As home staging has transitioned from an add-on service to an expected part of a luxury home’s marketing program, the expectations have increased, and so have the offerings. No longer sought out simply for the basics of de-cluttering and depersonalizing, today’s luxury home stagers have elevated the profession to an art form with their sophisticated design concepts and ability to bring a complete lifestyle experience to life for discriminating buyers. Brett Baer, president of industry powerhouse Meridith Baer, describes it: they’re trusted with “maximizing every inch of the home to create a vision of what it will be like to live there.”
Baer was one of three industry leaders we talked to recently to learn some of the tricks of the luxury home staging trade. Baer popularized home staging for the high-end masses with their award-winning designs and the HGTV show “Staged to Perfection.” With offices in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and London, the company has plans to expand further in the next year, heading to San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Florida-based Home Staging Concepts has been featured on “Money Talks” and “20/20“ and ownerSandra Holmes is widely regarded as one of the southeast’s most esteemed experts on the craft. Holmes is also the President of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals and sits on the Advisory Board of Stagedhomes.com. Pennsylvania-based Tailored Transitions stages high-end residences all over the Northeast. Founder Starr Osborne is a top authority on home staging for the luxury market and was named Best Stager by Philadelphia Magazine. She also lends her talents to teaching and speaking engagements surrounding staging, and authored the book, “Home Staging That Works: Sell Your Home in Less Time for More Money.”
Previews Inside Out Can you describe how the creative process unfolds when designing a home?
Sandra Holmes The most important thing is that we always stage with the buyers in mind and who we feel the buyer is for a particular area or community. I do research on the area and drive the neighborhood first.
Brett Baer It depends on the property, but the creative process in our business has to start with the requirements of the home. When people walk in, you want every inch to speak to them. We want to be able to expand the footprint of the home and show buyers the value they’re getting. That informs the aesthetic. The next step is asking, “What is the buyer aspiring to do or be?” The designers become creative and can work through the vision they have of the home.
Starr Osborne I talk with the Realtor to learn who the primary and secondary market is for buyers, and I work from there. Usage is very important, because form follows function. Buyer preferences do change and we’re tracking those and applying them to the homes we stage. In terms of what’s in now, it’s all about contemporary style. People want clean lines and simplicity, but a mix of antiques too. This cuts across all age groups.
Previews Inside Out How do different home types and evolving buyer needs impact your approach to staging today?
Brett Baer We always listen to clients’ insights and talk to builders, developers and Realtors to cross-pollinate their needs against our work. We’re always applying their feedback and refining what we’re doing across the board.
Starr Osborne The world has become homogeneous. There are fewer regional differences. People are shopping for their furnishings at the same places. They are being marketed to constantly, thanks to the Internet. What has really changed since I’ve been in this business is how buyers and homeowners view their home. How you live is a reflection of your self-worth.
Sandra Holmes There is a difference, too, between lived-in homes and vacant homes. When the seller still lives in the home, we are working with their things and having them depersonalize and do updates to the home. When we work with vacant properties, we are bringing life back into the home.
Previews Inside Out How does staging help a buyer visualize how they can live in the home?
Brett Baer There are two kinds of clients — one who just wants the home done and done right, and trusts us to do it. They may be serial developers who do 100 homes in a year. On the other side of the spectrum are people who want a unique experience, maybe for a distinctive home or one with some historical cache. They want buyers to walk in, see the home furnishings and furniture, and not know the home is staged. Both approaches work.
Starr Osborne Often times, you’re speaking to the ladies of the household — after all, they are so often the decision makers when it comes to home purchasing. Add a cashmere or alpaca throw. Expensive down pillows show luxury. If someone walks in and sees a Lee Jofa or Delamere fabric pillow, you’ve told them that this is a nice and sophisticated house.
Sandra Holmes It really has to do with the architecture and what finishes are in the home, such as light fixtures, flooring, color of walls, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, etc. I always know in my mind exactly what I am going to put into a property so buyers will fall in love with the spaces and can imagine how they will spend their time there.
Previews Inside Out What are some elements that you think immediately communicate ‘luxury’ to a buyer?
Sandra Holmes First impressions are so important! Luxury staged homes usually take their breathe away. Many people do not know how to style their own homes and sometimes do not want to work with a decorator, so when the house is all set up and they can move right in and just bring their yacht, suitcase, and a toothbrush, they love it. We use luxurious linens on beds, beautiful glass and dishware, and No. 1 is the art on the walls.
Starr Osborne Confident design. Don’t be afraid of bright colors, or more sophisticated color palettes. Throw some energy in there. Use a great wallpaper. You want to be somewhat neutral — but it can be dangerous. Giving spaces texture with a mix of old and new feels more like a sophisticated home.
Brett Baer It can vary from market to market, but the same principle carries over. It’s finding the perfect balance between comfort and sophistication so people can walk in and feel like it’s home. It needs to be comfortable but have a certain weight and impressiveness to it. The balance of those elements is the key to success.
Previews Inside Out What would luxury home sellers be surprised to know about staging?
Starr Osborne Sellers can sometimes forget that we’re not there to decorate to their tastes. I’m decorating to the buyer’s tastes. That’s a hard thing to get across sometimes.
Sandra Holmes Luxury home sellers would be surprised to know how much work is done back at our warehouses before we even set up in their house. Sellers also need to understand that the investment of staging their home is far less than any price reductions or carrying costs they incur while it sits on the market. This is especially true for vacant properties that can give the impression that the sellers are desperate.
Brett Baer Luxury home sellers would be amazed at how many houses are bought and sold based on them being “toothbrush ready.” We just worked with a rocker who described the house as “guitar ready.” People aren’t as concerned as they were in the past about customizing their home. Especially in the luxury home market, a buyer might be purchasing their seventh or even their 10th home. They may not care about the particulars as long as its turnkey. They will sometimes make a decision based on not having to do the work.
Previews Inside Out What’s the one thing that you wish every luxury real estate agent or home seller knew?
Sandra Holmes That staging helps to protect an agent’s commissions and lower the out-of-pocket expenses of continuous marketing of a property that just isn’t going to sell right away. And sellers? I wish sellers would understand that they are not spending money; instead, they are investing money to have the home staged so they can get top dollar.
Starr Osborne Staging is not decorating. It doesn’t mean we are going completely custom. It’s a marketing tool that uses decorating.
Brett Baer The difference staging can make is massive. It’s unquestionable. Especially in the high-end market, where there are fewer buyers, if you get that quick sale, the payoff is huge, the differential is tremendous.