Television ‘staging’ show is entertaining, often misguided

#437 in a series of true experiences in real estate
August 2003, Hills Newspapers

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s ‘Stager Man’

Have you seen that TV program about staging houses? Not the one where the neighbors do awful redecorating of each others’ living rooms (I’ve only heard about that one), but the one called “Sell This House.” It’s on the Arts & Entertainment channel on Sundays at 5:00 p.m, and it’s quite entertaining.

The idea is that certain houses aren’t selling because they look bad, so a decorator/stager is brought in to fix them. First, viewers are introduced to the sellers of this week’s subject house, and we are given a tour to see for ourselves what’s wrong.

Typically, there are old fuzzy carpetings and dated wallpaper — somewhere — but they’re pretty well hidden because the house is overly full of furniture and other belongings.

As we gaze at piles of video tapes, papers, family photos, computer wires and house plants trailing across the tops of drapes, the owners tell how they find the TV room convenient to the kitchen and the patio.

Next there is an open house. Through hidden cameras we see visitors touring the house and we hear their comments, none complimentary. The rooms are small, the wallpaper dreadful, the colors bad, the garden a wreck.

At the same time we are watching and hearing these remarks, so are the sellers. We get to witness the dismay of the owners, their shame, also their disagreement. “I like the purple bedroom,” the husband says. “We just bought that carpet, and it was expensive,” says the wife.

At this point the white knight arrives, a pleasant man, soft spoken, the stager. He begins by offering a smile to the owners. “The kitchen is large and quite sunny,” he says before he calmly lays out what must be immediately done to remedy the room’s wrongs.

“We’ll paint the walls and cabinets in a neutral color,” he explains, “and remove the mirrors from the breakfast room walls. They’re just too distracting.” Through the house he goes, camera man following, identifying the problem areas and describing as he goes what he’ll do to fix them.

I think it’s at this juncture that the surprise comes. The nice stager reveals that the owners have a very small budget for supplies – $300 – to do everything. And – perhaps worse – there is to be another open house very soon. Total transformation must occur in one day!

The next shots are of massive activity throughout the house and garden. About half a dozen of the owners’ friends have been recruited to paint walls, ceilings, cabinets. The stager man, the owners, and even the program’s narrator are busily packing things up in boxes. Kids’ toys, books, glass figurines – lots of stuff – are banished. Furniture is carried out or, if deemed helpful to the new look, moved to other rooms.

Stager man has sent narrator to Lowe’s to get ferns and geraniums, and they’re being unloaded in the driveway. Painting in many rooms continues. The friends are looking tired.

The owners are summoned back and forth between work areas to be told what’s happening in each. “We’re replacing these flowered drapes with white linen-look curtains. See how much better the light is now.”

The crew is reminded often that time is running out, there are only a few hours left to finish. The stager sets the dining room table as if for a dinner party, he adds candles and flowers. He hurries to the path leading to the front door and digs holes for the ferns and geraniums, then goes back inside to move a rocking chair from a bedroom into the TV room.

Picking up a sponge and dipping it into mossy green paint, he applies color to the newly painted brick fireplace. Then he decorates the mantel with fresh fruit.

It’s time! Time for the second open house, and now we see through the hidden camera, guess who? The very same people who came to the first open house are back.

I find this very strange. Who are these people? Certainly not real buyers. Maybe they’re neighbors wanting to see what all the fuss in the neighborhood has been about.

Oh, and they love it. They love how the house looks now. Flowers by the front door where there were only weeds. Open spaces in the house. Neutral colors over the striped wallpaper. “It’s amazing,” they say. “Just look at this room now. Why, it’s so much larger than I thought, I think I could live here.”

This last comment is included in the show, I’m sure, to give the impression that someone may be buying the house before long. And perhaps someone will. Certainly the houses on the show do look better, at least on TV.

But these make-overs are so hastily done with the work accomplished by whomever is available, that I can’t help but think that in person they aren’t very good. I know positively that it’s not enough to simply get paint spread on surfaces. Well executed painting looks very, very different than painting that was not.

There are just too many short cuts taken on this show. At one house, for example, the fronts of the kitchen cabinets had been covered by the owners with, of all things, contact paper. It was ugly and prominent and it made it impossible to see anything beyond that stuck-on, brightly patterned covering. The stager called it like it was. It had to go.

But time was short and removing contact paper is not a quick and easy thing, so it was painted over. Painted over! I couldn’t believe it. Painted over contact paper – no matter with what – has to look terrible.

At the end of the show, by the way, the narrator tells us how much individual miracles cost. “Total for candles, paint for the walls, and one orchid for the dining room: $29.00.” Really.

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