Real Estate

Creating curb appeal, beginning at the curb

Home staging has extended to landscape tweaks and garden tidying

By Kate Daly

Home staging usually involves a designer coming in and making changes to spruce up a property. The process can involve decluttering, replacing outdated fixtures, repainting, adding plants, rearranging furniture and renting eye-catching pieces for the home.

Exterior staging takes it a step farther, encompassing the yard as well as the living room.

Jacob Scherer, owner of Da Lusso, a staging and interior-design firm in Mountain View, offers both services. He observed that staged properties "always sell for more money and faster."

As part of the basic staging package Da Lusso will throw in a complimentary power wash for patios and driveways and even help clean up the next-door neighbors' homes to give buyers a good impression -- "that the neighborhood is kept kempt and tailored," Scherer said.

Additionally, the company has someone on staff with a landscaping background so, "we will put soft, homey flowers in pots at the front door to dress things up," he said.

He likes to use flax for decorative purposes and might add a bench with inviting pillows, or some chairs and umbrellas on a patio to help potential buyers envision the possibilities for entertaining out there.

At one condo at Whisman Station in Mountain View, for instance, he had more concrete poured to enlarge a patio and enhance the backyard.

His feeling is "in Silicon Valley where people are busy, buyers go through two, to three, sometimes four homes a day (on tour), and you need to give them something to remember your home by ... so they'll picture themselves sitting out there and enjoying the place."

When Woodside resident Pat Fisher was getting ready to sell her house last fall, she enjoyed toiling on what was a little less than an acre, "working 24/7 on that yard to make sure it looked well when people came by to visit."

That positive experience led her to start a new business this past spring called Gardenscapes, specializing in outdoor staging, garden makeovers and seasonal changes, such as setting up a pumpkin patch or hanging holiday lights on trees.

Since then Fisher has picked up several real-estate clients who have her doing everything from spreading gravel and chips, to clearing yards, redoing flower beds, boxes and planters, and adding pots and staged pieces of furniture.

In the past she designed jewelry, painted and most recently worked as a personal shopper for J. Crew at Stanford Shopping Center. Fisher sees the common denominator in all her jobs as "the blending of color" and going for a "sassy look."

She charges $50 an hour and extra for materials and laborers. Her work may take only a few hours or days, but ideally she likes to get the flowers, plants and trees planted a month before a house goes on sale, so they have time to mature and grow.

Kim Hansen with Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park called in Fisher to help her sell a three-bedroom/two bath home she owned at 4202 Jefferson Ave. on a half acre in Woodside.

"The beauty of the property was the property itself. The gardens needed cleaning up and a designer," Hansen said.

The house had been a rental property for four years and "needed a lot of work, so my market strategy was to sell it as a fixer," she explained.

Fisher recalls hauling away 32 bags of debris, trimming plants, bringing in big pots filled with bright colorful accents to make the patio and entryway pop, redoing flower boxes, and setting up a seating area with some Adirondack chairs.

"I was really pleased with how for a relatively small amount of money how much the property improved. We got this amazing response about how beautiful the gardens looked," Hansen said.

Listed at $1.2 million, the property received multiple bids and sold in a week for $1.25 million at the end of May.

In March at a house on Gordon Avenue in Menlo Park, the property was already under contract sight-unseen when Fisher was brought in to freshen up the deck. She spent an afternoon re-potting existing plants and adding new ones to get the deck ready for inspection.

It's difficult to assign a value to staging, admits Anne Arjani, a Realtor with Keller Williams, Palo Alto, when asked about these statistics that appear on her website: "For every dollar spent on staging the home owners could realize a return on investment of $16.45. On average, professionally staged properties were on the market for 25% fewer days than non-staged properties."

She laughs about the fact that those numbers go back to 2006 and need updating, but goes on to say, "Every Realtor will tell you staging works."

As proof she refers to the blog she posted with a five-minute-long video on how to prepare an Eichler home for sale. The example she uses is a four-bedroom/two-bath home at 728 Gailen Ave. in Palo Alto that was listed at $1,249,000 and sold in two days for $1,460,000 in October 2010.

The exterior was repainted with a neutral color. The yard and courtyard received a facelift in the form of new plants, black mulch, some rocks, pots, fountain and a staged seating area.

Arjani stands by what she says in the video: "Smart home preparation nets three to four times what you invest in preparing your home for sale."

"We all have this false pride we have good taste, but somebody who does this for a living is going to be better than you."

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