|When the economy took a downturn,
owner-broker Mary Ellen Bickler of Brown-Bickler & Co. in
Harrison turned to professional stager Marlene Gold for help.
"We're actively using staging, and I've used Marlene in some
way for just about every house I've had on the market for the last
year and a half since the market downturn," Bickler said. "Before
the market downturn, I didn't feel staging was absolutely necessary.
But now I think it's critical."
Bickler believes that staging combined with a well-tuned
house and the right asking price sends the right message to
"I've always used a handyman to fix up little things here and
there and to paint," she said. "But now you need to go a step
beyond. It's a scary market. Only the best, well-priced houses are
selling. If the house needs a significant amount of work, the buyer
will discount deeper than they would have in the past."
Bickler recalled an example of a house with an overabundance
of wallpaper and an older kitchen. Enter stager Marlene Gold.
"Marlene worked with a handyman to remove the wallpaper and
make changes to the kitchen - painting the cabinets, adding new
hardware, picking up the wall-to-wall carpet and exposing and
refinishing the wood floors - cosmetic things without doing an
entire makeover," Bicker said. "Painting the outside and clearing
some of the overgrown landscape made the house look so much more
inviting. It was already in a great neighborhood, but the staging
increased the value of the home by 5 percent or 10 percent. It was
definitely worth doing.
"I've seen it make the difference between getting $640,000
instead of $620,000," Bickler continued. "The choices are taking the
price you can get or see what you can do to improve the look."
For Bickler, the latter is the only way to go: "The cost of
work is far less than the return. About $4,000 to $5,000 spent on
staging will come back to the owner many times over."
According to professional stager Marlene Gold, who after 15
years in the home furnishings industry formed Marlene Gold Home
Staging and Design LLC, staging costs can range from $450 for a
consultation and report with a detailed assessment of what needs to
be addressed and specific recommendations that guides the homeowner
to complete the staging themselves to $1,500 for a basic
professional staging of repositioning furniture, hanging artwork,
adding accessories and arranging for painting, repairs and storage,
and up to $4,000 or more for complex projects.
Costs can increase depending on the size and scope of the
project, number of rooms to be staged and whether accessories and
furnishings are rented (charged separately) or only the items of
homeowners are used.
"You're paying for our expertise," said Gold, admitting that
unlike Realtors, staging can be a hard sell for homeowners.
"Staging is very personal," Gold said. "It can be very
difficult and emotional for homeowners, especially if they've lived
in their home for a long time. They love the way they've set up
their house and they wonder why it's necessary to move a rug or put
a treasured collection away.
"In the past, we might edit what a homeowner had - paint,
declutter and depersonalize. Now we really need to appeal to the
buyer's fantasy," Gold added. "Buyers are so nervous about making
such a major purchase, they need to be excited about it. A house
that does not show well will sit and sit and sit. In this difficult
economy, not only does a house have to be in impeccable condition
and the pricing just right, but it has to get the buyer emotionally
In addition to a focus on staging and a good price point,
Carole Novick, founder and owner of Carole Novick Realty in Pomona,
is relying on the tried and true approaches she has used in slow
markets in past years, including extensive one-on-one networking
(even contacting "This Old House" when appropriate), an informative
monthly newsletter, a self-designed customer registry to track
clients, advertising responses and holding auctions using sealed
bids at the property.
"Sealed bid auctions are likely to draw more than just
investors if the house has a good calling card. My customer registry
helps me identify which clients might be a good fit for a new office
listing," Novick said.
New Rochelle-based Century 21 Marciano Real Estate is taking
a three-pronged approach - offering a bus tour to agents for open
houses of the firm's current New Rochelle listings, participating in
a special Century 21 program to keep first-time homebuyers out of
foreclosure, and in a move that may seem counterintuitive, acquiring
another realty office to expand listings and bring in more agents.
"Basically, we're doing a lot of little things," principal
broker Anthony Marciano said. "There's no silver bullet - it's a
combination of different ideas for buyers and brokers to get us
through the tough times."
In September, Marciano partnered with Joan Godfrey, director
of New Rochelle's Pre-school Kindergarten Learning Center, to offer
a unique opportunity for agents to tour listings in one day.
"Joan Godfrey provided the yellow school bus and we provided
the agents," Marciano said of the five-hour event that included
about 20 or 25 open houses from Marciano's listings and a guided
historical tour along the way courtesy of Godfrey - long-time
resident and unofficial New Rochelle historian.
"It was an efficient and fun way for the agents to become
quickly familiar with our listings, as well as find out more about
New Rochelle and its services," Marciano said.
Acquiring Beryl Z Realty, also of New Rochelle, rounded out
Marciano's listings with rentals and condominiums.
"I felt it was time to make a big move and this was a perfect
fit," Marciano said. "Now we have a blend of everything and almost
every facet covered, including commercial properties. I couldn't be
more pleased about the transition."
Participating in a Century 21-sponsored "Save the Dream of
Homeownership" outreach program has provided Marciano, a local
franchise holder, a tangible way to help first-time homeowners save
themselves from foreclosure.
"We're trying to keep people in their homes," said Marciano,
who is encouraging each of his agents to provide one family with
information and guidance. "Not only does it help get people out of a
predicament, but they will remember us and, hopefully, give us their
property as a listing in the future when the market is better."
By asking more pointed financial questions, Marciano's agents
have helped with tax grievances, qualifying for the New York state
School Tax Assessment Relief (STAR) program and avoiding potential
disasters at closings.
Annette Reynolds of Coldwell Banker Ye Village Realty in
Dobbs Ferry has stepped up her marketing and mailings to keep her
name in front of potential buyers and calling expired listings to
introduce herself, contacting past customers for referrals by
e-card. She also plans a door-hanger campaign.
"I'm creating door hangers with bag clips and an attached
card that reads, "Keeping things fresh in real estate."
Her agency's manager, Terry Rittenberg now gears one-on-on,e
coaching and role-playing sessions toward managing challenging
situations and encouraging agents to be more proactive with pricing.
"In this environment instead of setting a price, then waiting to see
if we sell it, we're being proactive in pricing so buyers perceive a
Staying ahead of the game, Chappaqua-based Prudential Holmes
and Kennedy Real Estate had the good fortune of launching a Web site
for its agents six months ago that has gotten a good workout and has
helped keep the agency competitive in a tough economy.
Prudential Holmes and Kennedy now arms each of its 150 agents
with a customizable, interactive Web site containing a detailed
community profile, in-depth school statistics, current and sold
listings, and the agent's bio. The agents can personalize as they
see fit with blogs, favorite charity activities, RSS feeds, tips on
going green and other useful features.
"We believe the agent's presence on the Internet is as
important as the customer's presence," Ted Holmes, broker and vice
president of operations, said. "Ninety percent of people looking for
a house start with the Internet. The agent is the first point of
contact for the consumer and should have the same tools and
information and content that the company does."
According to Holmes, a focus group of agents showed that more
than 84 percent of the agency's business came through the Internet.
"Buyers typically incubate on Web sites at least six months
to a year," Holmes said. "The Web site gives agents tools to keep
their name in front of buyers in cyberspace and buyers, in turn, are
much more informed by the time they're ready to look at houses. ...
Ultimately, we're able to provide better information so sellers can
make more informed decisions in a challenging economic environment."
Tips for homeowners
Marlene Gold, professional stager
"When you're preparing your home to show, try to give every
room one purpose. If you set your bedroom as a bedroom/office or
your family room as a den/playroom, mentally, it says to the
prospective buyer that there's not enough space here. It becomes a
distraction and takes away from imagining themselves in the space."
Carole Novick, Carole Novick Realty
"It's really a combination of factors that make things work.
Hire a broker with a good reputation who really works hard on their
listings. Look for quality and an honest opinion - don't hire
someone who just tells you the price you want to hear. The sold
properties make the market price, not the agent."
Mary Ellen Bickler, Brown-Bickler & Co.
"Staging helps you put your best foot forward. In this
economic environment, you need that extra little boost to make the
house that much sharper, that much more salable - you need every
advantage you can get."
Annette Reynolds, Coldwell Banker Ye Village Realty
"If your house is vacant, for $400 or more, consider
attaching a house warranty during the listing period and continue it
for the new buyer. It's a great perk and a nice security blanket."
Ted Holmes, broker and vice president of operations,
Prudential Holmes and Kennedy
"In this market, it's very important to have a house that
stands out against the competition - if not in price, then in
condition and curb appeal. Curb appeal gives the buyer the first
impression - if it's well-landscaped and there's no peeling paint,
it says to the buyer this house has been taken care of. If you have
an older house, you might want to consider having an inspection
completed before putting your house on the market. This will help
confirm that your house is in good condition or give you the
opportunity to deal with issues you may not have known about."