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Stage Fright

The terrifying experience of readying your home for sale



Home stager Cindy Heiman puts finishing touches on the living room prior to a realtor open house.

Jane Beiles

It was time to downsize. My husband was semi-retired, and our son a recent graduate. It was hard to justify the expense of living in a 4,500-square-foot home on more than two acres. We loved our house but also had unrealized fantasies about extended European travel.

I knew enough from binge-watching virtually every program on HGTV, that the bar for readying a house for sale had been raised to insanely high levels. Research shows that most Millennials expect everything to be done so they can basically move in and host a cocktail party a week later. Today 93 percent of buyers decide whether or not they even want to see your house based on online photos. The pressure was on.

Our décor is what one might call “eclectic,” meaning some nice (and not-so-nice) hand-me-downs, a handful of original pieces commingled with tag-sale “finds,” and a whole lot of original art. The Harris home had always been comfortable and welcoming to visitors, but was it ready for its real-estate close-up? I had my doubts.

Enter Cindy Heiman of Home ReVisions Staging, who has been staging homes since 1999, before the term was even coined. “My job is to understand how each room functions and make it work,” says Heiman. “That may mean reorganizing, putting away or storing items, or even renting furniture. Buyers will mentally triple what it costs to do a project such as refinishing floors or replacing countertops, so sellers need to do as much as possible to maximize their profit.” She recommends spending one to five percent of the listing price on sprucing things up, not including major projects like a new roof or kitchen renovation.

Five percent? My feeble mind struggled to do the math. Heiman spoon sensed my horror. “Look, if something appears tired or dated, buyers question what else hasn’t been kept up.” She had a point. 

On the day Cindy Heiman was scheduled to evaluate our home, I was a nervous wreck and worked myself into a froth, wiping down counters, scrubbing bathtubs, and hurling things into closets. I felt insecure and panicky. What if she thought my house sucked?

When Heiman arrived the first thing she said temporarily reassured me. “I’m not here to judge how you live. But how we sell and how we live are two different things. I’m going to walk through your home like a potential buyer would and give you my unfiltered opinion.” The prickling of anxiety crept back in. “Just remember,” she said in a soothing tone, “we’re not selling your furniture or collectibles, we’re selling your home.” 

By far the nicest room in our house is the 40-foot-by-30-foot living room with windows on three sides, a fireplace, and custom built-ins. Heiman’s verdict? “Great space but Millennials don’t want antiques.” (I was starting to actively dislike these unseen Millenials.) “They want everything fresh and current. The décor needs to be updated.”

 “But everyone loves my living room,” I protested, breaking my silent promise not to become whiny or defensive.

“It doesn’t matter what you or your friends think; it matters what buyers think,” she said firmly. I took a deep breath and observed my living room objectively. Suddenly I saw what she meant. The room itself was great, but ohmygod, the furniture was tired. A complete redo was in order. 

While Heiman is willing and able to source, purchase, or rent furniture for homeowners, I wanted to do it myself. I opted for a transitional, mid-century modern vibe and spent hours poring over online websites, narrowing down key pieces by shape, color, and affordability. I sent links to Heiman for her opinion. Within a couple of days I’d ordered a completely new living room, one that we could take with us to our next roost. 

Next, color expert Jo Ann Ripostella was brought on board. She recommended neutral colors for our every room in our house and suggested painting the entire master bedroom—doors, trim, ceiling—in Benjamin Moore Silver Satin in a matte finish. I thought she was crazy but trusted her expertise. Now that it’s done, our master is serene and sophisticated. 

On the day the real estate photos were to be taken, my identical white couches hadn’t arrived. To say that I was freaking out would be an understatement. I called Susan Tracy, a local stager (Susan Tracy’s House Whisperers) who has a gigantic warehouse of furniture and accessories here in Wilton. Within hours, two sleek, elegant sofas were installed in our living room along with a pair of exquisite Lucite tables. Heiman then whipped around stacking books, arranging flowers just so, and creating mini tableaus. “It takes a designer village,” I thought.

The upshot? We have fallen back in love with our home, which apparently, is not uncommon. These days the real-estate market in Wilton is, to be charitable, rather soft, but we don’t care. While waiting for the market to rally and for the perfect buyer to be smitten by our home, we’re enjoying our newly refurbishedand streamlined  surroundings. And truthfully? How I wish I’d consulted a home stager when we moved in, not when we were ready to move out.


BEFORE 
The living room was filled with antiques and felt cluttered and dated. The space was transformed by new furnishings, paint (Benjamin Moore Calm), and professional staging. 

 

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