Staging, truth in advertising and dressing up Grandmother

We received this comment yesterday from Reader Erika on a post I wrote last December on home staging:

What seller’s need to understand is staging is not about making the home look pretty, it’s about allowing the potential buyers to envision themselves in the home.

I agree, but it is mostly an issue of semantics. Staging is about making the home “look pretty” to the greatest number of potential buyers. In short, staging is about neutralizing.

I’ve written before about this idea of staging to create mass appeal. What staging shouldn’t be is a game of smoke-and-mirrors deceit. Think of it as make-up versus dress-up.  My grandmother in the old days used to talk about “putting on her face” in the morning. She wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving the house without undergoing a personal staging ritual involving foundation, blush, mascara, and, I suspect, a few blowtorches. And when she did hit the produce isle, she looked admittedly better, but no one was going to mistake her for Betty Grable. She was still quite clearly my grandmother.

That’s an example of good staging – undergoing a transformation from a natural, lived-in state of dishevelment to the point where people might be, if not proud to hang out with you, at least able to see past you to the bananas without undue distraction.

Now let’s say my grandmother woke up each morning and donned a rabbit suit. Everyone loves fuzzy bunnies, but now Grandmother is just a spectacle. So busy are folks gawking at the costume that they have forgotten they are there to buy something. More importantly, it’s disingenuous. Once people start to realize that there is a grandmother under that cottontail, they might feel a little put off and give up the shopping idea altogether in favor of take-out.

We have a tired mantra at our house. “Sometimes it just is what it is.” (I’m making t-shirts, by the way.) You can soften the hard edges with plants and candles — you can set the table, repaint the pink wall in Sienna Sand, move the Civil War artillery weapons collection into storage and even put lipstick on grandmother – and all of these things will help to make the backdrop more inviting. But people will eventually learn the truth. None of it changes the basic infrastructure.

Which brings me to my point. Sometimes honestly is just the best policy, particularly where marketing is concerned. More specifically, overselling is more dangerous than going commando with no “staging” at all.

We have all seen the brochures, the ones that tell us a home is “model perfect,” only to arrive at the subject home that looks like the site of Custer’s last stand. Absent a more delicate way to put it, let me just say this: It pisses buyers off. They feel duped, and at that point it doesn’t matter how perfect the floor plan might have been or how much potential they might have seen; they are moving on.

Which brings me to the photos. Over the years, we have used many photographers for our clients’ listings. Some time this past year we changed photographers again. The reason? The last photographer’s pictures were too good. Not only were potential buyers repeatedly expressing disappointment that the homes looked “better in the pictures,” but many sellers were conceding as much. Our brochures were starting to feel like we were depicting Grandmother in that bunny suit.

Don’t get me wrong; our photos are still awesome, but they are honest. Apparently, not all agents subscribe to the whole truth in advertising thing.

Yesterday, I received the photos for our most recent listing. The photographer asked me this:

“We have been processing this house, and we didn’t remember if you asked us to green the back yard.  I have attached a version both ways to give you an idea of what it will look like.  Do you prefer green or natural?”

Green the backyard? Do agents really do that?

Here were my choices. Guess which one I will be using? (Answer: Sometimes it is what it is.)

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