and there are columns on the front side to hold up the porch roof. From these columns, next to the garden, we hung a pair of new, matching hammocks.

The hooks were already there, supplied by the sellers. But the hammock ropes needed to be tied securely to them, and we hadn’t a clue how to go about it. Anet and I stood together on the porch one day staring at the hooks, then the ropes, thinking hard. Suddenly there was a small happy shriek from inside the house.

Our stager called “I know how.” She came out and tied the ropes in perfect knots while telling us about the friend who in years past had traveled the world sleeping wherever he could find to hang his hammock. The knots worked great, the buyers loved the hammocks (as did we) so we left them. Probably they were in use all summer and will be again.

At another listing, also a cottage style house, circa 1930, the original old paneled door has panes of glass in the upper third. There is a flap-covered metal mail slot and nice-looking iron door handle and lock.

Our stager chose a gorgeous deep rosy red paint, Benjamin Moore Rhubarb for the door, both inside and out. We removed the mail slot and spray painted it matte black and we had a brass nameplate made and mounted just under the slot with the name of the house engraved on it: Skyhill Cottage.

With a filmy white semi-transparent curtain against the glass on the inside, the picture was complete. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a prettier front door.

At that same house, something else we’ve never done before. We brought a goldfish in a bowl and put him on the kitchen table near a window looking out to good things: a mulberry tree in the side yard, BART tracks and hills in the background, cars moving along a thoroughfare mid-scene, all fascinating to watch. And the goldfish was, I thought, absolutely perfect there.

Just outside this same kitchen window we hung a “sock” filled with thistle seed for the finches. We went to the house several times a week to care for our fish and took him home afterward. We hope the finches found the seed but they hadn’t yet when the new owners moved in.

In another house, a different sort of house, sleek-lined and newer, we decided that the smallest bedroom would probably be used by a new owner as an office and also likely, a guest room. For the imagined guest, the stager provided a spare-look desk against one wall and together we outfitted it with a world globe, local street maps, BART schedule, a few postcards and stamps, and a disposable camera.

Also in the room were a futon, desk and floor lamps, framed pictures, a slim vase of Asiatic lilies, slip-on slippers and kimono robe. On a luggage rack near the closet was placed a brown all-leather suitcase, a most beautiful thing, which, as it happens, Anet bought for herself in Italy when she was only 18.

Many of the details in this room, particularly the ones on the desk, were small and subtle, and perhaps not even noticed by most people, but it’s this form of “playing house” that I enjoy immensely.

When we saw the ocean-blue formica counters in the kitchen of another house, we immediately liked them, especially because of the stainless steel edging used predominately in the 1950s. While some would find the look dated, others agree with us, and we especially wanted to avoid another granite kitchen. We left the counters as they were but removed the dark blue mini-blinds and changed out the vinyl flooring to bamboo, a beautiful material.

What a difference the floor makes! Bamboo is light in color but is rich and warm, excellent, really. Recently we had lunch with the seller of that house. She lives now at Piedmont Gardens in an apartment as part of their independent living arrangement. Her home is spacious and light and has a full kitchen but she rarely cooks anymore, instead eating in the community dining room or going out.

This fine lady was a big time cook. She left behind a kitchen that had every sort of pot and pan and strainer, and she gave away hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cookbooks she had collected over many years. So I asked her, as we lunched, if she missed cooking?

There was a brief pause before she answered, “Intellectually.”

“I clip recipes,” she said. “I put them in a stack.

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