October 15, 2012

Theatrical Staging? Or Real Estate Staging? A LESSON LEARNED

My husband Roger and I recently sold our big old New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. We had moved into the building  in time to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday in 1975, and six years later our son was born there (well, almost – we got to the hospital just in the nick of time!) When the apartment next door came on the market we borrowed money to connect the two spaces so our kids could run and play.

We were two country kids at heart, lucky in love and real estate, living our dream in Manhattan with a spectacular river view.

Thirty-seven years later we knew it was time to cash in our asset and (gulp) move on. Our kids had been happily independent for years, and even with two grandchildren FIVE bedrooms was ridiculous. 

Deanna Kory, our highly esteemed real estate broker, recommended staging the apartment. (What?) THEATRICAL staging refers to the mounting of a play; REAL ESTATE staging, I learned, means removing all traces of people living in the apartment so prospective buyers don’t get distracted; they’ll be able to imagine themselves living there. 

To be blunt, I hated the idea. One theatrical truth I’ve learned over the years is that specificity makes a landscape universal; removing specificity makes it generic. But that was the point: Deanna advised that staging could increase the selling price from 5 to 125 times the cost of staging (!) so Roger and I immediately got to work.

© Samuel Morgan Photography

Rented furniture (beige), lamps (square), towels (ugly) and chatchkas (weird) appeared. Plasterers, painters, window-washers invaded our turf, as did (thankfully) Amanda Wiss and Urban Clarity, who got us organized. Our son Sam, an architectural photographer, did a photo-shoot, and his fine photos didn’t resemble the comfy home in which we’d raised our family, but it sure was ready to sell. 

Preparing to show the apartment reminded us of the half-hour-call that precedes every theatrical performance: it looks hectic but in fact, it’s a meticulous routine.

Our routine: make beds, poof pillows, empty wastebaskets, clear every surface, vacuum (Roger), arrange fresh flowers (me), leave no traces of normal life, EXIT to the Metro Diner, contemplate our future and wait for Deanna’s “all clear” text, and head home. 

Eventually the perfect buyers arrived. And as the lovely young mother vividly described how her family would live in our space, I knew the staging had worked. But there’s another chapter to our story… where did we go? 

HA!  Not very far: we are now living 10 feet 2 inches below our former home. And here’s the beauty part: our new apartment was NOT staged, which I believe is the reason we got it.  

We were always fond of the elderly couple downstairs – they were good neighbors. Distinguished college professors who loved world travel and NY’s Upper West Side, they often gathered students in their book-lined home for heady salons: discussions of physics, languages and art.

It seemed natural that when our dear neighbors died (a couple of years apart) it was in the home they loved. In fact, their clothes were still hanging in the closets when the apartment was being shown, and their books and paintings were everywhere. It looked as if one of their salons for their students was about to begin. Their apartment reflected a highly specific way of life – in other words, it was staged according to the theatrical definition of the word. And it simply did not sell.

We knew that our neighbors’ apartment was for sale six months before ours, and we would’ve bought it in an instant if we didn’t have to sell ours first. But we couldn’t make an offer contingent upon a sale. Then Deanna’s brilliant and diplomatic negotiating skills proved it’s not just a rumor that she’s the best realtor in New York: 428 days after our neighbors’ apartment came on the market our offer to buy it was accepted.

I will forever recommend real-estate-staging to anyone who wants to sell their apartment. (And Deanna Kory, of course!) Theatrical staging? Nope. Though it sure worked in our favor! 

In the meantime, the Hudson River is a most inspiring setting. Roger and I thank our lucky stars for it every day.

 We may have moved… but we’re still here. 

 

 

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20 Responses to “Theatrical Staging? Or Real Estate Staging? A LESSON LEARNED”

  1. Gritt Fog says:

    Absolutely a great story – Clearly illustrates how different businesses work from very different perspectives. Congratulations on the new home.

  2. Patricia Chess says:

    This is a fascinating story! You do a lovely job revealing how each profession has a shared point of view about “how things work.” I enjoyed the fact that the meaning of staging in theatre is all about being specific, which invites the audience to live in that particular space–and world–for a little while. Removing that specificity for staging a house allows prospective buyers to project themselves into the space and imagine it as their own.

    It makes perfect sense that the “unstaged” new apartment so easily spoke to you, because you knew the real lives of the real people who inhabited that space.

    This Theatrical Intelligence insight made me think about the idea that spaces inform us, tell us who they have been, who they are, and who they might be; they always invite us in to their worlds.

  3. Mindy says:

    Wow, you described your experience so well, I could imagine being there as an actor standing in the wings waiting for my cue. With Deanna as the director, Urban Clarity as prop masters and scenic designers, Sam as the photographer taking pictures for the playbill, and you and Roger cast in the starring roles, you did mount a play! So, yes, it is a bit of Theatrical Staging. The reviews are in and the critics are raving….this play has a happy ending with a spectacular view.

  4. Vicki Daly says:

    Food for thought, and something that hadn’t occurred to me before. Theatrical staging or real estate staging, this is all about the power of the human imagination in a space. In one case, theater artist(s) use their imaginations to create a pretend setting, and the audience use theirs to take a “journey” with the characters in that location. So, detail helps the audience imagine the circumstances. In the other case, real estate buyers use their imaginations to project what their lives would be like (in essence, *they* must become the characters.) Clearly the buyers need a clean slate, with little detail, or else they’ll continue to imagine the prior owners in that space . . . . No room for them. Bravo to you and Roger for imagining how best to navigate this process!

  5. Ann,
    It appears “staging” is everything depending on your taget audience! Great story – good for you to be willing to follow the advice from the expert – many of us don’t do that soon enough!!!
    Wishing you happiness in your new home!

  6. Sean Pratt says:

    Having bought, renovated and flipped three homes in the last 12 years, my wife Shannon and I know the value of staging a home. This also comes from the fact that we’ve been professional actors for 25 years and know how to “Dress a set.” For each one, when it came time to sell our newly finished investment, Shan would buy the “set pieces” and I would haul away all our personal items. It worked like a charm every time! As we say in our business, “Next day on your dressing room they’ve hung a star!” So…how’s it feel to be a star?

  7. Betsy Kent says:

    Ann,

    Having recently sold a loft in Manhattan, we experienced the reaction of potential buyers before it was staged (we thought our loft was beautiful just the way it was) and after it was staged. In our case we merely had to buy a few accent pillows, rearrange our artwork, and get rid of the clutter, but we had a stager that helped us and I am sure it made a huge difference in the speed of the sale and the quality of the buyer.

    Congrats on your new digs! Post more pics of the river, too!

  8. Ann,
    We have just met and I am already enjoying the fruits of your years of paying attention to what matters: aesthetics, relationships and a view of the Hudson River! Look forward to many more stories and learning opportunities together.

    Congratulations on your new home.

  9. Amanda Wiss says:

    Ann, my team and I LOVED playing a role in Roger and your exciting transition 10 feet, 2 inches downstairs. Thanks for being so enthusiastic about the decluttering and organizing process. It’s so thrilling to see how beautifully everything worked out!

  10. Ahhhh yes that glorious FIVE bedroom apartment of yours. So many wonderful times shared there with my NY family! It looks glorious in those pictures “staged” but even more so in my memory with all the stuff of life you’d collected over the years.

    Staging really does work. We were just in England staging a big, old English house that we are selling since my husband’s relative passed away. I did all the staging myself using the existing, tatty furniture and I found it very fun! The photographer that came after I’d worked many long hours for many days said he’d never seen someone work so hard to have every little thing just so. I do believe it’s my many years on sets and in theaters watching the set designers do their thing that really gave me an eye for it. He offered me a job which I thought was sweet and hilarious! I said, “you think I’m good at this, you should see me in my REAL job!” Hee hee.

    So happy you and Roger are just downstairs still with that glorious view of the river. Heaven on Earth! And I think you know… I’d have bought your apartment staged or not if we could have!!!! Love you, Melora

  11. Gwen Suesse says:

    Thank you, Ann, for sharing this saga.

    The take-away for me is the importance and value of being clear about your goals, because the “right” thing to do generally depends on what you are really trying to accomplish. Once you’ve named your goal, what helps you meet it is keeping your eye on that “prize,” and then maintaining the discipline to stick whatever course of action will aid the process. (The only exception I can think of, and this has, actually, happened to me, is when the “recommended” course of action somehow violates one’s personal standards or values.)

    Thanks for posting this thoughtful piece, and best wishes to you and Roger for many years of happiness in your new “downstairs” digs.

  12. Wendy Hanson says:

    What a beautiful, thought provoking story. I had a nervous stomach thinking about you leaving Riverside Drive. Thank goodness! You are such a heart centered person–I believe your love of the downstairs apartment was colored in a such a good way by your affection for the couple who lived there. Life is good–If that apartment had been staged you may have lost your opportunity. I have a friend and colleague in CA who does staging and have learned a lot from her perspectives.

    In a way, as leaders, we have to think about “staging.” At a first meeting with a client/customer do we “stage” the image we want to expose, or do we we “come as we are.” Lots of food for thought.

    The world is a better place Ann with you on the stage. Much happiness to you and Roger in your new home.

  13. Nancy Forsythe says:

    Ann! I love your reference to Sam–and architectural photographer he is, too! He’s as talented as his mom AND dad! The staging looked terrific, but the ‘REAL’ stage was a setting for a warm and creative and welcoming and loving family. Before it was staged it spoke to your scores of dear friends and best of all, to your family, who I know are the center of your life.

    As always, your beautifully crafted telling of this experience infused with your wealth of knowledge brought an idea to life that I’d not really considered. I love your blog! Keep writing!

  14. Bob Jaffe says:

    Yes, real estate staging works and not enough people take advantage of it. Jill, my wife, has been advocating this for the many years that she has done interior design. Glad to read the living testimonial, Ann.

    Mostly, I’m glad that you got to sell your place and move into one that will bring the next series of memories to your and Roger’s lives.

  15. Margaret Holt says:

    What a timely blog! We just put our apartment on the market and the realtors are saying “Stage, stage, stage it” after only two weeks! Your experience makes me think twice about my reluctance to stage my book-lined loft!

    Best of all is the fact that you were able to purchase the apartment directly below, so your change is not severe. Warm regards to you.

  16. Rob Askins says:

    Really interesting and insightful, Ann. It’s always important whenever putting anything into the world, be it an apartment or a play, to think about the audience.

    In your story we have two examples of opposite solutions to the same problem. Appeal to the general and cast the widest possible net, or speak quietly to a few people you know can hear your heart. There are pitfalls with either approach – it’s just about knowing which to use when. That’s a wisdom I hope to acquire… one of these days.

    Congrats on all of it. See you soon.

  17. Diney says:

    Ann,

    I love your Website. The blogs are moving and thought-provoking. I love the warmth and sentiment that runs through each one of them – most especially the ones about your family.

    Congratulations and keep sharing.

  18. Ann Sachs says:

    THANK YOU to everyone who has commented.

    It’s exciting to read your responses, because as you share your insights I learn more about what I’ve written. You are teaching me about Theatrical Intelligence, which seems to be growing bigger every day and (moment of truth) has become rather daunting as a book.

    I treasure your encouragement.

    Ann

  19. Alice Boutte says:

    Ann, it took me awhile to comment as I read everything on your site first to get a grasp of Theatrical Intelligence. The means you used to successfully sell your NYC apartment gave me the best example of what you mean by it. Now I get it.

    Brilliant adaptation you were both able to make in doing the opposite of what you would do for a theatrical stage…and it worked. Will tell anyone your story if they are trying to sell their home….including myself in coming years probably. Can’t wait to read the book!

  20. Cora Fox says:

    I am late to the chorus, but I also loved your post. Your affection for the community you’ve made your home is beautiful and inspiring, and you’ve made me think differently about the spaces we inhabit. Your thoughts on staging helped me see in a new way why I love the excitement of an empty (or generically staged) house, but find nothing more relaxing than being surrounded by my own specific things in my own specific home.

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