Home staging pros get good first impressions

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First impressions do really matter.

That is why more and more homeowners are turning to home stagers when it’s time to sell their residences.

“Real estate is like Internet dating. People make judgments looking through photos,” said Paul Scott Silvera, who has been in the home staging business for 14 years and also owns the home décor store Scout.

The idea behind staging a home for sale is to sell not only the space but also a lifestyle. That adds up to quicker sales and often more money since multiple offers translate into higher bids.


Silvera became a believer when he was selling his own two-bedroom, one-bathroom Bay Area bungalow in 2002. Although his furniture was perfectly functional, and the market in Berkeley was hot, the house didn’t sell for six months.

“It didn’t tell the story the people who were buying wanted to hear,” Silvera said. “My house was real estate road kill.”

So he staged the house with a young couple in mind, immediately got numerous offers and ended up selling it for $715,000 – 10 percent more than the original asking price.

“Staging a home is a good return on your investment,” said Judith Burzell, who owns HomeScapes Home Staging and is president of the recently formed San Diego chapter of the Real Estate Staging Association, a professional organization for home stagers. While staging costs start at about $2,500 and go as high as 0.5 percent of the listing price, that’s less than the first price reduction if a home doesn’t sell within a month, she said.

“It certainly helps if the buyer is looking online,” said Cory Shepard, president of the San Diego Association of Realtors. “It helps the home sell faster, and time is money.” In a 2015 survey by the National Association of Realtors of 2,373 real estate agents representing buyers and sellers, nearly half said buyers were affected by home staging.


The business started growing during the 2008 recession. With all the homes on the market then, sellers were trying to find a way to stand out from the competition. And buyers, fueled by websites such as Houzz and HGTV design shows, started to expect more styling.

When Kevin Alameda decided to sell his rental property in Torrey Highlands, he turned to Burzell to stage the empty 2,800-square-foot house. The 15-year-old home, which “didn’t have a lot of upgrades, tile floors and a brown kitchen,” had three offers in one week, he said.

“I actually had a bidding war, selling it for over asking price,” Alameda said. “ I don’t think I’d sell another house without staging it.”

Alameda chose Burzell’s company because he liked her transitional contemporary style online. He had her stage the public areas and two of the four bedrooms. Staging includes everything from furniture and window treatments to artwork, accessories and lighting.

Prior to furnishing the home, whether empty or occupied, stagers will also suggest bigger projects, such as landscaping, painting and even kitchen makeovers, and can help manage those undertakings.

To get the best results for the best price, sellers should do a bit of homework. While some stagers have their own inventory of furnishings, such as Silvera and Burzell, others rent furniture, so quality and condition vary. Prices are based on how much is staged and how long the home is staged. The focus is primarily on the kitchen, living room, dining room, bathroom, master bedroom and any outdoor living areas.


It’s up to the seller to determine how much of the home is staged, although Silvera said all rooms should be included. “Not staging all the rooms is like half a haircut,” he said.

For one client, he even went to the neighbor’s house and asked the homeowner if he could paint her house a different shade of purple and replace the boarded up windows. She agreed.

“You’re extending the value to the house. You have to use every tool in the toolbox,” said Silvera, who now has a real estate license so he can offer clients the total package.

While home stagers work with sellers to get them the best possible deal, staging can also be beneficial to buyers because it gives them an idea how a certain space can be used. Turning an awkward corner into an office or rethinking the dining room as a game room can show buyers the potential of a space.

“Scale is a lot of what we do,” Burzell said. Buyers can see what size bed will fit comfortably in a room and can measure the television to see if it matches what they have. Rooms also tend to look smaller when they are empty, Shepard said.

“In most cases, (a home is) a person’s largest asset,” Burzell said. “It makes sense to dress it up.”


While it’s not always practical to stage a home that is still occupied, all sellers should take a few steps to make a home more inviting to buyers.

Get your home ready to sell

• Deferred maintenance. Repairs and safety concerns will show up during inspection, so it’s best to get them out of the way beforehand.

• Paint. A fresh coat inside and out does wonders to brighten a tired home. Neutral colors will appeal to the most people. Check out what’s trendy yet sophisticated.

• Curb appeal. Make sure walkways are clean and vegetation is alive and healthy. If you’ve let your lawn go dry, consider replacing it with drought-tolerant plants or re-sod. Add flowers and furniture to the porch.


• Deep clean. Washing the windows helps sell both the interior and exterior. The interior should be gleaming, so replace corroded faucets, regrout tiles, steam clean the carpeting and consider refinishing the wood floors if they look worn.

• De-clutter. Space sells, so counters and closets need to be clean and uncrowded. And buyers don’t want to feel like they are intruding — which means personal items, including photos, need to be packed away.

• Don’t get too sterile. To help a home look inviting and comfortable, decorate with fresh flowers, bowls of fruit and table settings. Stay stylish and neutral.

• Be aware of odors. Pet owners need to be vigilant about keeping animals and their favorite areas clean. But don’t use harsh cleaners that will have your home smelling like an institution, and artificial scents will have potential buyers suspicious. Freshly baked cookies will give the home an inviting aroma and entice potential buyers to linger.

• Think about furniture. Each room should have a clearly defined purpose and be arranged to maximize its potential and flow. And be sure to store the tattered recliner, no matter how comfortable it is.

Schimitschek is a San Diego freelance writer.