Top SF Realtor POV: Staging IS Rather Silly, Isn’t It?

Top SF Realtor POV: Staging IS Rather Silly, Isn’t It?

by Cynthia Cummins

Cynthia is owner and founder of Kindred SF Homes and a top San Francisco Realtor. Check out for refreshing reflections on the meaning of home and for more “best real estate advice” (since 2013).

Reading time: 3 minutes and 14 seconds

My friends the Wardens and I are in conversation about selling their longtime home.  It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime place, with 5-star-favorite-status bones and a coveted location. The Wardens have lived in and loved it for 15 years, and are only the third owners in its 100-year lifespan.

Their children grew up there, and it’s the sort of house that gives you a feeling of wistful nostalgia (and, might I add, envy) the instant you walk in the door. I brought stagers and painters through to talk about property prep, and during the walkthroughs each vendor turned to me at some point and said, “I wish I had grown up in a house like this.”

It’s a Craftsman, with large-scaled rooms and large-scaled windows. With chunky stair bannisters and tall wainscot. There are bay windows, coved ceilings, an attic room with bunker windows in the eaves. There’s a separate cottage, an outdoor shower, and a huge not-quite-legal-height basement room where you could dance, craft, paint, do yoga, have teenage birthday parties, install a bocce ball court, you name it.

Want character? It’s got heaps of it. And plenty of funky stuff – a shower that doesn’t work, a big patch of plywood floor in one room, original glass that lets the wind in, an out-of-character added-on atrium, no garage, a brick chimney monolith lurking in the basement.

The tasteful furnishings are eclectically boho cozy hip – a reflection of the Wardens’ personal, artful style. Colorful, delectable textiles and linens. Varied, compelling and edgy art. Just the right cabinet pulls. An accent of wildly perfect wallpaper in the kitchen. A lacy philodendron hanging from the ceiling and draping around the tub in the primary bathroom. Delightful tchockes.

And living in the house are real, breathing people. The father making lentils and rice in the kitchen. A teenage daughter on her phone on the sofa. The mother shooing the sibling pair of old cats off the furniture. A grown son dropping by with flowers and laundry that needs doing.

Which brings me to the reason for this writing: Why can’t we show this house to the public in its current, lived-in, authentic state?

Okay. I know all the reasons to empty it, prep it and stage it. I’ve preached that sermon from my pulpit for a couple of decades: Never show a house “as is.” Always take the time to stage. Remember, it is pure theater designed to excite the buying public. The ROI is huge (though strangely unquantifiable.)

Besides, everybody does it now. It’s standard practice. If you walk into a house that hasn’t been staged the first question is “why” and the assumed answer is “these people can’t afford it or don’t care enough about the outcome to go through the trouble.” Advantage buyer!

Yet the Wardens have raised an important question to counter these arguments. Why must we go along with this norm? Isn’t it blatantly wasteful and dumb?

I agree. It’s pretty icky. Spending – in this case — $100,000 or so on paint, floors, various repairs, landscaping and staging to attract a buyer who is likely to do their own personalized and expensive remodel.

This has me thinking about a different paradigm for presenting a property. Now that we’re all accustomed to the full-on production that plays to Zillow and Redfin. Now that we play to the camera. Now that we pros all run around acting like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in Babes at Arms – creating a theatrical production using bubble gum and baling wire.

Paint the cabinets. Paint the bathroom tiles. Re-enamel the bathtub. Install sod. Change out that faucet. Replace those light fixtures. Throw a rug over the bare patch of floor. Powerwash the deck. Pop some impatiens into that shady garden bed. Arrange the book spines according to their color. Sprinkle pillows liberally throughout. Et voila!

Why can’t we do something more sustainable and real and commonsensical?

That’s an actual question. Please, I’d love to hear your answers.

Photo Credit: Gwen King 

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