Center Stage


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Stern is a home staging professional whose business, PJ Home Styling & Co., offers a wide range of services—from consultations and quick DIY fixes for sprucing up homes, to full-fledged reconstructive surgery. A blanket (king-size) home staging makeover by Stern, along with her crew of cleaners, carpenters and painters, may include everything from handyman-type repairs to switching out bathroom faucets and bringing in new furnishings and window treatments. She’ll do it fast, too; she’s especially proud of a 17-room house that she staged in a single day.

“I was a decorator and a lot of real estate agents were my clients,” says Stern, “so I saw the need for staging. It’s something I enjoyed, so I got my accreditation from the ASP [Association of Home Staging Professionals].” She admits that convincing homeowners to “un-decorate,” which is what staging is sometimes called, can be a challenge in Connecticut. “We are the ‘Land of Steady Habits,’ for sure,” says Stern. “What I do as a home stager is get homeowners to declutter, to take away all the distractions that keep prospective buyers from really seeing a home. That means family photos and collections,” she says. “It isn’t always easy. In the beginning clients don’t like me very much, but in the end, they love me.”

Depending on square footage, Stern charges between $250 and $350 for a consultation. She helps homeowners identify their “target audience” . . . whether it’s a young family, a couple or empty nesters, and then plans accordingly. She’ll provide a detailed written report for $450 to $600 and make recommendations that run from “good” to “better” to “best.”

Deluxe staging can run between 1 and 1.5 percent of a home’s asking price—a bargain, claims Stern, when you consider the frustration of price reductions. “Having your home staged is really about protecting your list price,” she says, “and national statistics bear this out.”
At least one award-winning builder is convinced home staging works.

Five years ago, Stern launched a program with Toll Brothers, builders of new homes in 20 states. Designed to help the builder’s prospective buyers sell their existing homes, Center Stage employs Stern’s staging expertise—with Toll Brothers footing the bill. To date, Stern has staged 17 homes for the builder; all of them sold in 55 days or less, she’s happy to report; 97 percent went for the asking price.

Joan and Leonard Nole met Stern at a preconstruction meeting at a Toll Brothers “resort-style” community called The Summit in Bethel. The couple had lived in a home they loved in Larchmont, N.Y., for 40 years. Now with grown children living in Bethel and Redding, they were ready to make the move. “While we were there, we saw her portfolio—some of the work she’d done,” says Joan, “and we liked what she had to say. She told us what we needed to do to make our home interesting, more attractive and marketable to a younger audience.”

“Patti rearranged furniture, painted, put area rugs over our wall-to-wall carpet,” says Joan. “And she told us our personal belongings had to go.” That part was tough. “We had to live with different things, different surroundings, and it was a little hard to deal with,” she admits. But in the end, it was worth it, as the house sold for close to the asking price—in a little under five weeks.

Home stagers agree that it can be very difficult to ask a grandmother to take down pictures of her brood, to pack away her delicate teacup collection, or to find another (albeit temporary) home for the urn holding her faithful dog’s ashes.

That’s why it takes a pro to get the job done right, according to Barb Schwarz, who says it was she who coined the phrase “home staging” in 1985. A real estate agent with a background in theater, Schwarz says she started training colleagues in the ways of home staging in the ’80s, and turned that into a business in 1999 when she founded the Association of Home Staging Professionals, based in Seattle, Wash. Since 2002 she has trained close to 22,000 people; there are currently some 7,000 active home stagers (accredited by the ASP) working in the U.S.

“If I had to say staging is about one thing, it is living by the rule ‘less is more,’” says Schwarz. “Clutter is nothing but stressful—and it eats equity. I teach home stagers to be sensitive to homeowners and help them through the process of downsizing.” It’s all about baby steps, she says. “A good home stager will walk through a home and make note of things like family photos, and later comment on them—acknowledging that they are lovely, but distract from the primary purpose: to sell a home at the highest possible price. What I tell them is we want people buying your house—not your family!”

Staging for Life is Schwarz’s latest venture; it’s a program clients often sign on to after they’ve sold their home and moved into a new one. “It’s about living stress-free, in a home that is nice to look at, and easy to live in,” she says. “It’s not about decorating and buying more things. It’s about being green and living with less of what you already own.”

Beth Caldwell, a realtor with William Raveis in Newtown, is all over that. She believes you should never do tomorrow what will make you happy today.

Center Stage

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