Thursday, June 19, 2008

For home sellers, 'staging' is the new show in town

I blame Roger Hazard for the hell I am now living. Let me explain.

For reasons I already can't remember, I have joined more than 4,000 other Victoria residents trying to sell their houses. Listing our home seemed like such a good idea when my husband and I started seeing it as too big for the empty nest stage on our horizon.

What better time than when there's a lot on the market for us to choose from?

But that's also the problem. There's a lot on the market for everyone to choose from -- a record number since 1998 -- making us feel insecure about the salability of the home we love.

With a For Sale sign on our lawn I am becoming painfully aware of how reality television has reformatted our view of perfection in a home and changed the real estate business since we bought our last homes.

Roger (I feel I can call him on a first-name basis), and others involved in similar TV shows, has fuelled what is known as the staging business with Sell This House.

"Staging" in this case has absolutely nothing to do with theatre and everything to do with marketing. It requires that you add, subtract and change things in your home with the goal of never distracting a prospective buyer with the details of your life, but having them make an emotional connection with it.

Christine Rae, the president of Canadian Staging Professionals, calls staging a "necessity" for buyers wanting to get the most money from their home. If the staging business has burgeoned from non-existent to the point where more than 1,100 have been trained by her organization alone, it's because the real estate industry was the last bastion where a commodity was typically sold "as is." Even car sellers "detail" their vehicles before selling, she adds.

Don't think for a moment that staging is a Toronto-centric phenomenon, or more likely to be employed by sellers of urbane Yaletown lofts in Vancouver. From Sooke to Port Alberni, you can find a home stager to dismiss your wedding photos as too distracting. There's even a staging category in the Yellow Pages, and many decorators and real estate agents have added the service to their business repertoire.

Rae notes that staging is easier for decorators because "when you stage a home, you get to dictate what needs to be done," unlike the decorating world, where a client wants more say.
Tony Joe, president of the Victoria Real Estate Board, said the staging industry isn't as well developed here as it is in the East, but it is definitely becoming a factor for "consumers and real estate professionals looking for ways of tipping the ball in their favour."

Joe and Rae believe staging can improve the selling price and sell a home more quickly. The challenge for sellers is that they have to keep their homes absent of any evidence someone actually lives there.

This is a problem when you actually do live there, and have for 20 years, putting down roots requiring a lot more than a company's-coming-for-dinner vacuum to erase.

Now, every time I come home, rather than taking comfort upon seeing my long-familiar things, I find myself recoiling at the sight of items such as a small collection of clocks of sentimental, not monetary value.

A shoulder check while leaving the house can trigger a full-on family fracas if a cup has been left on the counter. After seeing other homes on the market, we are apparently a freakishly abnormal family because we sometimes leave things on the counter before racing off to our daytime duties. I'm now certain ours is the only house where socks land on the floor.

This is 2008 and so different from two-and-half decades ago, when I fell in love with a home for sale that had a clutter of children's art on the fridge and the mild messiness elsewhere bespoke a family that valued time together over fastidiousness.

As I erase many of the traces of our life in our home, no buyer will ever know of the happy times there. Of the marriage that has lasted. The family that almost always sat down for dinner. The mega family and friend gatherings around holidays. And the card games in front of the fire. All of the things that make a house a home.

They're too distracting for buyers tutored by reality TV. © Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008

I laughed when I read this this morning. Our market is so influenced by the media and what we see from over the border and HGTV, but I sure do like the fix and Flip Shows.

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