Un-stage your Heart

by : Jake Marsh

We've all had it happen - we pounce on an opportunity to buy only to realize soon after that we rushed into it. Now that the excitement of our new purchase has worn off, we realize that we acted too fast and we're stuck with a new reality: buyer's regret. Sound familiar? In most cases, we get over it and move on, but what if you rushed into the wrong house? In today's market more and more people are investing in the services of home stagers. These are designers whose job is spruce up a home in order to elicit an emotional reaction from you and help you feel connected to a property that, under other circumstances, you might not give a second look.

So how can you avoid being hooked? Well, it's useful to understand the tricks that stagers use. Don't be fooled by sweet smells, fresh flowers or soft music. If you are a first time buyer, bring along that friend who sees all the flaws. Remember that you aren't buying the furniture or the ambiance of the house, you are buying the building itself, so make sure you use a critical eye. If you are drawn to the furniture or color choices, great! Make notes - you can apply these to your new home.

Keep in mind that no amount of dressing is going to change the location, layout, or structure of the house. Staging will not make your home bigger, so take a tape measure. Be sure you have accurate measurements of the rooms - stagers have been known to use undersized furniture to make spaces appear larger.

And that's not all: One buyer moved into a home only to discover that the bathroom had been painted over to disguise a poorly sealed tub surround. 'Within four months all the paint started to crack and the caulking was peeling off, with black sludge oozing out from behind the tub surround. When we pulled it off, we found that the wall behind it had rot - evidence that this had been a problem long before we moved in. But they covered it up great for the sale.

Painting over problems, or doing a poor job using inappropriate materials may make the place look better, but it means unexpected work for the buyer, so don't be fooled. Having a professional home inspection may also uncover some of these flaws.

You should also do a thorough inspection for cosmetic details - some stagers use strategically placed items to disguise problems. Chandra moved in to her new place, only to discover a hole in the linoleum that had been previously covered by a large area rug. "It was unsightly," she says," so I replaced the flooring. I mean, the floor wouldn't have been a deal breaker, but I would have lowered my offer. I also wonder what else they hid from me." Beware of fancy curtains disguising problem windows or frames, and wall hangings or paintings masking cracks or damage in the walls.

If you like the place, you may end up bidding against others who are caught up in the staged magic even if you've got a good dose of reality. And even if staging doesn't add real value to the property, you'll either have to shell out a higher price to compete or be willing to walk away. Remember, you may find the house of your dreams that could be every bit as beautiful as the staged property (with a little work) for an un-staged price.