Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dress This House-4 Hunting the House

If you can buy a house after only looking at three alternatives, like they do on TV, you’re a better House Hunter than I am, Gunga Din.

I will readily admit: I am a Real Estate Junkie. Although I’ve only purchased four houses in my life, I have spent way too much time looking at ads, fondling floor plans and touring open houses than is probably healthy. But in this, I believe, I am in good company. (If not good, than certainly populous, or there would never be such a huge audience for TV shows that dwell on this very subject).

As a seasoned ‘looker’ I have pretty much seen it all, contemporary split-levels decorated in late Italian Palazzo, Tudor side-plans done in baby-Bauhaus and of course, the typical Loire Valley chateau, ever-popular in my own city, Toronto, decorated in early French Revolution. Fortunately for me, I can see past the paws on the coffee table feet, the damask wallpaper clinging to the stairwells and the sheer tie-backs shrouding the bay windows to the hardwood floors hiding under the broadloom, to determine what real estate agents used to call ‘possibilities’.

Not to brag, but I also have the ability to visualize how floor plans will take shape, and more importantly, size, unlike the rest of the house-looking population, who seem a little taken aback when the 8’x10’ master bedroom in their new luxury condo finally takes shape, resembling a cell in medieval prison, and they discover it won’t hold their king sized bed and a dresser and two night tables. And them.

Lately, there comes a new phenomenon to help these architecturally-interior decoratedly-challenged house hunters. The void has been filled by what are now referred to, in 'professional' real estate circles as ‘stagers’. (This is not to be confused with ‘fluffers’ who I believe have entirely different chores to perform). These people sweep in to your house and sweep out the detritus of your entire life, replacing it with a few charming pieces of neutral furniture (more charming than yours, that is, and certainly more neutral) to ‘depersonalize’ the space, making it easier for the emotionally-stressed and mentally-challenged buyers to fall in love at first sight with the cute sofa cushions they will never own or the elegant dining room set that is not staying with the house. Any splashes of colour, on the walls or, god forbid, in your ‘art’ are repainted or removed, as are all the pictures of your vacations and family. The cranberry glass collection must go away, in a box under the bed. A few shpritzes of Febreeze cinnamon spray and some fresh bouquets arranged here and there to attract the eyes away from any uneven floors or broken tiles, and you are ready for the over-bidding to start!

The goal (besides the obvious one of enriching the stager) is to distract the buyer sufficiently by the décor and aroma so that he/she/they lose all sense and reason and immediately offer you thousands of dollars over ‘asking’. The secondary goal is to get an offer that at least covers the cost of the stager.

When the real estate market ‘tanks’, as it has south of the border….condolences to my American friends, it might be understandable that you have to make a serious effort to palm your property off on the few stray buyers in the marketplace. Whatever it takes. But, up here, up north, as we say, on the other side of the Peace Bridge, where we still have a few rules, the centre still holds, so you might ask yourself why, in an overheated housing market, when people will pounce on anything with or without shingles, it is necessary to go this extra trouble and expense?

I believe, I, as usual, have the answer. Stay tuned.

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