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People Real Estate

Setting the Stage for a Successful Sale

September 11, 2018

In a buyer’s market, smart sellers and their agents use the power of proper staging to make their properties for sale stand out in a crowded marketplace.  We sat down with several of our firm’s top staging experts to learn a few tricks of the trade.

Jimmi Circosta, Park Avenue South

What is your top staging tip?  What is something you ALWAYS include/do when readying an apartment for sale?

When staging, never over-do it.  The goal is to create more space in the apartment, not clutter.  In the case of homes for sale that are currently occupied, it’s important to ‘edit’ the seller’s belongings.  For example, I worked with a client who had two desks in his studio apartment – with about 50 books piled up on top of them.  This excess of personal items created a distraction.  With most of the books and one of the desks gone, potential buyers could really focus on the apartment, instead of what was in it.

Citi Habitats Agent Jimmi Circosta standing in his staged listing 301 West 57th Street, 7D | LivingIn

Citi Habitats agent Jimmi Circosta standing in the living room of an exclusive listing he staged, 301 West 57th Street, 7D (Web ID: 6760086)

How does staging impact an apartment’s “sale-ability?”

When an apartment is staged well it helps buyers realize the potential of the space. Most people buy with their gut instinct. Therefore, if the property is unfurnished they may not be able to visualize how the home can be fully utilized.  In a completely empty room, there’s no sense of scale – and buyers may think a space is smaller than it is.  On the opposite end of the scale, clutter can also be a problem and hard for a buyer to get past when viewing.  Proper staging addresses both of these extremes.

What is your biggest staging success story? 

Recently a friend asked me what he needed to do to get the best price for his vacant one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side.  Of course, the first thing I suggested was to hire me has his broker.  Then we discussed a punch list: namely refinishing the hardwood floors, a professional paint job, recessed lighting in the living room, all new light switches, plates, and outlet covers.  These small upgrades made the place look crisp and modern.  Then I embarked on a complete staging job.  I’ve amassed a collection of ‘props’ that I reuse each time I stage – clocks, pillows, blankets, tables, etc.  When not in use, they go back into my storage unit.  For this listing, I used a combination of rental furniture, accessories from my stockpile, as well as some of my client’s art from his home that we picked via Facetime.  He also agreed to go one step further by renovating the kitchen – which hadn’t been updated in 25 years.  As a result of our hard work, we topped the highest previous sales price in the building by 25%.  Going the extra mile paid off once we were at the closing table. 

Carey Larsen, Williamsburg

What is your top staging tip?  What is something you ALWAYS include/do when readying an apartment for sale?

One thing that’s always necessary to do before bringing a new listing to market is to remove as much personal memorabilia as possible.  You want customers to see the space as their own.  Also important, and less often done, is to empty out closets as much as you can.  You want it to look like potential buyers have all the room in the world – and not have then opening doors to storage spaces stuffed to the brim with all the stuff you’ve tucked away.

How does staging impact an apartment’s “sale-ability?”

Staging, or how the apartment looks, is a huge part of how it reads in advertising and how it shows.  Putting a space together and creating the right vibe is a huge part of selling the space.  Staging should match the overall feel of the apartment – and the aesthetic and needs of your target audience.  For example, if you have a 1.5 bedroom you can assume it would make a great starter home for a young family.  Staging one room as a magical nursery will capture the attention of the audience you want to fall in love with the space.  Staging sells not just a home, but a complete lifestyle.

Living room with couch, table, and rug | LivingIn

Model unit at The Frederick (564-580 Saint Johns Place) staged by Carey Larsen

What is your biggest staging success story? 

The staging I recently orchestrated for a new development rental building really blew the owners’ minds.  It succeeded at creating an environment in which our customer base could imagine themselves living.  It was a great feeling to have a few customers ask ‘who did the staging?’ because they wanted to hire them to design their own apartments once they moved in. 

I pride myself on being able to reimagine a client’s existing furniture – and create a more inviting atmosphere by adding just a few simple elements.  I recently worked with an owner to stage with an extremely limited budget.  When we were done basically rearranging things they owned and throwing in a few pillows, plants, and throws – they couldn’t believe the showplace we created was their home!

Royce Berler, Park Avenue South

What is your top staging tip?  What is something you ALWAYS include/do when readying an apartment for sale?

It’s important to engage a professional apartment stager – someone who does this for a living.  I have a few people who I rely on to make sure my listings looks their best.  I always emphasize to my clients that just because their apartment needs to be staged, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with their taste or their home.  The goals of staging and interior design are very different.  With staging, the particular goal is to show a space to appeal to the largest number of people possible, not necessarily for maximum livability, personal style and comfort.

Breakfast bar and table in living room showing before and after staging | LivingIn

Before and after photos of the living room at 314 West 94th Street, 3A, staged by Royce Berler

How does staging impact an apartment’s “sale-ability?” 

When people look at an apartment, they need to be able to see themselves living there.  The best-staged homes reflect a neutral aesthetic – allowing potential buyers to envision themselves in the space.  It’s also about presenting an apartment in its best light, and adding a little bit of polish.  When I stage, I’m sure all outlet covers, switches, cabinet knobs etc. are replaced if necessary.  It’s all about the details.  You want the apartment to look pristine – and that it’s not going to require a lot of work to be performed by the new owner to make it move-in ready. 

Photos of a master bedroom before and after staging | LivingIn

Before and after photos of the master bedroom at 314 West 94th Street, 3A, staged by Royce Berler

What is your biggest staging success story? 

One of my biggest success stories was an estate sale – the apartment was a complete mess and hadn’t been updated in decades.  We replaced the appliances, added backsplashes and sanded and refinished the floors among a myriad of other projects, large and small.  After this renovation and staging we ended up selling the unit for one of the highest prices ever recorded in the building.

Another story with a happy ending involved a rental listing that languished on the market for six months…  It was impossible to find a tenant.  The problem was the third bedroom was small – a really awkward space.  I convinced the owner to see if we would have more success selling the apartment instead.  So we fixed some lighting – including removing a chandelier which really limited furniture placement in the large living area – and rented furniture to stage all the rooms.  The third bedroom made sense with the addition of some well-selected pieces.  Buyers could visualize a practical use for the space.  I’m pleased to say that after our efforts, the apartment sold for the full asking price immediately after the first open house.  My client was thrilled.

Loretta Bricchi Lee, Upper West Side

What is your top staging tip?  What is something you ALWAYS include/do when readying an apartment for sale?

In one word, EDIT.  It’s important to clear clutter.  It gives the impression that there’s not enough storage – and the most precious commodity in a New York apartment is space.  Staging doesn’t have to be expensive, it’s about making the most of what you have.  It’s important to play up the good features and minimize the negatives.  For example, an open plan living area will often show best if you ‘float’ the furniture – rather than keep it pushed up against the walls.   If an apartment has high ceilings, use tall furniture or a floor lamp to draw the eye upwards

My advice is to pare down your belongings, create a neutral palate…  then add pops of color. 

Living room with three chairs, table, couch, and paintings | LivingIn

Living room at 135 West 79th Street, 11C, staged by Citi Habitats agent Loretta Bricchi Lee

How does staging impact an apartment’s “sale-ability?”

I feel staging should be ‘aspirational’ – you are selling a complete lifestyle and ideally, the home should look like a page from a magazine.  Potential buyers have to be able to see a ‘better version of themselves’ in the space.  Not everyone has the eye as to how to place furniture.  In some ways, it’s similar to what happens to a writer – when you have a blank white piece of paper, it’s a daunting task to have to fill it.

You need to look at things with fresh eyes – the eyes of your potential buyer.  It helps to take a snapshot of your living room with your camera and examine it closely.  What is the first thing you notice?  This exercise creates a sense of ‘detachment’ from the space and you can see it for what it is. 

What is your biggest staging success story? 

 Anytime I can show an apartment in the best light, I call that a success – especially if I am working with limited resources.  For example, a recent client moved out of state in a hurry to tend to a sick relative – and their apartment sat empty for nearly a decade.  The home was a time capsule and also a storage area for a random accumulation of belongings.  There was no money to rent new furniture so we ‘made do.’  We minimized the clutter but kept a sense of life.  The space felt like the perfect home.  Good staging is more than just furniture – you need books, a kettle on the stove.  Give the home a human touch without the reality of clutter.  But you need to know where to stop.  You can’t let furniture take the spotlight away from the apartment – you want the home itself to take center stage!

 (Editor’s Note: The lead photo in this article is of a model unit at The Frederick at 564-570 Saint Johns Place, staged by Carey Larsen.)

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