Selling a home involves a multitude of logistical elements. Lawyers prepare paperwork. Inspectors inspect. A life-changing fiscal transaction takes place.
On a personal level, the exchange can be rather emotional. After all, a seller says goodbye and a new owner says hello.
The role of the home stager has become increasingly indispensable during the process of preparing a home to put on the market. “Everything is a lot more visual today than it used to be,” said Robert Northfield, a realtor who has worked in the Maplewood and South Orange markets for over 20 years. “Ten years ago, we would put five pictures online. Before that, the buyer wouldn’t get much more than a picture of the outside.”
In order to prepare for those stunning photographs, though, significant changes to many elements of a home may be necessary. And it’s not always easy for the seller to hear that.
“We can get set in our ways. We’re human,” said Northfield. “When you bring in a realtor, they see a wall that needs to be painted, or wallpaper that has to go. And sometimes people can look at you like you have two heads because they are attached to that special wallpaper that was imported from England.”
Northfield’s goal is to work with the seller so that the home can become buyer-focused. “The prospective buyer first makes a selection based on the images they see on their devices. The images speak to their emotions, and today’s different styles and tastes,” he explained.
In addition, new homeowners may envision structural changes to a floorplan. “People used to think that the kitchen should be the place to cook food, so you have a $1.5 million home with a tiny kitchen. A design eye can play a very important role,” Northfield explained. “Now people may want the kitchen connected to the dining room or living room and not be so isolated. It’s a lifestyle change.
Northfield believes working with a home stager is vital to the process in order to address issues such as color, light, and the functionality of a floorplan. “There was a time in Maplewood – sometime around the 1930s — where pink bathrooms were the hottest color,” he added. “Pinks are out, shades of browns are out, formica is out. What is selling now to the current buyer is different than to baby boomers and retirees.”
Northfield works closely with Leah Gomberg, a professional home stager, interior designer, and Maplewood neighbor. She founded Sweet Life by Design in 2006. “I didn’t even know what staging was 13 years ago. I was thinking about flipping a house. My partner and I then met with a realtor who suggested we should think about staging,” she said.
Gomberg explains that the idea of home staging began on the West Coast. “It’s now very common here. The industry has changed a lot since I started training,” she said. Gomberg estimates she now stages roughly 150 homes every year.
“I consider her more of an artist than anything,” said Northfield. “Everyone can be a stager, but Leah is more of a house stylist. She brings in plants, rugs, art pieces – far beyond simply dropping off furniture.”
Gomberg often changes out light fixtures, tiles, and wall colors. “I have a lot more inventory now than when I began, so some of this has gotten a lot easier. I can work quicker,” she said.
Gomberg knows that making major changes to a home can be difficult for a seller who has lived in a house for so long. “As a seller, you want to put your best foot forward. You want your house to look really well-maintained, really loved and well-taken care of so that it sells quickly,” she said. “A house sitting on the market is the worst thing – people may wonder what’s wrong with the house. [With staging] you have a better chance of getting multiple offers. It’s actually better to put money into it to get it into the best shape possible. It’s psychological and emotional.”
Northfield offers a staging consultation to almost all the sellers. “It doesn’t matter if they’re selling a home for $1 million or $300,000,” he said. “Staging can benefit any price point.”
A fully-staged home also provides a prospective seller with floor plan ideas for every room in the house. “If we show a house with empty rooms, sellers don’t know what they’re looking at,” Northfield said.
Northfield explains that filming a virtual reality “walk-through” of a home has become more common. “It gives the property such a fresh look,” he said. As an example, he provides us with the real estate website for 4 Kermit Road, which is currently for sale.
4 Kermit Road was staged by Marisa and Scott Friedmann of The Home Revivalists. Visit their website here.
“We fell in love with the charm of the home,” said Marisa.
Marisa noted the “amazing molding work” of the house, one of the many original elements of this home which was built in 1913. “We wanted to keep the original character and freshen it up with a twist,” she added. “You can incorporate a lighter paint palette in order to make it feel a little bit more modern.”
“When we stage a house, we want the buyers to picture themselves in each room,” said Scott. “If they’re in the dining room, we want the table set with enough chairs for them to picture a big Thanksgiving dinner.”
And once the prospective buyer is impressed with what they see online, Northfield hopes they’ll be even more inspired once they walk through the front door. “We need a closer. That’s where the human eye comes in,” he said. “That’s why a home stager plays such a pivotal role.”
See more photos in our gallery below; click on any photo to begin.