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Hamptons Life

Jan 18, 2014 7:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Staging Sells Dreams, Along With Houses

Jan 27, 2014 3:43 PM

The newlyweds know exactly what they want: a brand new, traditional, shingle-style home with an open floor plan.Off they head to the Hamptons. And, there, they find exactly that—in abundance.

As they walk through house number one, they picture what it could be. They can almost see the art on the walls that they would buy from a local gallery, the rugs covering the hardwood floors that they would win at auction, the kitchen table they would discover at a little antiques shop nearby.

When they walk into house number two, their dream furnishings are all there in front of them—everything from bedroom sets to lighting fixtures. The house is staged to perfection, down to a pair of toothbrushes in exquisite decorative holders by his-and-her sinks in the master bath.

The residence is not theirs, but they imagine it could be. They can see their lives there. And, almost always, it’s a home like house number two that they buy.

They will even pay 15 percent more for it, according to Brett Baer, chief operating officer of Meridith Baer & Associates, a Connecticut-based home staging, furnishing and interior design company that recently landed its first job on the East End in Water Mill. And there’s another benefit for the seller who uses a stager, according to Mr. Baer.

“Also, it’s pretty well recognized that it takes 15 to 20 percent less time to sell a staged house,” he explained last Thursday, standing in the living room at 14 Deer Run, which was recently listed for nearly $4.8 million with Saunders & Associates, exclusively. “When the house comes to the market for the first time, that’s your biggest opportunity to get your highest number. Really savvy developers, really savvy Realtors come to the market with their best foot forward.”

He gestured to the immaculately-designed living room—a study in shades of white—its centerpiece coffee table expertly but comfortably displaying decorative sponges and an orchid.

“That’s what we do here,” he said.

The speculative housing market never used to be this way, according to builder Jeffrey Collé, owner of JC Construction Management in Wainscott. Up until two years ago, he had never staged a home.

He simply didn’t need to.

“Before, most of them sold before they were finished,” he said last week during a telephone interview. “People would come in toward the end and change the colors here and there, put their personal touches in it. Now, it’s a different story. Now, more than before, they want to see how the house lays out and how the house functions. That’s protocol now. It’s a no-brainer, you just do it.”

Staging before selling is not indicative of a slump in the spec house market, Mr. Collé emphasized, though it does appear that prospective homeowners are more cautious before closing on a home. The reason for this change is “impossible to say,” he said, as spec houses are still selling as they used to, if not more rapidly.

Saunders listing agent Mark Greenwald attributes an up-tick in staging—though, he added, most builders and brokers are still not subscribing to the trend—to the hectic lives of potential buyers. They want new, he said, but they don’t want to put in the design time themselves.

“Most customers who are shopping in this market would prefer not to have to make the effort. They want it done for them,” Mr. Greenwald said of the interior design at the 8,000-square-foot, seven-bed, seven-bath Deer Run estate, built by Tom Bennett of Bencar Building in Pelham, New York. “New construction is the hottest market right now. Like they want a new car, they want a new house. Houses are built better now than they were five years ago, just like cars. Most people are not staging. It hasn’t been the story lately. But I think that if you have a good staging company, it will be a real marketing improvement.”

The key is to be quick and efficient, Mr. Baer said, adding that his company has that down to an art form. Designer Linda Kennedy staged the Water Mill manse in one day—albeit with weeks of preparation.

Earlier this month, the Sweden-born designer saw 14 Deer Run—a shingle-style traditional on 1.25 acres—for the first time through photographs and immediately knew that it was her kind of house, with its high ceilings, open kitchen and a master suite with a wooden deck that commands panoramic views of more than 70 acres of preserved land.

“I’m always inspired by these bright, East Coast homes,” she said. “I knew I wanted light stuff. That’s generally what we do, anyway, a more clean palette. It’s so fitting here, it really is. It’s hard to explain the process. It’s more of a feeling. And you don’t really pay that much attention to how you would describe it, you just do it.”

She turned her attention to Mr. Baer, who is also the nephew of the staging company’s founder. “Maybe you can put it to words better.”

“I know you pulled a lot from the environments, so there’s equestrian themes, there’s natural themes, there’s a lot of organic elements,” he offered. “At the beginning, I think you said, ‘I want it to be sophisticated but it also needs to be very comfortable.’ We want it to be a place where you just come up and be all alone and read a book, or you can have 200 of your best friends. We wanted to sell both of those ideas.”

On January 13, Ms. Kennedy visited the house and assessed each room. The next day, she traveled to the 120,000-square-foot Meridith Baer Home warehouse in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which was brimming with decorative pieces ranging from invaluable antiques to flea market finds, and filled up two trucks. On January 15, she and a crew of six descended upon the house from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., transforming it from a spec house into a home.

Depending on the size of a house, and the extent of the project, an average staging can run from $30,000 to $100,000—a fee that Mr. Greenwald and Mr. Collé agree is well worth the expense.

“Oh, absolutely. Absolutely,” the builder said. “Look, most people are not trained to decorate a home. So they have to go out and hire a decorator and then the decorator charges them a fee and then they purchase the furniture and there’s a fee on top of the furniture. This way, it’s a longer, more drawn-out process. It takes a lot of the client’s time and they could just wind up with the designer’s house. But, sometimes, that’s what they want. I’ve never had this happen, but some people will come in and buy the house furnished. They basically move in. It’s turn-key.”

That will cost them, Mr. Baer said. Typically, a homeowner will spend between $250,000 and $3 million to keep the furnishings.

“Everything’s for sale,” Mr. Baer said. “We’ll even throw Linda in to make the deal.”

“Oh, that was almost funny the first time you said it today,” Ms. Kennedy smirked, rolling her eyes.

“But it’s not really about the furniture,” Mr. Baer continued. “When you walk into the master bedroom upstairs and see the two chaises, put together, facing the balcony with blankets and pillows, you just go, ‘Oh, God, that’s where I want to read the paper in the morning. That’s where I want to have my coffee.’”

“The trick is, as much as we love showcasing our work, you don’t want to take away from the house or the view,” Ms. Kennedy said. “You don’t want to walk in and see our sofa setup. You want to walk in to see where you can see the view.”

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