Home staging eliminates clutter, helps homes sell
When Lori Matzke was called in to help figure out why a half-million dollar house in the Minneapolis area wasn't selling, she figured the stuffed deer head above the urinal might have had something to do with it.
Or maybe it was the stuffed prairie chickens around the whirlpool bath.
"Most people are going to look at that as a very scary, freaky thing," she said. "And that's what they're going to remember about your house."
As a house stager, Matzke's job is to help sellers get rid of all things they won't want a buyer to remember about their houses, like the birthing pool - full of water - that recent clients had sitting in front of their living-room picture window.
With market times slowing in some areas and the number of houses for sale increasing, a growing number of Realtors and homeowners are turning to people such as Matzke to help sell their houses.
"When things were good, they turned up their noses at home staging," she said. Now, "agents are desperate for an answer."
Matzke's staging business keeps increasing, but she also got so many inquiries from people worldwide asking how to start their own staging business that she started opening affiliate offices across the country - 13 in just the past year.
Matzke prepares houses for sale by "staging" them, either before they go on the market or while they're on the market, by evaluating what might stand in the way of a sale.
She's not fond of clutter, fading family portrait collages above the couch, too much furniture, cutesy collections or other personal things that make it hard for a buyer to imagine themselves living in your house. And her pet peeve is stuffed animals.
"You live in a house differently than you want it to be when you sell it," said Jan Van Horne, a sales agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet and a client of Matzke's.
They worked together on a house that had been on the market for several months. The day after it was staged, an offer was made.
Unlike interior decorators who personalize a space, Matzke's role is to depersonalize a house.
Once, that involved Matzke delicately asking a client to move their pet cat, which had been stuffed and was sprawled out on the couch.
"I said you might want to stick kitty in the closet," she said.
Staging goes beyond the usual suggestions: potpourri and an apple pie in the oven. Matzke's job often involves deconstructing a lifetime of accumulation and decorating.
Matzke got her start a few years ago when a real estate agent noticed work Matzke did for a family that needed help organizing their dated house, which had pink and green wallpaper. Matzke made suggestions on how to present the house.
Those suggestions worked, the house quickly sold. At the urging of her real estate agent contact, Matzke started looking for clients.
She launched Center Stage in 2001, including a Web site for the business and started courting real estate companies. Realtors at first were reluctant, but she got so many e-mails from people interested in starting their own staging company, she thought her computer was broken.
Fees for Center Stage's services vary. Matzke does a one-hour walk-through for $100 and charges $45 an hour per person to implement her suggestions. A typical job costs about $500, she said.
With more houses on the market, sellers have more competition and with home prices steadily rising, buyers have have much higher expectations.
"Before, you could buy a house for $150,000 and it'd be a nice house, but that's not the case anymore, today that's a fixer-upper," said Bloem, another Center Stage Home™ client and Coldwell Banker agent. "So when people spend $300,000, $400,000 and $500,000 for a house they expect to walk in and feel good about the house."