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012. the reside real estate podcast – home staging with annie pinsker brown, stagetosell.biz


Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of the Reside Real Estate Online Radio Show. A show about home buyer and seller education; market conditions; and financial topics. Today in our studio, we have professional stager, Annie Pinsker Brown from Stage to Sell and that is coming up right now!

David: Alright, welcome everybody. Thank you for joining us today, we’re coming to you from our studio in Santa Monica, California. The show is back. I’m very happy about that. It’s been a few months since we’ve been off the air. But we’ve had a lot of success with the show. We’ve had, I think, just over a thousand downloads on iTunes and we have about 60 subscribers, so, we are growing, which is good and the title of the show is now, The Reside Real Estate Online Radio Show instead of the Reside Realtor Online Radio Show. National Association of Realtors is very protective of the use of the word “realtor”. They sent me a nice email, letting me know that they didn’t like my use of it, basically. So, it is The Reside Real Estate Online Radio Show and I’m happy today to introduce Annie, who is a professional stager and her company is called “Stage to Sell” and if you are a seller, or you’re thinking of selling your home, you really do need to listen to this show because we’re going to talk about the importance of staging, the benefits of staging and really why you need to stage your home if you’re putting it on the market.

Annie’s going to cover all of that for us today, so without further ado… Annie, thank you for joining us.

Annie: Thank you for having me.

David: And, you are a professional stager and first off, tell us what that means and if there’s a certification or if there’s an organization that you belong to.

Annie: Thanks for asking, actually, yes. Just like realtors have their own series of accreditations and designations, the staging industry does as well. When I started 6 years ago, there was pretty much only one game in town in terms of associations that you could belong to and accreditations. I got my, what is called ASP (Accredited Staging Professional) designation through StagedHomes.com, which is probably one of the largest accreditation companies out there. Now, there have been many more that have sprung up. But as part of your ASP designation, there’s also an association – the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, which I belong to. I also belong to RESA, which is the Real Estate Staging Association. So, yes, there is an accreditation course. It is not a 4-year university. The time I take it was a 2-day course, now it has grown to 3 days. And there are also masters’ courses and pro courses, and things like that, which you can take in terms of continuing education.

David: Okay. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how your company Stage to Sell came about.

Annie: Well, I was, for many years, a producer in an entertainment industry but kind of an odd shift. I work for the last 5 ½ years before I started my business. I worked for Mattel, my toy company which you might have heard of having kids yourself.

David: Right.

Annie:  And I was a freelance producer, though I work there full time for 5 ½ years in their in-house advertising agency. I did a lot of trade show videos, print ads, things like that and had a great time. I really enjoyed being married but I was pregnant with my first child and you know, the production hours can be long and I was looking for something else. Also, at the same time, there was change in management at Mattel; they lay off the freelancers. So, it was a good timing. I took some time off at my first born and then, I’ve been watching a lot of these HDTV shows, aw we all do. Staging started popping up or something and I had been talking to my mom about it and she was thinking, she was living in the valley at that time and wanted to move close since now we had a baby. She said, “Why don’t you stage my house, let’s see what happens” and if I make enough money on it, we’ll move on to the Westside. So, I did. She was doing it for sell by owners; of course the only people who showed up are realtors. They wanted an estate and neighbors, nosy neighbors but all the realtors that came by said, “Why, this house is just great! Did you have it staged?” and I said, “Yeah, actually I staged it”. And they said, “Well, do you have a card?” and I said, “You know, I just ran out”. They didn’t even know what to say.

David: Just ran out of the card you never had.

Annie: I just ran out of cards that I never had. But you know I didn’t want to say I didn’t know what I was doing because obviously, they thought I was pretty good at it.

David: Right.

Annie: And so, there was one realtor in particular at that open house who was so interested. Staging was really kind of new at that time. There were big companies that did big estate properties, not anybody you work on your normal average every day home, really. And so, she was so interested, she wanted to meet with me the very next week. So, I went home and I googled “staging” and trying to figure out what I was going to do and I found the accreditation course for ASP, which is the only thing that I found at that time. It was only given in the Bay area at that time. So, I had to drive out to San Francisco Bay area and drove out for the weekend, took a 2-day course, came back and that realtor referred me to my first client.

David: Wow!

Annie: A condo in Culver City. It was actually her friend’s condo which we staged.

David: This was what, like 2005?

Annie: It was 2004.

David: 2004?

Annie: Yeah, So six years ago…and staged that one. At the open house for that one, a guy came through whose friend was selling his house and he said, “Oh, I have to give her your information” so, it sort of spiraled from there. One of the agents for that second client was actually in your office, Dana, or like, I think you know her.

David: Yeah.

Annie: So, she and I worked together ever since and it’s just was a really great sort of a time when things are coming together and I was kind of the only small business person doing your normal average everyday home at that time.

David: Right. Very cool and it is interesting especially in 2004-2005 was sort of probably the hay day of the market. HDTV couldn’t roll out enough of those stage-your-home-to-sell shows. So, you’ve been doing it for six years and you figured out “okay now you kind of started to build the business”, how long before you felt like, “Okay I’m on to something”. How long did it take you to figure out you knew you had something going.

Annie: You know I would say it’s been the first few years where I struggled Just like in any small business, if you’re an entrepreneur, you know and anyone who’s a realtor has their own business. It’s challenging and you’re sort f of the staffing person, you’re the in-charge person, you’re the marketing person, you’re the person who does all the work. At the beginning it wasn’t too difficult, I had a young son so, it was very part time. I would found that I had 1-2 jobs going both at the same time. It feels a little bit stressful and then there would be nothing for a month. But as things went along, I did a lot of teaching. I’m out there teaching courses in real estate offices I have been since pretty much the very beginning. And I spend a lot of time, when I didn’t have tons of work, putting together marketing materials, putting together my contracts, my presentations. So, I really kind of took the time that I had when I wasn’t busy doing those sorts of things. And then, a couple of years ago, maybe 3 years ago, I started just to be a little more steady; it was more like I didn’t have big lags where there wasn’t any work. When if it wasn’t vacant home staging or actually physically staging houses, I was doing consultations for people living in their homes. I got more and more repeat clients who would hire me for every listing, things like that. It’s just been the last couple of years, well, 2009 was a crazy year so that doesn’t really count, but other than that, it’s been 2008 and 2010 have been just really, really going like gangbusters -it’s been great.

David: And you mentioned a couple of things working with realtors but you also do work with home owners directly, correct?

Annie: I do. Yes, I do a lot of work directly with home owners. A lot of times, they contact me directly but many times the realtors bring me in as a service to their clients and they say, “If you sign a listing agreement with me, I’ll bring in a professional home stager, you can have a consultation for 2 or 3 hours and she’s going to tell us exactly what we need to do to get this home ready for sale”. So, I actually love that part of my business. It’s so fun. I have a funny story about a week or two ago, one of my very best clients asked me to do a job on a Sunday and it was just because there was no other way to do it and you know I got family and it was hard, I was exhausted from a long week of staging and I didn’t want to go and I was just like, “It’s the last thing I want to be doing. Turns out, it was the nicest family couple. It was just one of those situation where you spent 2-3 hours with a couple and you’ve never would have met them otherwise and you have this great connection and just really enjoyed them and went home and just said, “This is why I love my job”. I wasn’t excited about this, but it turns out I met some really cool people, gave them some really great solutions for what to do to get the most money for their house. It’s great!

David: Very cool. And let’s talk about what staging is because I think, sometimes, people will hear the word staging and automatically think $5-10,000 is flowing out of there wallet. And it’s often times not necessarily the case especially the service that you provide, so tell us a little bit about that. Maybe walk us a little bit what a consultation is and then we get more into the full blown staging.

Annie: Sure. First, let’s talk about staging, what is staging? Maybe nobody’s heard of it or some people on your show haven’t heard of it. Staging is really just the process of preparing the home for sale in a way that you would prepare anything that’s going to market that’s going to have to compete against other things that are on the market and it’s with the goal, of course, of getting the most money and the quickest sale possible. So that’s what staging is in a nutshell.

David: Actually, I want to stop you there because that is worth repeating. So, what it really is is getting your home ready to sell and it’s not necessarily bringing all these new furniture and bringing all these stuff, obviously that can be part of it but not necessarily. It’s getting your home ready to sell on the market and you help them decide what exactly that means.

Annie: Exactly. There are many times where, of course if it’s a family and they’re living on their home while it’s on the market we’re not going to say, “Okay, move everything out including you, your kids and your dogs and we’re going to bring everything in. And it’s going to be nice and fresh like a model home and you can’t sit on the furniture, would you mind?

David: Right.

Annie: That’s not how I work. Now, there are some stagers who will not work on homes that are occupied for decent reasons but that’s not me. What we do and what a lot of stagers do, with consultation. That sort of is the basic first stepping point for someone who’s living in their house while it’s on the market – you always start with a consultation. What this is, I come to the home, I spend 2-3 hours on site going through that you give me a tour, I see the lay of the land; you ask any questions that you may have already. You may say, “Shall we pay?”, “Shall we do this scenario thing. And then, after the initial tour, I’m going to take my laptop and go room to room. I spend time in each room. I walk back and forth between rooms and I make a detail room-by-room written report telling the seller what they can do using what is already in the house to stage it nine times out of ten -most things are already on your home. Let’s just say, “Move the chair that’s currently on your master bedroom into the living room at an angle facing towards the sofa but on the other side flanking the fireplace”. Very detailed and it’s not about interior design and I just want to make things look pretty. I always say I’m in the real estate industry; I’m not in the design industry. And of course what I do everything looks pretty that’s not really the question and that’s not really the point. As I’m going through your house, room by room, what I’m thinking about is exactly what buyers are going to think about as they walk into each room. One of the first steps that I take is I stand in the doorway at every single room because most people that come into your house when they’re looking at an open house situation, don’t ever enter the room, with the exception of the living room where you can’t help it,  bedroom, things like that. They stand in the doorway and if you watch people at an open houses you’ll see this, they stand there, they peek in and then they move on to the next room. At least at the initial viewing, later, they may get more involve. So, you always have to take a step back and look from you doorway, if you’re doing this on your own. What does it look like to buyers? Is there’s something that’s grabbing my eye but shouldn’t be? Is there a giant piece of furniture that’s not supposed to be in that spot? Does it look like closets are being blot or windows are being blot by pieces of furniture that might be too large? Let’s say, does it have good feng shui, not that I’m a feng shui practitioner, but there are a few things like, you never want your back, if you’re sitting at a desk or lying in bed,  to be facing the doorway so that someone could walk in and you wouldn’t see them. So, little things like that I think about when I come up with my suggestions for people. And of course, a lot of it is what I call the 3 steps of staging, which are decluttering, we all have a little problem with clutter; neutralizing, making it so that anyone can feel at home, not too stylized in one way or another; and then, adding the wow factor is at the end, which is the sort of redesign face but, we don’t ever always get to that. A lot of times people take my list from the consultation report. They do everything on the list and then they’re done; I never see them again. The house goes on the market and if we’ve done our jobs right and is priced well, it sells quickly.

Now, there are sometimes things on my list that are not in the house. For instance, let’s say the bedding is from 1973 and it’s stained and not looking at its best or if it’s got a really bold pattern that you just can’t get passed, that’s not current, I might ask them to either run or purchase some new bedding. Generally, I’m not going to rent bedding to someone who’s living in the house while it’s on the market because we’re going to be using it and my bedding it’s not meant to be used -just for show. So, I would suggest what to get and where they could even buy it, if you need a queen-sized, very neutral comforter and wide and whatever it is. I might say the same thing for your window treatments. Take out your big, heavy curtains that you have here and let’s put in sheers and here’s where you can get them. So, I make it easy for people to, as much as I can, if they want to have these things or if it’s something that they’re going to be able to reuse in their own home that they’re moving in to. I prefer to let them just buy it, and use it, and have it. If it’s furniture, let’s say, the furniture that they have -they have a tiny home and they have a giant furniture. You may have seen this before and the furniture is just completely not in scale with the home. A lot of times they know it and they already said, “Look, I know”.

David: Right.

Annie:  So, what can we do? Sometimes they will move things into storage or sometimes they’re getting rid of that anyway and will just go ahead and buy a new set with my guidance or in some cases, we do rent those things to them. We also rent things like artwork, accessories. Sometimes, we deal a lot of bachelor pads and the guys just don’t have that feminine touch. So, we’ll bring in things  that kind of make it more appealing,  And we can also, as part of the consultation,  we recommend pink colors not white, everybody thinks they should paint they’re house white and they come and they’re saying, “Aren’t you happy? We just painted it. It’s all white.” (Nooo..)  So, we recommend nice, neutral, warm pink colors that are going to show off things like moldings and details -architectural details- and then, look nice in the home for anyone to feel like they can move right in.

David: And I think what’s interesting about this consultation and really, in my opinion, anybody who’s considering selling their home should at, the bare minimum, have a consultation because for a few hundred dollars, they can get a list from you to cover everything that they need to do to get their home ready to put on the market.  You said a lot of good information in there and one of the first things I want to talk about is the staging versus of interior design, because I think some of the things that you do as a stager, people won’t necessarily do in their home if they live there. But, when you stage it, it looks good, it looks right, it creates the emotion which is what we’re really after for the potential buyers.

Annie: Definitely. So, interior design is really about personalizing a space for your client, whoever that is. Whoever’s going to living in the home, if they like blues and greens, you’re going to be using blues and greens. A lot of times, an interior designer really focus on filling the room with things either you already have, that you love or adding additional things, accessories, plants everywhere. A lot of times, not everyone, but you see rooms that have been interior designed and they’re beautiful but not what you would want in a staged home.  Staged home is, in a way, depersonalizes. It’s the opposite of what we do in interior design with personalizing a space. We try to depersonalize the space, not so that it looks bland and cookie cutter but so that we’re not really focusing on all that “Oh, that’s such a beautiful sofa” and “Oh, that piece of art”. We’re focusing on the room itself. Does it feel large? Does it feel open? Is it awkwardly laid out or does the layout seem like it make sense? Where am I going to put my TV? These are all really important questions. Any architectural details -fireplaces, high ceilings, crown moldings, I’m always trying to draw the buyers eye to things that are important, that are going to be staying with the house. Not my furniture and my throw pillows because those aren’t going to be staying. They’re not going to be buying those with the house. So, it’s really about selling the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the details of the home, and the square footage. That’s kind of the cracks of the difference between interior design and staging. And of course to be fair, all of our stage properties, especially when we come in and do a vacant home where there’s nothing and we start from scratch, we do get to have fun and make it look really beautiful. But it’s much more important that it also feel functional for a buyer.

David: Right. And I know as realtors and home owners, we have a very short time in which to capture the buyer’s interest because  as soon as they’re walking in that door, they’re already making the decision in their mind -whether they know it or not. And, we really have to connect with them. We want the house or the space to somehow connect with them and probably the biggest compliment that they could say would be, to say something like, “Oh, I could see us living here” or “I could see us moving right in” kind of thing.

Annie: Right. We call that…we want them to be mentally moving into the home the minute they walk through the door.

David: Right.

Annie: The numbers vary, but some people say you have between 5 and 30 seconds to really grab a buyer’s attention and make them want to stay. You have to imagine a buyer today might be seeing 10 homes in a day. Maybe that’s an average on a Sunday; they’re going out with their realtor and they’re going to preview 10 homes. That’s a lot. So, to keep them all straight in their heads, if they’re walking through and the homes looks “nah-uh” and it may look just like their home -full of toys and box and God knows what all over the place. There was nothing about it that just immediately grab them, so that, as they’re thinking back on their day, “Which one was that?” When you see a staged home, it’s really unforgettable if the stager has done a correct job -a job well done. It’s basically the first few seconds, we really try to bring people in and we want them to start thinking about, “Oh, this could be Bobby’s room” and “When grandma comes, she could stay here”. It’s really important to make that emotional connection because without the emotional connection, yours just becomes one of ten and then it comes down to price condition -those things that are really important. But, if there’s no emotional connection, you’d really aren’t competing at the highest level with the other products that are on the market.

David: Right. And we, as homeowners, do need to compete at the highest level because you mentioned something about a buyer seeing ten homes in one day, which is not unrealistic. And, buyers today -and this is very important for you sellers- are seeing a lot of properties. They are not buying the first thing they see; they’re not typically putting offers on the first thing they see, so, your house need to stand out, as you were mentioning.

Annie: Not only that. You bring up a good point which is that, something like 90% of buyers are pre-shopping online before they ever set foot in an open house. It’s not like the old days -you’d take your Sunday newspaper and go out and look at all the open houses. No way. Now, they’re calling everything down, they’re getting a list from their realtor like, “Here’s the ones the fall into your specifications” and then they’ll look. And, there’s the virtual tour, there’s many photos. If you were out there, on the MLS looking at what’s out there, you see a lot of really horrible, awful photos on the MLS -dishes in the sink, looking at an unmade bed. What is that selling about the home? Also, it’s really hard sometimes looking at empty bedroom that just looks like walls; you can’t even get your bearing. The photos are so, so important right now more than ever just because people are not even going to go to an open house unless they’ve been impress by what they’ve seen online. And if they’re not impress and if it looks like you haven’t taken the time to make the bed, at the bare minimum -sort of decluttering, get rid of some of the stuff that we all have lying on the house- and you’ve just let the photos be what they will. That’s actually going to be the buyer’s first impression and it’s not going to be a great one if they don’t think you’ve taken the time to just get it in really showing condition.

David: And I think, homeowners or potential sellers or sellers-to-be ,really need to understand that the realtors not necessarily going to take care of this stuff because I have see a lot of homes that show terrible. And my biggest pet peeve is when I go into an open house and the toilet seat is up. And then I go out and I look at the real town and it kind of speaks to the realtors of how much they really care – or their lack of care- in the property. I think most of the properties that I see are not staged and don’t show out and with my sort of architectural background and being able to visualize spaces. I definitely see homes that if it was a little decluttered, if it was a little depersonalized, it would show better and they might actually get offers on something.

Annie: Exactly and it doesn’t have to be expensive changes. We’re not talking about all furniture and everything. My best comments that I get from homeowners who say, “God, the changes that I never would have thought of that and look at what a huge difference it made”. You can be amazed what just rearranging the furniture, removing certain pieces. “We’ve been living in our homes for a long time , we’re just used to seeing them the way they are; it doesn’t even look out of the ordinary to us”. And so, when someone comes in with a fresh eye, the suggestions you can get, if you’re open to them, can sometimes be all it takes to change yours from like “hmmm”- 1 of those ten on the list- to “Wow, I remember seeing that one and it is really great”.

David: And let’s talk about, you’ve mentioned about the 3 main points of staging. So, let’s talk about point number -clutter, which I think a lot of people can probably relate to with (I think you did a video the other day on Facebook, talking about a rooster collector, cow colllectors…

Annie: Yes, the ceramic oysters…

David: Tell me a little bit about decluttering.

Annie: Well, here’s a thing, as a realtor you know that really what you’re selling when it comes down to it is square footage and anything that’s going to eat in to the square footage of a home visually and make it appear smaller than it actually is, is really eating into your seller’s equity. So, we sometimes say clutter eats equity and it’s true because you can look at 2 photos of the same room and see before staging and after staging when the furniture is oversized for the room, there’s too much of it, there are all sorts of clutter here and there and everywhere. It can really make a room visually feel a lot smaller than it is. And when you have the after shot that shows the properly scaled furniture -same similar pieces but fewer of them and a little bit of breathing room. One thing that buyers are always thinking about when they walk through your house is they’re trying to place a certain piece, whether it’s their grandfather clock or their giant piece of art. Whatever it is, they’ve got a piece that their trying to look for where it’s going to go in that house. And if they don’t see any breathing room, visually, it’s very difficult for them to say, “Well, I could move that giant thing out of the way and put my thing there”. Most people have no vision that way; you and I can visualize the space in that way but 90% of buyers cannot. So, they walk in, there’s no place for their grandfather clock in the living room, so, what  are they going to do with it and they kind of lose interest in it and pulls them out of the moment. We try and leave a little bit of empty space; it may not be the way you’d actually live in a home, that’s not really important (this is again with vacant staging). There may be less furniture than you would normally put in there, less things on the walls but it is really about giving the buyer the tool to see and envision their own things in the home and make it feel like there’s room for them. So, that’s kind of decluttering and yes, it’s true, when we have collections, a lot of sellers have things that they’ve been collecting over the years. I always use the ceramic roosters as an example and they have them everywhere, there are hundreds of them and their obviously something that these people love and it’s very important to them. But what happens is, when a buyer comes through, they get really focused on who’s living in the house right now; they say, “Oh, look at these roosters and wow, here’s another one and look at this one…”. They get really focused on the thing -whatever it is- or all the stuff and they’re not really focusing on the rooms. Well, you’re not selling your roosters with the house, not to mention, it could be, people walking through could accidentally knock one over and who knows what’s going to happen, so, I often advice people to remove these sorts of collections that are going to be distracting to a buyer, both for keeping it safe for your next home and also making it once again a very neutral space that anyone can feel like they could move right in to.

David: And that’s a good point to for the realtors listening to this show. We obviously want to stand in the good graces of the seller and personally, I don’t believe we’re in the best position to say, “Hey, I don’t think you should have your rooster collections out”. I think bringing a stager to have that conversation kind of frame it more in nicer terms, I guess, for a lack of better word but it’s also a smart thing to do.

Annie: Yeah you can say, “Hey, I think the house looks great but let’s bring in a professional -this is her job, this is all she does all the time. Let her tell us if there’s anything we could do to make the room better, right?” And you don’t have to upset the relationship that you’ve worked so hard to build with your client. And it’s easier I think also, sometimes you’ve been working with this person for a while and you’re opinion on something, they may not agree with for some reason but when it’s an outside person that they’ve never met before who’s a professional, they tend to take it a little more seriously. And just so you know, there’s a lot of shows out there where the person who comes through to evaluate can be very harsh and not polite is a good way of saying it, ” I can’t believe you live like this” or however they phrase it and just so you know, a professional stager who has an ASP accreditation or certain other ones as well who have a code of ethics, you would never ever offend the client purposely, certainly with anything you say. We have lots of ways to that we’re trying to say, things in a very nice way that doesn’t make it a personal attack on this person or their style. It’s just a about what are we going to do to get this home sold quickly.

David: And the training is important to but I would imagine you’ve must have a whole bunch of experience over the last 5 or 6 years and just working with different homeowners you can fairly, quickly imagine now going into a house and start to see the personality type of that person, you probably had your script going in your head.

Annie: Sure, it’s a lot of what I do is psychology. Moving is a very stressful time, it’s one of the most stressful things people can go through. And when they’re selling a home, a lot of people have a lot going on. It’s not just me, there’s painters walking around, there’s having to move, having to find a new school where they’re going and all these other things that have nothing to do with me. So, I have to always be conscious when I’m coming through the stress that they may be under. I never make it seem like, “This is just really easy for you”. I try and really be empathetic about it and just say,”I understand what you’re going through. These are very tough time and let’s see what we can do to make this an easier transition for you with the goal of getting a quick sale so that you can move on to the next phase of your life.”

David: And let’s talk about the second thing you’ve mentioned was neutralizing and what exactly are we doing there?

Annie: Neutralizing kind of goes back to the whole idea of mentally moving into the home, which we’ve sort of touch before. As soon as buyers come in, we want them to be able to start seeing themselves and their family living in the home. So, the last thing that we want is a bunch of your (the seller’s) personal things. They are going to start distracting from what we want the buyers to be seeing -which is themselves in the home and picturing themselves in the home. For instance, if we have very specific wall colors, I had a place, I think I may have showed you my presentation where there was a black living room wall in a 700 sq ft place and the whole thing was black…

David: That’s total batch look bad

Annie: Actually, it wasn’t…

David: Oh, it wasn’t?

Annie: Yeah, you would I think. And wood paneling, the naughty pine wood paneling. These are things that would make it very difficult for me and my family to walk in and say, “Oh, I can picture myself moving right in with the black wall”. So, it’s things like that, the other things that we trying to do are to minimize and hopefully, completely get rid of our personal photos, trophies, things that have you’re diplomas, things like that, that are going to drop people into “Oh, the person…”, “Oh, he…”, “I see they went to Hawaii in they’re honeymoon. I went to Hawaii in my honeymoon”. They’re not thinking about your house anymore, they’re thinking about you and your stuff. So, that’s not what we want. There’s another side issue which is safety and if you’re a parent, as I am and you are, if you have in your child’s room big letters with their name , pictures of their school and where they go to school and where they take Karate class – associated with their name. I just feel like that’s not a safe situation so, I always recommend that people remove anything that’s going to associate your child -picture, name, where they go to school- anything like that. Just because you never know who’s coming through open houses and I just feel it’s a safety measure that we should all take when we put our house on the market.

David: That’s a very good point and let’s talk a little bit about how you do work with the family that is living in a home especially if they have too young kids, they have a kids room and it obviously has… and I imagine, no matter what you do it still going to look like a kids room because the kids got to sleep somewhere because they’re still living in the house. So, how do you handle that situation?

Annie: Well, a lot of times when we have homes that have kids rooms, it’s in the family neighborhood anyway, so you’re generally appealing…one of the questions I always ask to the realtor and to the sellers, “Who lives in this neighborhood?”, “Who’s moving in?”. If it’s a condo, a complex, what kinds of families and people are living in these homes because we want to know who our target buyer is, just like you do when you’re going to market the home? I want to know when I’m staging it so that I can try and appeal directly to that buyer. So, if it is in a family neighborhood and we’ve got a kids room, fine, let’s do it as a kid’s room. Let’s say it’s bright pink or it has got purple butterflies flying all over the place, I might suggest that they neutralize the wall color because we might have someone who’s got both two boys coming in or no kids or they just can’t get passed that. And so, we can do the sort of kiddy stuff with the bedding, the window treatments, anything that’s not staying with the home and let the wall be a little bit more neutral so that anyone coming in feels like, once again, they could move their children right in. The other thing is, we try to…one of the things you notice in family homes is that, the kids’ room has spilled out into every other room in the house. The master bathroom is where they get bathe, so they got all their rubber duckies everywhere, you know…

David: I have no idea what you’re talking about :)

Annie: I’m sure you don’t, I’m sure your house is perfect. Let me in there for a few minutes… just kidding. You know, like me, we’ve got this giant rocking horse in my living room which I, you know… And there’s only so much you can do when you’re a parent, but, one of the things I do is I say, “Look, this is for a short time. We are focusing on the first week or two that this home is on the market and we’re going to try and sold it in that amount of time. So, work with me and let’s do that. And one thing we can do, and I just met with a person the other day who had a bunch of stuff in a kids room and I was like, “How much of these do they use?” and she went, “None of it”. I laughed because it’s true. They would much rather do 80 other things that they don’t have and they want to buy 80 other things but they never use what they already have, right? So, in that case, let’s clear it out now so that, while your house is on the market -there’s two reasons…one is, obviously while your house is on the market, it will look at lot more open and spacious and clean and neat. But the other reason is, when you get into escrow and hopefully it’s going to be quickly if you’ve staged and priced right, you are going to have 30 days to get your whole life out of that house, right? And there are other things going on. You’ve got escrow and this and paperwork and all sorts of other things. If you have taken the time before you list your home to pack up all that junk , take out anything that’s out of season – all your heavy winter coats and your boots if it’s summer time, put them away, pack them up already so  that you don’t have to deal with them. And then, when your house does goes into escrow, you’ll just have the basics to deal with. That will just be the furniture movers will come and take the furniture; you won’t have to go to every chore and deal with 80 years of clutter.

David: That’s such a good point because if sellers are putting our home on the market and they’re leaving a bunch of junk around and not decluttering; they going to deal with it anyway because if they sell the house…so, why not deal with it at the beginning so then, you’re house shows better. But it seems like most people don’t get it and maybe even the realtors don’t get it because they’re not letting their clients know.

Annie: I don’t know that they fully understand it and get it and also, there’s different agenda so, a lot of times it’s about timing the market and let’s rush to get this on the market as soon as possible. Sometimes, I have to come in (sometimes I get a call) and they say, “Oh, just get this listing, it’s going on the market on Tuesday (it’s Friday), can you come in on Monday and give us a list of what to do?” Well, yeah, but how are they going to do it? That’s one day, like, there’s no time. It’s not like I’m just going to say, “Oh, it looks great. Let’s just move this sofa over 3 inches and we’ll be done”. You’d be surprise. I have great agent that I work with all the time and he’s very well established in the industry.  And he always says to me, “Oh, this will be an easy one; you’re not going to find anything” and it cracks me out because I come in 4 pages later of notes. There’s a lot that I can find even in a beautiful home. It’s not about the beauty; it’s about the buyer and so, there’s always a lot of work to do and I stress that it’s so important before you hit the market, because you only have that really first 2 weeks as you know to have your buzz. I mean, that’s when you’re going to get all the agents in your office coming through; that’s when you’re going to get the most buyers who are out there looking, “Oh, there’s something new on the market, let me go see it”.  I have some sellers who say, “Hmm, I get it. I know we should probably stage but I hate to spend the money and the time and so why not we just put on the market, see what happens for the first month, right?” Well, we all know what happens in the first month. You don’t get any offers or if you do, they’re really low ball offers because there’s some competition out there right now. It’s not the seller’s market that it used to be. And then, you’ve lost that first buzz time. And so, you as the agent are now going to come up with some other way to get people back into that house. Most people aren’t going to want come see it again; they’ll just look for when the number drops…the price drops.

David: Well, that’s exactly it. Now, you’re on price reduction and which is a good point and I know part of your marketing is the cost of staging is less than your first price reduction, and it’s true.

Annie: So, true. Always, there’s a not a time when it will not be.

David: Now, your third item -let’s talk about that one. What was that one?

Annie: Oh, redesign, that’s the wow factor.

David: There you go. Yes.

Annie: So this is the fun part for me but I don’t always get to do it. We sort of want to bring in that kind of “bling”. Now, this may be not so prissy to say but it’s generally the women who made the purchasing decisions in probably 70% of the situations. So, we want to make sure that we’re not just, you know, there are certain things that man just maybe don’t even care or they gloss over. “Does it have room for my TV, do I have my little man cave, and do I have a place for my office? Great, I’m set, that’s all I really care about. Now, I let her decide with the rest of it.” So, we want to appeal to those women who come in and also men who have more concern of the way the place looks and kind of the aesthetic of it. Some of the things we do, well of course we work on vacant properties which is kind of fun because we come in and we bring everything; we bring furniture, art, rugs, plant, accessories, towels for the bathrooms, linens for the beds, everything to make it feel like a model home. I wouldn’t say like a home that someone’s actually living in because most people aren’t fooled when they see a staged home generally. We don’t put clothes in the closets; we don’t put things in the drawers… that sort of thing. So, I don’t think we’re out there to fool anybody but what we are there to do is to create this mood and this feeling of aspiration -this is how I could look if I were live here. So, that’s kind of fun and of course, we go to the ultimate extremes because we can pick whatever we want -budget, of course, being an issue. We can pick the furniture to make sure it’s the right scale, the right layout. Everything is done exactly for trying to bring out something…oh, here’s a good example, I just staged a bunch of homes in Venice, so I try to really bring in a beachy “feel” there because we’re so close to the ocean. In one of the kids’ rooms, I put in a surf board. We were really trying to create a lifestyle there. Flip flops out by in a nice shade, lounge in the hotel, out by the hot tub. So, you really get that feeling as you’re walking through, “Boy I can really picture the lifestyle that I would have if I live here”. But in people’s homes who are living in them or on the market, we still have another service that we do. Say we’ve done the consultation and we’ve said, “We’ve done all the basics, move out all the stuff on column A, rearrange the stuff in column B towards like this…and now, you don’t have any art on the walls -maybe to specific or something like that, or not the right scale . So, we need to bring in some art for above the mantle, mirror for the dining room to make the room a little bit bigger. I was in a bachelor pad recently where they had two kids; it was definitely a family neighborhood. They have these 2 extra bedrooms but they didn’t really have anything in them. So, we created two kids rooms. I brought in inflatable mattresses and we set one up in a young child’s room where we hung some cute art and made it with cute little bedding set. And the other one, which had a desk in it, we arranged as a teenagers room which could also be guest room or an office. So, we made it skew a little bit older. We put out some textbooks on the desk and things like that and a little laptop. We’re always trying to bring it up to the next level. Event tough the stuff that you have there maybe fine if sellers are willing to invest a little bit more, we can sort of hone that focus to make sure that we’re really appealing to those specific buyers whether it’s people who we want to just bowl over with how beautiful it looks with the colors and everything being so warm and beautiful and flowers, accessories, or if it’s the parents coming in and looking for something to connect them to who could be in this room, who could be in that room. So, that’s kind of adding the “wow” factor, the redesigning is the third step of staging.

David: And so you do the consultation, which really anybody should do if they’re considering selling their home. And then, there are steps in there that if the home owner wanted to hire you to help them do that, you could do that. And then, the third is really the vacant home staging,

Annie: Exactly, yes. So, anyone living in their home while it’s on the market, we start with the consultation before we do anything else. Sometimes, people say why need a quote for you to come in and stage my house with what’s there and bringing in stuff. I can’t until I’ve done that first step because you don’t want to pay me to pack up your stuff. I’m a very expensive packer. That wouldn’t be a good use of money. So, there are certain things I’m going to have you do before I ever come back. Some things may take time, there’s always, “What am I going to give away?”, “What am I going to give to my brother-in-law?” Those sorts of decisions need to be made before, so that you can clear everything out. It’s part of that preparation in getting things in a place where you’re actually more prepared to move on and go on to the market so you don’t have 30 days to just do everything. Once that’s done, once I’ve seen the home, I’ve delivered you your consultation report, you start on it, then, I can prepare you a quote that would say for $x, I’ll come back in. All the items on my consultation reports are room by room. At the bottom of the list of to-do’s for a room, which may be there’s 5 to-do’s for the living room. Then, there will be items with asterisk possibly which would be rent or purchase items. And that’s like I said, art for above the mantle, a mirror in the dining room, whatever it is that you need so that, let’s say, you may decide , I’m going to take that list, get all that stuff myself and keep it. But let’s say, you don’t and you wouldn’t want to get involve in that, you would say, “How much would it be for you to bring all those asterisk items and set them up?” So addition to just bringing them and dropping them off, of course, we hang the art, we make the beds, we do whatever needs to be done in that regard. And there would be a quote over and above what’s already paid for either by yourself or by the realtor for the staging consultation part then, there is now physical staging by using mostly your own things and then bringing in additional stuff. And then the third is of course, they get model home staging.

David: The kind of staging that they’re living in the home, you do the consultation and you do some staging for them. About how much is that cost? Under $5,000, I’m assuming?

Annie: Oh certainly, yeah. It’s generally depending on how much is needed. Sometimes, its one piece of art or it’s a fake TV because they don’t have a TV and we have to set up and show that. Anywhere I would say from $500 to $2,500. And it could be a little bit more if it’s a really big house and they need a lot or they need furniture as well, if there’s an issue of furniture. But that’s probably no more than about $2,500 for that service and a lot of times, significantly less than that. And then for vacant staging, we’ve staged all different sorts of homes so there is a range. But I would say most of what we staged  for our market cost between about $3,500 and about $7,000- $8,000 at the very highest for a two- to three-month rental depending on what we’re doing. And most of what we do, I would say 90% of what we do falls between about $4,5000 -$6,500. So, that’s a really good estimate right there.

David:  And the price point, I think, that you work under is about $1.2 M?

Annie: Actually, yes but I try and stay on 1.5 but we’re in Los Angeles so who knows who’s listening to this could be like, “What?!…” The truth is here, that’s a lot of properties. I have gone up to about 3.5. I don’t like to stage estate properties, giant homes and thousands of square feet. That’s just not me; it’s not where I’ve concentrated my inventory. The homes that I staged in that upper price range are generally more contemporary homes. I do a lot of more modern contemporary style, just; obviously, we do what’s right for the home. But that just happens to be what I get a lot these days and so, I do have inventory to go a little bit higher. And I have 3 different companies; I work with 2 depending on the job. Really, it’s not all the same company if you live in a $300,000 condo or if you live in $2.5 M new construction home.

David: And I think what’s interesting about the price point why I brought it up…let’s say, somebody has an $800,000 home that they want to sell. In my mind, they’re living there, so they’re not vacant staging yet But they live there. They’re going to put it on the market, say, for $800,000. To spend $2,500 to stage it seems like a no brainer to me because they’re going to get more than that back if their homes are going to sell quicker. And that’s going to sell for more money and it’s going to certainly sell for more than the $2,500 that they invested in that.

Annie: Definitely. HomeGain has a study every year; they do on like, what’s the biggest bang for your buck and return an investment. And staging is right up there with one of the highest returns on investment that you can get. Now, what I always want to say is that, the other really important factor is pricing -you know this of course. There are two things that are going to make it a sale happen quickly (and we have to work together to make this happen). One is the right price and the other is the staging. Without a good price, no amount of staging is going to make an $800,000 home sell for a$1.5 million. It just doesn’t happen.

David: And no amount of advertising is going to make it sell. You could spend$100,000 advertising; an overpriced home is not going to work.

Annie: Right, so it really does have to be a partnership between the real estate agent, the seller and the stager to come up with what everybody’s going to be comfortable with.  And yes, it is an investment. Staging is definitely an investment because you will get a return on it. I do have a lot of people say, “Well, I can’t afford it until the house sells”. Somehow, I’d rather take $20,000 price reduction instead of paying $2,500 to stage it upfront. It’s a hard concept for people, I think, sometimes. But once they get it, then they go, “Ah -no brainer!”

David: And that is a good point that, let’s say, I put a listing on for $800,000 and I don’t stage it. And 4 weeks later, I have to reduce it to probably $780,000 minimum if not, less. Now, I’m already reducing it 20,000…25,000…30,000 where if I just staged it for say, $2,500 or there about; I might have a shot at the $800,000 assuming it was priced at market value, of course.

Annie: Exactly and Gary Keller, in his book, Shift, talks about staging as one of the top strategies for selling in a down market. And one of the things he says is if you wait to stage then you’re going to be having to have them take a hit on the price in addition to paying for the staging. So that’s why it’s so important when they say, “Let’s see what happens that first month”. Well, you’re going to have a problem now because then, you’re going to balk it. Not only that I’m going to tell you what your house is really worth but also the investment you’re going to have to make to stage it.

David: Do you get many of those calls that have been on for a while and now, Annie, we need your magic?

Annie: I do. More and more, I think (and it’s a factor of the market right now), people just don’t have lots of cash on hand. We all know that the economy is bad. I never blame people for making that decision. I sort of feel bad in a way. There was one seller; I staged a vacant place recently in the last month. When I finally met the agent (I had met with only the agent) and talked to her, she said, “I tried to convince him from the beginning. The house has been on the market for 3 months empty. And she said, “I told him…I told him…I told him we had to stage. He didn’t want to spend the money and he wanted to list it at what it was worth when he bought it”. So, 3 months later, a $100,000 in price reductions already. And now, he has to pay $4- $5,000 to stage it. And he said to me, “I am kicking myself that I didn’t do this from the beginning. I could have saved all this time, all the caring -you’re not even talking about the caring costs. What am I paying in my mortgage, my insurance and everything else to keep that one? Especially if I’ve moved on and a lot of times with vacant ones, they have already moved on.

David: Yeah, that’s a good point and I think that’s one of the criticisms I have of realtors and not necessarily in this case because I don’t know the details. But, realtors who take overpriced listings and are not really honest with their clients because they want to get the listing. They don’t want to lose the listing. It’s really a disservice to the sellers and the homeowners and it just drive me nuts. It happens a lot; in fact the data I was looking at the other day on the Westside -25% of the homes on the market are going to expire. It’s just crazy.

Annie: It is. It’s an insane thing. And then, I look at my statistics, I don’t know if you’ve been following; I just posted it in Facebook statistics of what’s been selling that I’ve staged recently. And when you look at what’s going on the general part of the market, with things sitting longer and longer prices, lower and lower and more and more price reductions. Then, you look at what’s happening with, especially the vacants that we worked on because those I have ultimate control over and I know that they are right. We’re selling most of them on the first two weeks -add or over asking in almost every case. And if you can get results like that in today’s market, that’s something we were getting back when I first started, if things are going well we would get multiple offers immediately. Now, everything I’m doing is pretty much multiple offers, selling in the first week or two and for over asking. You know?

David: Yeah, nothing else needs to be said.

Annie: Nothing to say about it…

David: But let me ask you this because that does bring up a point. You must be pretty tuned in to the market and do you know when you walk into the house, if the realtor has listed it or wants to list it at the right price or do you know if it’s a little overpriced so you tuned in on what you’re doing or you’re not paying enough attention.

Annie: The reason I don’t get involve with that is because, I am not a realtor. I don’t have a license and it’s actually illegal for me to give any advice on pricing. So I stay completely out of that conversation, with the exception that I do generally have a conversation with the realtor about what is your view of how this is priced. And they know, they know and we can’t always blame them because a lot of times they have tried their utmost and said, “There’s no way it’s going to sell at this” and the seller is well-informed that it’s above market value but they still want to list it there and you know, what you’re going to do? But we do have a conversation; sometimes people will say to me, realtors will say, “I told her she has to stage because she wants to get $200,000 more than this property is worth”. And I say, “Wait a minute, don’t put that on me!” No amount of staging is going to make an $800,000 sell for $1M. We can’t assume that just staging is going to solve all the problems. It has to be in combination with the good price.

David: That’s exactly it and it’s interesting too, setting the right price of the home is really 80% of the marketing -that’s already done. And everything else, just sort of falls into place and you stage it…it’s just, it makes sense.

Annie: And there are a lot of different strategies out there for pricing. I’m sure that can be a whole other discussion that some people are right now, pricing things really low and hoping got get it bid up and multiple things like that and some are pricing it just above where it should be and hoping to maybe bring people up into that price range. So, there are a lot of strategies for it but whatever your strategy is, as long as you’ve got price and staging working together, you could really have a good chance.

David: Not that this is suppose to sound like an infomercial for staging but I’m definitely a believer of staging. And it works. And it just makes sense and I think especially because in today’s market there are buyers who are really looking online and if you want to sell, you really have to make your home stand out. You got to make it stand apart from the crowd.

Annie: It’s a product; just like any other product that’s in a marketplace. And if you’re going to put a serial, a new serial on the shelves, you’re going to make sure that that’s marketed properly and it’s going to appeal all the buyers and you’re going to figure out your pricing and how that’s strategy is going to work. It’s the same thing for a house.  I often liken getting your house prepared for sale the same as detailing your house the way that you would detail your car. This is really a great analogy for people who maybe have sold a car. You know you would never show your car to someone unless you had had it completely vacuumed and you’d thrown out all that old crackers and whatever is accumulated; and vacuumed and shampooed…

David: Goldfish…

Annie: Yes. Goldfish, pacifiers, who knows what’s out there. But you would never take that step with your car and yet with our home, which is so much more of a valuable asset for most people, a lot of times we see that they have not taken the same care that they would even though this is a much more important sale for most people than a car.

David: Yeah and I would imagine that where ever that somebody is living there would be stager or staging company or somebody in their area that they could contact to find out more about staging. So, your website is StageToSell.biz and the website that people can go, they can obviously check you out there but if they’re not in the area, they can go where to find one?

Annie: Good question. www.StagedHomes.com is one great resource and you can type in your zip code and/or the city that you live in and it will bring up ASP accredited Staging Professionals in your area. I think also the RESA (Real Estate Staging Association) has a similar website (I don’t know the URL for it). But StagedHomes is a great place to start; it’s where I send people when I don’t know the area. They could look at all the different people and they’ll have feature pages where they can look at their work, their philosophy, find out a little more about them and narrow down who they think might be the best person for them to work with.

David: Alright, I think we covered the basis with our staging and at 56 minutes, it goes by fast, right?

Annie: Oh my goodness…

David: You’re a talker.

Annie: I am a talker, sorry.

David: That’s okay. Annie I want to thank you so much for joining us today.

Annie: Thank you for having me.

David: Very helpful and hopefully everybody got some good information and if you’re thinking of selling your home, by all means, stage it. My name is David Doucette, I want to thank you so much for joining us for The Reside Real Estate Online Radio Show. I almost said Daily Bite there, which actually you can check out ResideDailyBite.com and check out the daily video blog there as well. Thank you so much for checking us out.