A bit of staging magic goes a long way

This past weekend I attended a three hour class on staging. I was motivated to take the class because, as a real estate photographer, it helps to understand something about staging a property as agents frequently defer to me over last minute details of the home staging when I am on site doing the shoot. It’s not part of my job description but many agents have come to expect it and I do enjoy surveying a room and making simple, and quick, recommendations. I am fascinated by the psychology of staging and the dramatic changes staging can have on our perception and impression of a property.

Prospective buyers largely lack the imagination to see what one can do with a space so the seller, listing agent and/or stager need to provide it for them and hopefully do it well. In some cases it may be adding, subtracting or both. Immediately after my class I had a shoot that the listing agent had requested a few new photos as they had redone the staging since the original shoot. I think this is a great example of how a few changes really add considerably to the appeal of this condo. I especially appreciate the accent wall which was easy and inexpensive but really makes this condo, or at least the photo, look so much more inviting.

And to just pass along a tip to realtors from the class I took, get rid of dead vegetation in the landscaping. Especially in the front of the house. I walked by a home for sale in my neighborhood and I saw some dead plantings and I could see how detracting it was from the impression, or curb appeal, of the property.

I’d also recommend checking out Barb Schwarz’s existing book on staging and/or pre-ordering her new one that will be available in May.

Learn as much as you can about staging, regardless of who does it.

Your seller, (and photographer) will love you for it.



Simplifying the buying process

5 years ago on a plane to Hawaii I started writing a Buyer Book to help me when working with my buyers. I couldn’t find a good one that made sense of our local market and spelled out what needs to be answered before a buyer even starts looking. I have a development partner in Hawaii and have good memories of writing this book, sipping Kona coffee from his sister’s plantation and eating Orange Bread on his incredible water view patio. Unfortunately, I had to come home and it took me three more months to finish in the rain.

Why did I write the book? Because I wanted buying a house to be fun and as simple as possible and buyers hate seeing houses they don’t really like. After all, how do you decide where to live and what to buy, if you’ve never been asked the questions that would get you a good working answer. So, after 10 years as an agent and starting out like all agents do by picking out 30 houses or so that “might” work for the buyer, narrowing it down to what I considered the best 10, showing those, making a buying decision and then the “buyer’s remorse” because they wondered what else was out there.

Given that I’m mostly an analytical person, I looked for the “kiss” in the purchasing process and came up with what has been unfailingly the most basic questions that must be examined before you even get into a car with a buyer. So here’s how I work: the buyers read the book and agree to independently (partners separately) fill out a questionaire that tracks with the book before the first 2 hour consulting session which is usually on the morning before going out to buy a home. Those 7 anwers are what I springboard from in the search. I have a picnic lunch prepared and we are now looking at only homes that really do meet their requirments. No buyer’s remorse since they’ve narrowed down the search themselves. The know that if they see a sign on a home that they didn’t look at, that it simply did not meet their requirements. These buyers are also prequalified and we know their housing price limit before our meeting.

People buy with the following criteria, whether they know it or not and buyers can use this criteria to find their home: (not necessarily in this order)

1. What importance is their choice of schools (I once had a young couple, he said it wasn’t important, she said it was, and she announced at the buyer consult that she was pregnant. I left the room :))

2. What importance is the commute: I usually hear 20-45 minutes (unless it’s a microsoft buyer), so then we talk about what hours the commuter works to determine how far out they can live, keeping in mind the school parameters.

3. What importance is a development with CC&R’s vs one without. I explain that although they might not want control on the color they paint their own home, but do they want an airplane parked in the front yard like I saw one day in a Parkland neighborhood near Tacoma. This is an extreme example, I know

4. How important is yard size. These days with all the dogs, many buyers think they ‘need’ a large yard, which leads me to the next question.

5.What importance is the age of the home. Most 30 somethings hate the home they grew up in and they almost always hate the splits. However if you want a large yard, but want a new house, then you’ll probably be paying 3 times what your budget allows, so if the large yard is really really important, then be prepared for 15-20 year old home or older. You have to buy a home where the land was developed before the local jurisdictions started enforcing federally mandated land use restrictions requiring greenbelts or common areas. The result of the federal legislation is that by 1999, all municipalites had to come into complaince with new land use rules. Over a 10 year period, all municipalities had to ensure that all developments must have a very large portion (40-60%) of a development set aside as communtiy area. The latest municipality that I know of to come into compliance was Montlake Terrace, which barely made the 10 year limit. For the developers to make enough profit to make the development feasible, the remaining land had to be divided by the same number of lots, making the lots much much smaller.

I’ve done my own casual research on how the public sees this land use change, and when I ask customers which they’d rather have, large yards or community spaces, they overwhelmingly chose community spaces. So, though we don’t like it, we don’t like it less than we like the new communities with all their parks and community feel (Ergo, the popularity of Issaquah Highlands).

6. The next question is how important is the style. In other words, do you hate splits, do you like to see alot of volume and want a vaulted living room, or does that mean you have to just heat the empty space. Do you have to have a rambler, and depending on budget, are you prepared for townhouse or condo living.

And last but not least

7. Do you want to have a house in complete move in condition or can you do some of the work yourselves after closing.

These 7 questions have been all that I’ve needed to narrow down the search. My buyers fill out the questionaire first before our 2 hour meeting, then armed with those parameters, I have a pretty good idea where the buyers will end up. We pick out thier own houses online and then with a picnic lunch, out we go to preview the properties that they picked. Normally, they buy on this first day, since we have narrowed down their search together and they almost never have buyer’s remorse since they pretty much scoured the enitre market themselves with me just acting as coach.

This has worked great for the last 5 years. My buyers love it and are amazed at how you really can create a structure out of the 6500 or so listings online. AND be right about it!