Your Home 'On Stage'

Face It: Getting a house ready to sell means making it impersonal. Here are an expert's how-to tips.

Photography by Alex Lesovoy

The nautical accessories, pictured here in the great room, tie in nicely with this Rumson home’s location along Navesink River. Yet they don’t detract from the home itself, which is key.

When you are selling your home, there's only one chance to make a good first impression. That’s why staging, when done right, is of such value.

Staging goes well beyond removing clutter. It’s more than the fresh coat of paint that spruces up a tired façade. And it certainly should not be a substitute for making repairs that otherwise would likely scare off buyers, such as a leaky ceiling.

With proper staging, says Sandy Levin, who founded the Freehold-based Beautiful Interiors Design Group in 2001, “We’re creating a dream. We’re fashioning a warm and inviting environment where people can envision themselves living.”

When a newly constructed but vacant home in exclusive Rumson didn’t hook a buyer after a few months on the market starting in November 2017, Levin was called in to create a success story. Just four days after staging, victory—the home had an accepted offer, she says.

From her experience as an interior designer and a home-staging expert, Levin knew that buyers were unlikely to bond with a vacant home. That’s because most people—90 percent, she says—cannot look past the emptiness effectively to visualize a house as their home sweet home.

These days, when most buyers hit the Internet before the pavement in their real-estate search, the negative effects of a vacant home have become even more disastrous. “If a home is vacant online, it looks like a warehouse, which is not appealing,” says Levin.

To conquer emptiness in the Rumson home, Levin brought in furniture and accessories, all of which she rents out through her company. But if your first inclination in staging your home is to choose whatever catches your eye in a catalogue, you could be wasting your cash. Before staging a home, Levin studies demographics to determine a home’s typical buyer. With the Rumson home, priced at almost $1.23 million, Levin wanted furnishings and décor that reflected the lifestyle this beachy-chic community offers buyers. Formerly a resort town for elite New Yorkers, Rumson now lends itself to year-round living—people like the breezy ferry commute to work from Highlands and the time it allows for boating and other outdoor fun when they get home.

The nautical theme for this farmhouse-style home was a perfect match.

A boat and starfish on the coffee table in the great room reflect the lifestyle that draws buyers to Rumson. Over the fireplace mantel, a scenic Rumson vista was painted by Guy T. Hembling, the owner of the home construction firm Charles B. Hembling & Son, located in Shrewsbury, which has been in business for nearly a century and was a contractor on this project.

What these furnishings did not do is detract from the house itself. Making sure that furniture, accessories and wall décor do not steal the show is one of the top pointers Levin gives those endeavoring to stage their homes for sale.

Right down to the painting of a local vista on the wall, the dining room is geared to the typical Rumson buyer and their tastes. At left: The airy, white kitchen with its big center island beckons buyers to make themselves part of the picture with attention to every detail, including the place settings.

By keeping the windows in this bedroom free of curtains and blinds, the stager maximizes natural light and views, increasing buying potential.

Other Staging Tips Are:

  • Nothing personal: Take down collections, family photos and other décor that reflect your personality and start to let go. “You want to disassociate from your home,” says Sandy Levin, founder of Freehold-based Beautiful Interiors Design Group. “When you put it on the market, it’s a product.” The goal is for buyers to see themselves there—not you, which means the more neutral, the better.
  • Let the light shine: Take down the blinds and curtains (unless needed for privacy) and maximize the beauty of the windows, their architectural features such as molding, and the sunshine they deliver. “You’re selling the architectural interest in the windows and the light coming through,” Levin says.
  • Out of sight: Kitchen counters in the Rumson house are kept spacious with few decorations, but when folks are still living in their house, they need to put things like coffee makers away. Levin suggests having a checklist of items that can quickly be removed for an open house. To make it easy, stash these things in a basket and put the whole thing out of sight. “It’s almost supposed to be like no one’s living there,” she said. “In the dream we’re creating, people don’t want to see knives, a blender, a coffee maker and such.”
  • Go neutral: Another pointer for a dreamy aesthetic is painting with warm, neutral colors such as grays and taupe, which are popular right now. Levin recommends staying away from white—a stark, cold hue.
  • Mind those details: The Rumson kitchen’s clutter-free center island has four inviting place settings that avoid distracting formality.
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