Here’s a real-life way to sell a house

My wife and I are currently trying to sell her parents’ home. They have quite happily moved out to enjoy the greater ease of assisted living. Bert, my wife’s dad, wasn’t keen on the idea at first. “I don’t want to be around a bunch of old people,” he declared. He said he preferred to hang out with younger folks – around 93 years of age, like himself.

  • Wednesday, May 21, 2008 12:00am
  • Life

My wife and I are currently trying to sell her parents’ home. They have quite happily moved out to enjoy the greater ease of assisted living. Bert, my wife’s dad, wasn’t keen on the idea at first. “I don’t want to be around a bunch of old people,” he declared. He said he preferred to hang out with younger folks – around 93 years of age, like himself.

But with their house now empty, Bert and his wife are intent on selling. So we met with a real estate agent the other day to get things started. The house, nice but smallish, is valued at around $250,000. Bert wanted to set the price a bit higher at, say, $1.3 million. We found a compromise and got the process underway.

“Staging” a house is very big these days in real estate circles. It’s a good way of attracting potential customers – and giving a place what they call “curb appeal.” Once you’ve got the curbs looking appealing, it’s time to move indoors.

Most people these days have become sophisticated enough to decipher the jargon they see in real estate ads. The word “cozy” means the house is so small inside that even the family pet has to stoop over. A “peek-a-boo view” is one you have to climb to the top of the chimney to see. “Rustic” means dry rot has set in. And “fixer-upper” often means that the house is actually a “tearer-downer.”

But there are time-honored tricks to selling a home, and in years past, agents have advised clients to do things such as:

• Always make the interior of the home look clean and presentable. For example, pull any weeds that may be growing in the living room. Other turnoffs are bullet holes in the walls, bloodstains on the carpet and chalk outlines of human forms on the hardwood floor.

• Mow the grass regularly – especially if there is more of it on the roof than in the yard.

• A few minor problems might be overlooked, but if there is more than four or five inches of standing water in the house, even a novice homebuyer may balk.

• Remember that potential customers are often put at ease by the infusion of pleasant odors such as potpourri, fresh flowers or the fragrance of warm bread in the oven. Less appealing are smells like smoke, old eggs and feet.

But those ideas of the past may be going right out the double-pane window these days – because in what many people are discovering is a tough real estate market, a creative and even bolder staging concept might be catching on. At least that’s the gist of a story I saw on TV the other day – so you know it gist must be true.

Here’s the idea: Some real estate companies have begun to hire human models and actors to augment the staging of a house. In other words, to better help house shoppers picture themselves actually living there, stand-ins are used. The actors’ jobs are pretty simple: Make the house sound, look and feel like a real household. Such a staging plan might go like this:

You (a potential home buyer) and your real estate agent enter the house and immediately hear a woman’s voice yell loudly from a backroom: “Don’t drag your dirty shoes over the carpet! Take ‘em off! And shut that door! Are you trying to heat the whole neighborhood?!”

Next, as you move through the family room, you might notice an older man – perhaps grandpa – is sitting on a sofa reading the sports section of a newspaper and shaking his head. He’s muttering something about “the #@$!!&! Mariners.”

In the far corner behind grandpa, a dog is bent over a cat box, intently devouring something that looks like – but is not – Almond Roca.

Then, as you pass through the kitchen, a woman (perhaps the one you heard yelling when you first entered the house) is chasing two young kids from the room while shouting, “I don’t know why I even bother to buy food for you kids, because all you do is eat it!”

The kitchen sink is piled high with dirty dishes, waiting for them to wash themselves – and there’s a cat on the counter keeping its rear end warm by sitting directly on the middle of a fresh-baked pie.

Meanwhile, an actor playing the part of dad is sitting in the family room, holding a beer in one hand and a TV remote in the other. He may or may not be wearing pants.

Of course, that’s just how I would stage a home. After all, in real estate – just like anything else – you should always go with what you know.

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com


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