THE OTHER NIGHT, a friend and I got to talking about how to stage a house for sale. Trying to sell a house while you’re living in it, as she is doing — the necessity to keep everything in tip-top shape at all times — gets wearing. She’s on a constant de-cluttering rampage, afraid to leave home without making the bed. And after months of prospective buyers parading through, she’s learned not to get caught up in discussions of her avant garde art collection.
At that point, it struck us why professional real estate stagers advise in favor of unchallenging, middle-of-the-road furnishings. My friend’s wild, abstract art is a distraction from the main point: the architecture and construction of the house.
For me, personally, whether looking to buy or rent, staging would make no difference. I pride myself on seeing right through filth, clutter, and ugly furniture all the way to potential. I even once bought a building that smelled really bad (turned out there was a dead bird above a dropped ceiling). Hell, having a strong stomach is a great way to get a deal in real estate, when those with more delicate sensibilities run the other way.
Many prospective buyers and renters can’t even deal with dingy walls, let alone decaying wildlife. I had this confirmed last spring, when tenants left my 1850s townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn . I showed it for 3 or 4 weeks, empty but without a new paint job, though it needed one. I was hoping (ha!) that people would see beyond the need for paint to what it could be, and then we would negotiate a paint allowance, or a touch-up job, or maybe even a full paint job. I just didn’t feel like painting a four-story house if it wasn’t going to be absolutely necessary.
I got no serious offers. So I caved, and had the whole house painted top to bottom, including the stair railings, window moldings, insides of closets, etc. Not a square inch remained unpainted. Boom. Next person to look at the place took it.
Coincidence? I think not. Just days later, my Cobble Hill neighbor two doors down called me for advice. She was trying to rent the lower duplex of her identical 4-story townhouse (with a garden, on a coveted park block, fairly priced) and having trouble. Again, it needed a paint job and had been on the rental market a few weeks. My neighbor had powerful resistance to the idea of painting. Like me, she didn’t want to spend the money and didn’t want to be bothered. She thought she’d make a deal, and the incoming tenants would arrange to paint or not, as they saw fit. Again, prospective tenants streamed through and no one bit. I said, you’ve gotta paint. She moaned, I don’t wanna paint. I said, I know, but you must paint. She did. Guess what? First person to look at the freshly painted place took it.
Paint. Paint. Paint. It’s not about the space, my friend and I decided, so much as the perception of the space.
Oh, and paint it white.
Want more insight into what it’s like to own and manage rental property? Take a look at one of my most popular posts, “So Ya Wanna Be a Landlady?”