When Derek and Angela Chezzi go house hunting in downtown Toronto, they’re struck by a disturbing similarity in what they see. The furniture at many resale homes looks suspiciously fresh and new, the art hanging on the walls seems all-too-familiar and the rooms are just soooo squeaky clean. After looking at dozens of houses, the Chezzis recognize the signs that a home stager has been at work. “Let’s face it, how many of us have furniture that matches perfectly?” asks Derek, 32, who works as a website manager. “You can tell as soon as you walk into a staged home that this is something that belongs in an interior design shop, not your average family’s home.”
Remember: no matter how beautifully decorated a home may be, its true value hinges on practical considerations how much space it offers, the neighborhood it’s in, how many bedrooms and bathrooms it has. Here’s how to make sure you don’t get taken in by a stager’s tricks:
1. Beware of old panes
The best tipoff that a home stager has been at work is a beautifully decorated home with old windows. Why? Because a complete set of new windows is expensive think $10,000 or so and most stagers won’t bother to put them in. But if the windows are old, you have to wonder what other secrets the house may be hiding.
2. Measure, measure
Stagers are notorious for making small rooms look larger by renting undersized couches, tables and chairs. “I staged a house in Rosedale that had a great third-floor master bedroom,” says Toronto home stager Debra Gould, “but it was awkward because the stairwell and entrance to the room were really small.” She ended up renting dressers from a kids’ furniture store because she couldn’t get adult-sized dressers up the stairs. Imagine the shock the new owners must have felt when they tried to move in their own furniture. To make sure you don’t have a nasty surprise, pack a tape measure and write down the dimensions of all key rooms.
3. Avoid showrooms
The showrooms in many new condo developments use pint-sized furniture, large mirrors and other space-expanding tricks to make the units appear larger than they are. “If you’re looking at something in a new complex,” says Feisal Panjwani, a senior mortgage consultant with Invis Inc. of Vancouver, “ask to look at another suite that hasn’t been done up. You’ll get a feel for what the home will look like with regular furniture and appliances.”
4. View it live
Most real estate agents insist that viewing the house when it’s empty gives you time to examine it at leisure. But the Chezzis have found a better option is to view it around suppertime when the owners are present. “When someone’s in the place,” notes Derek Chezzi,”you get a better sense of the house. Is there enough counter space for the dinner dishes? Does the kitchen feel spacious with two or three people in it? You can imagine what it would be like to live there yourself.”
5. Come out of the closet
Stagers often empty out closets to make them look larger than they really are and give the illusion of plentiful storage space. Be aware of the trick and make sure you know exactly how much storage space you’re getting. “I often wonder where all the jackets, shoes and coats are in the homes we see because they certainly aren’t in the closets,” says Derek Chezzi. “I always ask to see other storage areas.”
6. Tune out the noise
Any good stager tries to create a relaxed, elegant mood. Jazz on the stereo, a roaring fire in the hearth, fresh flowers and homey scents are just some of the tricks you’ll encounter. The only defense? Close your eyes and imagine the same room with kids yelling and yesterday’s newspaper spread out on the floor. Reality may not be as pretty as the staged version, but it’s a much better guide to value.
By Julie Cazzin
From the April/May 2005 issue of MoneySense magazine