Stag­ing & de­sign firm gets buy­ers to the front door

St. Mary’s woman ‘stages’ homes to help them sell

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Get­ting prospec­tive buy­ers in the door when sell­ing a home can be a hit or miss propo­si­tion, es­pe­cially when it’s va­cant. Kera Cher­rey of Cal­i­for­nia, Md., works to change that on be­half of clients with her Ch­e­sa­peake Stag­ing & De­sign busi­ness.

“Stag­ing is in­te­rior de­sign and dec­o­rat­ing to max­i­mize or em­pha­size the fea­tures of a home,” Cher­rey said, stand­ing out­side a new, va­cant 5,200-square-foot, four-story house she was “stag­ing” in the Park Pines sub­di­vi­sion in St. Mary’s County on Feb. 21. “It’s so nec­es­sar y nowa­days be­cause buy­ers can­not see the spa­ces for what they could be — or what they should be, or what they are — in a lot of cases.”

Cher­rey brings in fur­ni­ture and decor to give the house a lived-in feel, and some­times has walls painted and floor­ing redone, or at least cleaned, to freshen up the rooms.

Larry Miller, who has worked as a de­vel­oper/ builder since 1997 in the county and through­out South­ern Mary­land, said he had never used a stager be­fore but de­cided to give it a try with the house in Park Pines, which has stood va­cant for a while for lack of a se­ri­ous sales ef­fort. It was orig­i­nally built for some­one whose fi­nanc­ing didn’t work out.

“I’ve sold a lot of homes and it gives a hell of a change in the feel, I can tell you that,” Miller said about the stag­ing. “You’ve been in a fin­ished model home: The dif­fer­ence is night and day.”

Echo­ing what Cher­rey said about show­ing po­ten­tial buy­ers what a room could be, Miller said the vis­ual pre­sen­ta­tion beats de­scrip­tions hands down.

“You don’t have to work with the word picture, you’ve got the ac­tual picture,” he said.

Miller’s real es­tate agent on the project, Me­lanie Mon­tague of the Prince Fred­er­ick of­fice of Keller Wil­liams Se­lect Re­al­tors, said she and her col­leagues have been stag­ing rooms and whole houses for a while now, es­pe­cially in va­cant homes.

“I used to not be­lieve in it, then we did it and it made a dif­fer­ence on house sales,” she said. “We re­hab houses, so we stage our houses. You need a vis­ual.

“Peo­ple like a house within the first 30 seconds of walk­ing in the front door. If you walk in and it’s a va­cant space, and it doesn’t feel like home, you’re not sell­ing the home feel­ing,” Mon­tague said.

Get­ting the buy­ers to the house comes first, and Cher­rey said get­ting things right for pho­to­graphs plays a big role in get­ting them to the front door.

“Peo­ple buy homes from home,” she said. “That is why it’s so important for your pictures to look good, whether or not you’re liv­ing in the house.”

To help peo­ple end up with bet­ter pictures for the real es­tate web­sites, she’s be­gun pro­mot­ing con­sul­ta­tions — in lieu of full stag­ings — with home­own­ers and real es­tate agents alike. She said she was spurred on when she did some re­search for an up­com­ing pre­sen­ta­tion to a group of Re­al­tors.

“To pre­pare for it, I went on­line and looked at houses out there on the mar­ket and the pictures are hor­rific,” Cher­rey said. “A con­sul­ta­tion with a pro­fes­sional can min­i­mize all the things that you’re leav­ing in or do­ing wrong in the pictures that the po­ten­tial buy­ers are see­ing.”

Cher­rey started her busi­ness two years ago out of her Cal­i­for­nia, Md., home and uses a couple of rental stor­age units to keep the home fur­nish­ings she’s ac­cu­mu­lat­ing — when not in use — as the busi­ness grows. She has enough for 10 homes cur­rently and plans to have enough for 15 by late spring.

“If all of my fur­ni­ture came back at the same time I would not have stor­age for it,” Cher­rey said with a laugh. “Stag­ing has re­ally taken off. I’m a baby in the in­dus­try, but my two years have been amaz­ing growth. For the en­tire month of Fe­bru­ary, I’ve staged one to two houses a week.”

Though a “baby,” Cher­rey has al­ready been named to the top 10 na­tion­wide in the Real Es- tate Stag­ing As­so­ci­a­tion Ris­ing Star Home Stager of the Year com­pe­ti­tion.

She spends a lot of time stag­ing houses in the Ch­e­sa­peake Ranch Es­tates in Lusby, which has a high con­cen­tra­tion of sin­gle-fam­ily homes, as well as in the Wal­dorf mar­ket. But her big projects are typ­i­cally in St. Mary’s.

“I prob­a­bly do the least in St. Mary’s County, but my big­gest projects are in St. Mary’s County be­cause the homes are big­ger,” she noted.

Cher­rey said stag­ing homes for sale is com­mon — al­most a must — in other parts of the coun­try to main­tain an ad­van­tage in the hous­ing mar­ket, but pro­fes­sional stag­ing is some­what new to the South­ern Mary­land mar­ket.

“I don’t know that I pi­o­neered stag­ing down here — I’m sure peo­ple came be­fore me and they’ll come af­ter me — but in other ar­eas [of the coun­try], stag­ing is the rule,” Cher­rey said. “In this area, it’s sort of the ex­cep­tion. My busi­ness has just been boom­ing, and [stag­ing] is grow­ing.”

Va­cant homes and new builds make up the bulk of her busi­ness, though she’s open to more re­quests from home­own­ers, whether a con­sul­ta­tion or full-blown stag­ing, who plan to live in their home while it’s on the mar­ket. She said that’s the bulk of the sales mar­ket.

“I do va­cant home stag­ing, mostly,” she said. “Ei­ther it’s a flip for a real es­tate in­vestor, or it’s a new build like this house, or it’s some­body who has re­lo­cated with the mil­i­tar y and they’re gone. That’s the bulk of my busi­ness. That’s what I’m known for and what I love be­cause of the de­sign as­pect of it — be­ing able to put to­gether the whole picture.”

She said the cost of stag­ing a home is typ­i­cally any­where from 0.75 to 1 per­cent of the list­ing price of the home, and con­sul­ta­tions start at $150 for a smaller, lower priced home and go up from there. She pro­vides a writ­ten re­port on ideas and to-do lists for the con­sul­ta­tion fee.

“Maybe you don’t need to hire me to come back, but maybe you need to hire a car­pen­ter, a cleaner,” she said.

With most homes, usu­ally not all of the rooms are staged. Things like kitchens, fam­ily rooms and mas­ter be­d­rooms — and “se­cret” rooms like one in the Park Pines home — are typ­i­cally on the stag­ing list.

“It de­pends on the size of the house, the bud­get of the owner, and also there are some rooms that def­i­nitely need it,” Cher­rey said. “Re­ally small be­d­rooms need stag­ing be­cause of­ten peo­ple will go, ‘Gosh, I won­der if any­thing will fit in there.’ The right size fur­ni­ture will.

“I do a lot of base­ments. That’s an add-on cost, but some­times it’s nec­es­sary, es­pe­cially when you have those ‘bowl­ing al­ley’ base­ments.”

Even in­vestors who flip homes will likely ben­e­fit from pay­ing a pro­fes­sional stager, Cher­rey said.

“If you’re an in­vestor, you’re not the only one in­vest­ing [in the area]: There might be four or five other homes in the same area,” she said. “If they’re va­cant, com­pletely va­cant, and you hired the stager, you’ll get the show­ings and the foot traf­fic.”

Miller is hop­ing the stag­ing Cher­rey is do­ing for him will make the dif­fer­ence in at­tract­ing a buyer for the large, well equipped home in Park Pines, which he said will be a bar­gain for some­body at around $450,000. An­other of his homes built in the sub­di­vi­sion sold for $650,000 in the “hey­day,” he said, and it was smaller and less equipped.

“In­stead of stag­ing the whole house, we’re go­ing to stage cer­tain ar­eas. It makes it an af­ford­able op­tion,” Miller said. “Par­tic­u­larly be­cause, as Me­lanie says, the first im­pres­sion is every­thing.

“Some­body’s go­ing to buy this house aw­ful cheap.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHO­TOS BY KERA CHER­REY

Be­fore and af­ter picture of a liv­ing room in a new home built by Joe Ho­rak at Stew­ards Chance in White Plains.

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

From left, Kera Cher­rey of Ch­e­sa­peake Stag­ing & De­sign, builder/ de­vel­oper Larry Miller and Me­lanie Mon­tague of Keller Wil­liams Se­lect Re­al­tors pose for a picture at one of Miller’s houses in the Park Pines sub­di­vi­sion in St. Mary’s County.

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