Still It Comes So Slow, The Letting Go

Moving is tough. Selling a home in which your children were born and grew up, in which you were born and grew up, is emotionally exhausting. Even without the emotional ties of a house being a single owner family home, it is difficult for some people to let go and realize that the way you live in a house is NOT the way you sell it.

I have a friend who is a real estate agent, and every once in a while, he asks me to come stage a house. Staging WORKS. A staged home sells faster, and for a higher price, than a home that is over personalized, or one that is empty. The difficulty comes when people are attached to the way their home has always looked. They can’t make that psychological jump from “home” to “house we are selling.” In order to sell quickly, that jump must be made.

Yesterday, I staged a home that is absolutely, drop dead amazing. When I first went to see this home, I walked into the front living room and there was stuff everywhere. This is when I made the real estate mistake equivalent to asking someone who is not pregnant, “When are you due?” I said, “Oh good! You’re already packing!” Uhm, no, she was not. That is the room where her children play, draw, do their school work, so all of the necessary supplies for those activities were strewn around the room.

The owner is a party planner with excellent taste, and she is VERY proud of her children. Hence the problem…She had approximately sixty photos of her children and family all over the house, with about 11 of them being giant, poster sized photos hanging down the hallway. They are fantastic photos (and as a photographer, that is not something I say lightly), and her children are beautiful, so I understand why she is so proud of them. However, all those photos make her house look like HER house. It’s important to make the house look generic, so that someone else can imagine themselves living in it.

The other issue with this home is that because she is also a photo stylist and designer, all three of the children’s bedrooms are extremely personalized to each child. The rooms are not just regular kid rooms; they look like rooms you’d see highlighted in Southern Living. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well, that should make it easier to sell! They already look beautiful. You shouldn’t have to stage anything.” Actually, it makes it harder to sell, and a lot harder to stage.

I spent four hours yesterday depersonalizing each room in preparation for an open house. (When I say, “I,” I really mean I directed my real estate agent friend and told him what to do.) We took down photos, carefully wrapped them in bubble wrap or brown moving paper, rearranged furniture, and fought a constant battle with the owner’s husband. While it was easy to do the kitchen, living areas, and dining room, the kids’ rooms were a nightmare. As I took stuff down from the walls, the husband kept walking by saying, “This doesn’t even look like my house.”

The problem really arises when the owners are still living in the home, and must continue to live there until it sells. Having lived in a staged house for a week after spending an entire month getting it staged, I know how hard it is to detach. I would wander through each practically empty room and think, “It doesn’t look like I live here.” That’s the point.

So when dealing with a gorgeous bedroom that has a ton of decorative STUFF, it is a fight. For instance, in the son’s rooms, I removed two 13 gallon bags full of stuffed animals that covered the bed. That was easy. Then I had to start paring down the decorations. I removed all the hats hanging on the wall except for the cowboy hats, as the room has a cowboy theme. I took down all the personal photos, and put several baskets of toys under the bed to make the room look less cluttered. Although all that STUFF is beautiful, when there is a lot of it, it makes a room look small. This is not a small room, but it looks tiny, because there is too much furniture, and too many decorations on the walls. Will their son die if they pack up all those knick knacks for a while? No. Will they do it? No. Will I do it? Yes.

It is my job as the stager to help the homeowner slowly detach from the home. On the day that I went to take photos, I took down all the dead animals on the walls in the great room, “just for the photos.” We left them down, and when the owner came home, she said, “I really like the look of the clean walls!” She had lived with those animals on the walls her entire life, and could not imagine the room without them.

Taking down the photos was the next step. Hopefully she doesn’t have the time or energy to unwrap them all and hang them back up, because I’ll just have to do it again for the next open house. Taking out some of those stuffed animals was another tiny step. Moving the living room game table from the corner of the room into the center was another small step. With that one, the husband walked by and said, “That table looks really good in the middle of the room!”

Next week, we will have another open house, and I will come prepared with more boxes, sharpies, and more bubble wrap. I will quietly take down more stuff, and pack it away. Will they notice? Yes. Will the buyers notice? Hopefully, they’ll never know what it looked like before. If I do my job, the buyers will have no idea what the house looked like when the “soon to be previous” owners lived there. If I do my job, the “soon to be previous” owners will come to terms with the idea that they no longer truly live there.

If you are attempting to stage your own home, keep in mind that staging has two meanings. It can mean to set the stage, to make a room look a certain way. It can also mean doing things in small steps. Don’t expect to do it all overnight. If you can, invest in a storage room or a Pod. Then as you remove stuff, you can tell yourself that you are really packing. You’re not getting rid of anything. You’re just packing it and moving it into a storage space, which will make life so much easier when you really do move.

As I kept telling the husband yesterday, “I’m not getting rid of anything. We’re just taking it down for the open house.” Keep telling yourself that. It really does help. In general, people are attached to their stuff more than they are the house, so remember that your stuff is still around, it’s just not out in the open. Say, “I’m going to have to pack it anyway, so it might as well be now.” Remember that your goal is to no longer live there. If your house LOOKS like you no longer live there, that’s half the battle.

“Piece by piece, I take apart this complicated heart.”

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2 thoughts on “Still It Comes So Slow, The Letting Go

  1. It was the Melissa Etheridge lyric that brought me here; that song has to be a favourite .. but your story was very interesting. I didn’t know there was such a thing as “stagers”. You’d have a hell of a time at my place. I am Hoarder Extraordiniare”!

    • mzklever says:

      So am I. Seriously, we filled a Pod AND a giant storage unit, and still had a house full of stuff, just way less stuff. Yes, a good real estate agent will either help you stage, or will work with a stager. Sometimes it’s part of the service they offer, and they pay the stager out of their commission. Sometimes, depending on how much work has to be done, the client has to pay for the staging. It is worth it, though. My house sold on the first day. Another house that I staged sold a few days later after being on the market for a while with no interest. It does take cooperation from the homeowner, otherwise it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. I did one house that was completely useless, as it needed a ton of repairs. I can make it look cute and smell nice, but I can’t replace the carpet, or fix cracked tiles, and I do NOT clean. I will pack and organize, but the tub and toilet are someone else’s job!

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