All The Home’s a Stage

By:  Mary Rae Hunter

A house can be understood as a liquid time-metaphor for where we’ve been, who we are, and the new direction we are going.  In each of these moments, as journalist Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times digitally describes this process: When we buy a house, we make a home, something that is not just a shelter, but a virtual representation of ourselves.

In the course of recently selling her first home, Daum was on the receiving end of advice about how to sell a home in a very strained economy.  She discovered that a house full of personally important books, magazines, and happy bric-a-brac accumulated through her life might fulfill her.  However, to the professional in charge of selling her house, a more objective pair of eyes is required.  And this goes not just for the usual human clutter we all gather over time. Even the wonderful visions discovered in original paintings, books with poignant words by thoughtful poets, or rare and lovely antiques carefully placed around the home are, well, just so much clutter that discourages a prospective buyer from seeing this house as his or her home of the near future.

Enter the “stager.”  A stager, as my clients come to know, is a professional whose job it is to allow your house to be someone’s future home.  Daum relates in her article about the process of selling her first home–and in her recent book, Life Would be Perfect if I Lived in that House–how her stager put 90% of her books, clothing, furniture, and other belongings in storage.  All at once, her home became a barren but beautiful house, something that invited others to make it their own home.  The irony is actually quite telling.  Through a stager we come to learn not only how we identify ourselves with our home and all its marvelous contents, but we learn, as Daum phrases her epiphany, that selling a house is an exercise in “unidentifying with it.”

There is a practical, if not objective, psychology to the stager’s professional eye. The stager wants your house to inspire the imagination, as well as the good, secure, warm and hopeful feelings, that someone else can find in the house you have made your home.  In that sense, every house is really a “fixer-upper” of one sort or another, no matter how refined our taste and no matter how attached we are to its quaint, cultural, or architectural qualities. To emphasize the point, Daum wryly describes how we come to think of our homes much as if they are “supermodels”–unusual specimens of beauty–but that, as we know in real life, up close, supermodels really don’t look that glamorous.  So it is with our homes.

I think Daum is onto something, especially when I consider what the stager I use with my clients points out:  A staged house sells for 6.9% more and in 1/2 the time of a non-staged home.  With adaptation to a home going on the market, Shakespeare’s famous line (“All the World’s a Stage”) seems to fit what real estate professionals and stagers everywhere know:  “All the Home’s a Stage.”  When staged well, both home seller and buyer are all the happier.

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