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Setting the stage: Woman redefines homes to inspire sales

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 12, 2011
— Watching real estate staging designer Linda Andrews work over a room is like watching a kid genius thumb at the panels of a sliding puzzle game.

In the dining room of a two-story, four-bedroom Victorian home on Henry Street in downtown Edgerton, Andrews sized things up.


Her eyes jumped to a dining room table that loomed like a Spanish galleon in the middle of the dark honey-colored floor. A big rug was parked in the entryway, clogging up the other half of the room.


Andrews had one word for it all.


"No."


Andrews rolled up the rug, and then she and her business partner, Edgerton realtor Kim Schuetz, dispatched the dining room table.


Next, Andrews covered dining room chairs with dark slips brightened by ribbon and matching throw pillows. She shifted the chairs to a corner of the room next to a smaller rug and a smaller table.


Andrews was creating a sitting area beneath one of the room's major focal points, an ornate stained glass window. Afternoon sun sparkled in, and the dining room suddenly became a foyer—a spacious atrium for the rest of the house.


The home Andrews was staging is a signature Rock County historic home, featuring lots of hardwood, stained glass, built-in cabinets and wainscoting everywhere.


Yet the home is signature Rock County in another way: It's for sale and has languished on the market for a year. And it's had a price drop from $100,000 to $80,000.


"The owners are at a point where they just need to move this house, now," Schuetz said.


So the owners and Schuetz, who's marketing the house, brought in Andrews, a professional interior designer who owns and operates the Edgerton-based Preferred Home Staging.


It's Andrews' job to create floor plans that make the most of each home's available space. She makes the choices of where furniture is placed, what decorations are used and—in the case of an owner-occupied property—what items could be put in storage to "de-clutter" rooms.


The idea is to make a house more saleable by giving prospective homebuyers a clear view of each room's best qualities.


"That's the key to this. It's getting the homeowner to realize that you're selling the space, not the owners' stuff," she said.


Andrews, whose staging projects range from empty condos to owner-occupied homes, is a market fixer at a time when real estate sellers everywhere are clawing for a competitive advantage.


As anyone selling a house knows, the real estate market has been flat in recent months. Many analysts expect it to stay flat this year, Schuetz said.


Blair Winn, a Janesville realtor and president of the Rock-Green Realtor's Association, said he expects a typical increase in activity in the housing market this spring and summer.


In the coming months, Winn said, staging could be a good strategy for homeowners. In a market heavy on foreclosed properties, which tend to be bare, unfurnished and sometimes not very clean, Winn said a deftly staged property can give sellers a competitive advantage.


"Staging just makes things more presentable. People can actually see themselves living in the house," Winn said. "Without knowing it, they kind of apply that to all things related to the house. If the house looks great, people assume it probably applies to more than just what they can see."


Does that mean staging is about decorative sleight of hand—like lipstick on a pig?


"No," said Andrews.


The golden rule of staging, according to Andrews: no cover-ups.


In fact, Andrews wants homebuyers to see as much of a home as possible. During a walkthrough of the Henry Street house, Andrews rolled up practically every rug she saw.


"Rugs are great for giving the illusion that a space is smaller than it is," she said.


In a bedroom in the Henry Street house, Schuetz pointed to an unsightly plastic electrical panel bulging from a plaster wall. What do you do with that?


"Well, we don't want to cover that up," said Andrews. "That's not what staging is about. We're not hiding flaws."


Andrews made note that a pair of framed artworks could be hung near the electric cap. That, she said, would draw homebuyers' eyes away from the flaw without concealing it.


Andrews keeps a warehouse of furniture and decor for different kinds of staging projects, but for the Henry Street job, she's submitting a checklist of ideas to the owners, who plan to supply staging items themselves.


That will save the owners money on the project at a time when they've already reduced their home's sale price by 20 percent.


Fans of TV home improvement shows might be familiar with staging as a marketing tool. On the shows, they might see designers splashing walls with fake forest scenes and people creating built-in shelves in as little as 20 minutes—all for under $500.


That's unrealistic, Andrews said.


"You never see the total labor costs," she said.


Costs for staging can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on whether an owner wants repairs, repainting or redecorating.


But Andrews said most stagers work with owners to keep costs low. She said it's less about big, bold changes and more about a neutral, clean view of the best features a home has to offer.


For owners who decide to stage their home, Andrews said, the biggest hurdle often is psychological. After a property's staged to sell, it probably won't feel as much like home.


But that's kind of the point.


"When we put up a home for sale, it no longer is a personal thing," Andrews said. "It's a product."



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