Don't Call It Home Staging. Call It Superstaging!

How do you make a buyer feel like your property is her destiny? According to Climb Real Estate, by making sure it's just that.

Photo By Climb Real Estate This one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo in San Francisco's hip Hayes Valley neighborhood was styled specifically to attract a single woman shopping for her first home. It sold to a doctor just finishing her residency for $53,000 more than a comparable unit two floors above. 

It's not news that San Francisco home sales have been rocketing above expectations since the beginning of the year. Bay area buyers have seen themselves outbid by the cost of a mansion in their home towns; sellers have found that even an unstaged home, or even raw fixer-upper, will sell above asking within a week. 

You might think this'd encourage laziness among sellers, but at least one boutique agency is thinking just the opposite: a little extra effort might result in record sales within record times. They call it simple marketing, but I call it "uberstaging." 

Climb Real Estate has been creating a niche for itself with its rolling Airstream satellite office. Now they're talking their sellers into spending as much as $50K on pre-sale improvements, betting that the payoff will more than cover the cost. 

The first step is to identify the potential buyer. In the case of this property, on Page Street in Hayes Valley, they  pitched their concept toward a single, professional woman in her 30s buying her first home - a powerful buying force in today's market, by the way. Then they hired a interior designer Ian Stalling, art consultants from Art Haus, color consultant Wendy Trotter, and even landscape designer Dat Pham to create a space designed specifically for this fictitious buyer. 

 "This isn't about the four walls," says Chris Lim, Climb's marketing director. "It's about what happens in those four walls. How is your life going to be better if you buy this property? Is it that Blue Bottle coffee is just down the street? Is it the restaurants and the easy commute to downtown? How do you create a storyline that will convince someone that this is meant to be her home?" The stack of takeout menus and bottles of coffee in the kitchen are only the beginning of that story.

The concept rings true for this reporter: I nearly bid on one home that was totally wrong for us based solely on the seller's books and a mural painted on their daughter's bedroom wall. Lim nods: "We curate the bookshelves as well and spend a ton of our budget on art. That's a very powerful, emotional signifier." 

And it does pay off. The staging on the Page Street property took about 3 weeks from concept to completion (where regular, bland staging takes 2-3 days); it cost about twice as much as a normal staging job. The same unit on a higher floor (with better views and a patio) sold for about $750K with the usual staging 2 months before this one hit the market; the Climb-designed space netted $800K and sold faster. 

(And it sold to the projected buyer, by the way: a female physician just finishing her residency who "fell in love with the property and said, 'I'll do whatever it takes to get this home.'" Music to a seller's ears.) 

In this case, the only permanent modification was the paint and wallpaper -- the rest went back to the professionals who brought them. But in other homes, Climb has re-stained floors, added carpet, and even created videos showing models interacting in the space (complete with carefully-selected mood music). 

The rule in the past has been that staging should make a home as bland as possible so it can appeal to the widest range of buyers. That's why every staged home in the Bay Area has the same sisal rugs, bowls full of twig-balls, golden Buddhas, and stand mixers. (Believe me. At one point in the open house death march, I swore to my husband that if I saw one more Marimekko bedspread I would explode.) The reasoning is that if a buyer sees too much personality in a home, he or she will be turned off.

Au contraire, says Lim: if you do your marketing homework, you'll be able to touch one person's heart, which is worth much more than simply not-offending 50 potential buyers. That's some serious Don Draper thinking, and just the kind of risk-taking that has long defined the City by the Bay. 

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