Setting the stage: The St Albans experts who help homes look their most sellable
PUBLISHED: 09:45 28 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:18 28 October 2020
Making your home look its best for sale can be challenging and time-consuming, which is why some sellers seek professional help. Richard Burton investigated the home staging process.
The last flat I sold, I had a lifestyle editor from one of those aspirational magazines help me get it ready. It had been seriously refurbed about a year earlier and was pretty much pristine, if I say so myself. I needed advice on, maybe, flowers to freshen it a bit?
Her first question: do you have a garage? Yes, a selling point right? Hmm, no, more a place to store everything that’s, er, about you.
Me? Yes, she said. We’re not selling a flat, sorry apartment (her words) we’re selling a lifestyle.
Just not yours.
Out went the prized desk where I earned the cash to pay for the place, down came the framed front pages, the Fender Jazz may be “fine for a trendy loft in Manhattan” but not a first-floor flat next to an M25 junction and everything, but everything, in the kitchen had to make way for tall jars of pasta, coloured grains, pulses and a brand new cafetiere, a kettle and one of those knife blocks seen in Gordon Ramsey shows and slasher movies.
The rest of the furniture stayed. But it was a close call. And only because they were garnished with cushions I wasn’t allowed to touch let alone lean on.
To be fair, the estate agent did use one sentence with ‘wow!’ in it, and it did sell quickly. The useful garage, incidentally, had to be cleared to make it appear roomy enough to appeal to my target buyer by accommodating a company saloon.
These days, everyone’s doing it as a phenomenon known as home staging becomes as essential as a suit at an interview. And it often involves more than just someone used to directing photo shoots.
An extreme scenario can involve decorators and handymen, an organiser and professional stager, even before the photographer gets involved.
Mother-of-two Tracy O’Brien and her accountant husband did just that when their daughters left home and they decided to sell their five-bedroom home in Ellis Fields, St Albans, a house which by then had all the hallmarks of having had a family grow up in it.
She called in Blissfully Organised, which has spent the past 11 years helping people to, in the words of its owner, “control the chaos and restore order into their lives”.
Tracy explained: “When the girls had gone, we just thought; OK, we’re heading for the empty nest so now’s the time for a real clear-out and that’s when we realised we seriously needed help. You do accumulate a lot over the years of raising a family.
“Tracy Ross from Blissfully Organised came in and was all about setting up organisational processes. It did involve a few bin bags which was scary at first but she was actually very gentle with me. The initial changes were very subtle but very effective. My husband didn’t even notice them at first.
“She completely transformed my wardrobe, putting everything into colours and sizes and even got me digging out those sturdy old iphone boxes and filling them with pens and lipstick. Lots and lots of simple things I’d never have thought of.”
With the house now functioning better, she approached Jessica Hedemann-Chiong of One Home Interiors, a St Albans business focused on giving homes the sort of look and feel that appeals to potential buyers.
Jessica’s many projects typically range from making subtle changes which will lift a home to taking a developer’s shell of a new build and creating a show home look from scratch with the aid of rented furniture and everything from pictures to ornaments. Thanks to Tracy’s efforts, this wasn’t the most difficult job she’d ever had.
“I had one client hoping to sell a house they literally hadn’t touched for 30 years. They just didn’t know where to start,” she said. “It meant going back to basics and producing a schedule of work and getting right down to it. We had a timeline of eight weeks to market. It meant attending to just about everything from new carpets to curtains to wallpaper.
“Another client had a different issue. They had defined every room individually. That meant dark reds, purples, browns and blues. I just had to say no, that won’t work if you want to sell. We re-did the whole house, ensuring everything was neutral and consistent. I even suggested they re-carpet everywhere in the same tone as it would make the house look bigger.
“And it doesn’t have to break the bank. I told them they could get a decent quality carpet for under £10 per square metre, but in the end they managed to find one for £4.99.”
Business has been brisk since the end of lockdown as owners, many of whom are keen to take advantage of mortgage holidays and stamp duty changes, rush to sell. Jessica is currently juggling projects in Hertford, Chorleywood, Batford, Redbourn and Radlett, among others.
She said: “The first part of the year was very quiet but since lockdown was lifted it has gone crazy with everyone suddenly wanting to sell and developers putting properties on the market.”
As for the brief, they can vary widely, from taking a “well maintained property that needs refreshing” to bringing in tradesmen to sort the jobs the client has been putting off for ages to starting from scratch with bare walls and floors.
And the obvious question: it’s all about upping the price and getting the best deal, right?
She said: “I never estimate what this can do to the price. That’s something I’d leave to the estate agent. My focus is less about what it will add to the property and more about saleability. Benefits are often seen in other ways, for example, making sure it doesn’t spend months on the market and then going after a price cut.”
As for the cost of her services, an initial styling consultation will come in at £395. The work on-site using her own accessories as well and rented ones will depend on the size of the house.
Tracy Ross will do a basic home audit for £160 to set goals and produce an action plan. She tends to work on an hourly rate of £40 after that as she works her way meticulously from room to room.
“You have to consider everything,” said Tracy. “A serious buyer will be looking for potential problems. Lots will be going through their minds as they look around. They need to see the possibility in a room. You absolutely don’t want them thinking there isn’t enough storage space, for example.
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“Don’t forget, if a cupboard is fitted, they’ll open it. And when they do it’s really important they see something that looks organised. That sort of detail matters. You can’t begin to stage a home properly if it’s cluttered.”
She sees it as a two-stage approach: presenting the home for sale and then getting ready to move and settle at the other end, not particularly easy if you’ve amassed years of books, magazines, old clothes, toys and ornaments and simply shoved most of it out of the way or stacked it in the attic.
Tracy O’Brien can certainly see the value of bringing in help. “With Tracy it was hours of blitzing each space and that was before we even got to the dreaded loft and garage. Jessica was all about ‘fix this, get rid of that, let’s do all those jobs you’ve been putting off’.
“Then there were lots of bigger touches such as putting a round table in the conservatory that really changed the whole feel of the space.”
And did you end up with borrowed cushions that, like mine, you’re not allowed to touch?
“We’re living with quite a few at the moment,” she said. “They come out just for viewings, not all plumped up but bearing that special karate chop only designers know how to do.”
Ah, that’s why I did I was told. Knew it must have been something.
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