Personal Style? So Passé!

Staging. No, not the staging the painting crew puts up right outside your bathroom window, nor the one erected by the guys shingling your north-facing dormer. Staging as in “let’s spruce up the interior so the house sells quickly.”

It’s actually a business, found most often in high-end condos and new construction off-Island, but one that has dipped its toes on the Vineyard. It’s about filling rooms – although think minimalist – so potential buyers can better visualize a space and stop obsessing about where the couch goes or if the master bedroom can take a king-sized bed.

Julie Flanders of Flanders Up-Island Real Estate in Chilmark said she’s only hired a firm once or twice to stage a house, but she sees the value in it. In most cases, as with the Plymouth-based firm Setting the Space, it’s essentially a short-term furniture-leasing agreement where a designer comes in and either outfits the house wholesale, from kitchen to bedrooms, or simply rearranges the existing furniture, adding a few pieces here or there.

“Staging can really make a difference in an older home that still looks like the forties, fifties, or sixties,” Flanders said. “The people who do it do an amazing job and it’s kind of mind-boggling. They often use everything from the home and add accent pieces and it makes it completely different.”

But, she said, even though in most cases they will make back the cost of the service and more, many sellers balk at the price. “Most people don’t want to spend the money even though it would help the home sell quicker and give them enough to pay for the staging.”

Her agents, like most others, end up doing a bargain version of it themselves, getting rid of the personal items, stripping it down (as in no evidence of serial hoarding), and cleaning it up. 

At Tracker Home Decor in Edgartown, co-owner Helen Koch said they don’t stage homes very often because in their case, with limited storage capabilities, people would have to buy the furniture. But she too has seen staging work well for a seller.

“We did have a builder doing a spec house and he bought all the furniture, including stair runners, area rugs, the works. The house looked beautiful and sold right away,” she said.

Spec houses are probably the most likely candidates for full staging on the Vineyard. That’s exactly what Lisa Reagan of Reagan Construction has done off and on over the years. It started when the economy tanked around 2008 and she thought it might be smart to offer their newly constructed house with furniture. Jordan’s Furniture offered a flat delivery fee. “I think for $20,000 we were able to furnish it, right down to the mattresses, and we sold it furnished,” she recalled.

Because she and her husband Jack also manage rental properties, she can often reuse any furniture buyers don’t want. And, she said, furnishing fits into the mindset of many of today’s homebuyers, particularly the seasonal buyer who is often buying not for a primary residence, but with an eye toward renting it out part of the year.

“A lot of people just want convenience these days,” she said. “It’s all about convenience and custom treatment. For them, having it furnished just takes away one more headache.”

The trick? Reagan said it’s all about neutrals – grays, off-whites, calm palettes. And not much furniture. “You don’t want the space to appear small or cluttered. Nothing offensive,” she explained.

That lesson, she said, came early. “I once did a blue countertop. Never again.”