By BARBARA BOWERS Special to the Citizen
Does the house layout and architecture speak for itself? Or does a house sell better or faster with some staging -- a real estate term that borrows mostly from theatrical exhibits, as in furnishing a stage?
There are almost as many definitions of staging as there are opinions about how to set the stage for selling a house.
According to researchers at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., staging may not be important and may not raise residential sales prices. In its recent study, 820 homebuyers watched a series of six virtual tours of a single property, which focused on either wall color or furnishings. The tours showed the property without furniture, with "ugly" furniture, with "good" furniture, and with wall colors such as neutral beige and an "unattractive" shade of purple.
While this study's staging process was limited, and labels like ugly are subjective (is it even possible to have an unattractive shade of purple?), the upshot was that those 820 buyers would pay the same price for the home no matter how it looked inside, relative to color and furniture.
But homeowners Michele and Jeff Green were not part of that sample test and their Key West experience suggests that staging makes a difference.
"In March 2013, we merged two cottages on Eliza Street into a single family residence, renovated the property then listed it in January of 2014," said Michele of the U-shaped structure with an open floorplan, mostly white interior walls and a thoroughly modern kitchen and baths. "We didn't live there, so it was empty until March when I added some furnishings -- sofas, beds, tables, the basics."
Although Green says a lot of people attended Sunday open houses, no offers were made.
In May she "decided to add personal touches" in the form of art and color. From the couple's home on William Street, Michele took a "sculpted mermaid and placed it on the living room credenza at Eliza Street, added a couple of paintings by local artists, and brightened two of the bedrooms with colorful bedspreads."
The response was immediate.
"We got a contract in June, and the property is scheduled to close with furnishings included," the owner said.
Green is not an interior designer; she is a restaurateur. Her business, Bosley on Brady, is located in Milwaukee, Wis., and features American cuisine with Key West influences. In fact, she decorates her restaurant with Key West artwork, and generally has a flavorful feel for all things Key West.
"Michele has a good eye," said John Dell, owner of Old Town Home Watcher, a company that oversees residential properties for homeowners.
Yet, scores of others don't, or can't, apply an eye toward an appealing interior look, especially when they're in the throes of selling their house or moving. So often, they rely on real estate agents for advice.
"I want property I sell to be as attractive as possible to as many people as possible," said Jim Smith, a local realtor co-host of a real estate radio show. "There are a lot of variables in being attractive, and for me, staging comes down to expense."
Staging a home really may be a matter of priorities. Are the leaky faucets fixed and burned out lightbulbs replaced? Has the house been painted in the last three years -- inside and out? Are the palm fronds stacked willy-nilly in the garden?
Prospective buyers look around with something akin to X-ray vision, which makes good working order and tidiness a homeowner's first priority.
Throughout the United States, on average, homeowners spend $4,000 to get their houses spruced up for sale, leaving costly expenses like new additions or kitchen and bathroom makeovers to the new owners.
In Key West, though, Commissioner Jimmy Weekley once estimated 40 percent of houses in the historic district are second homes, and second homes frequently have additional duties as investment property or rental property in which additions and major renovations are not uncommon.
Staging the crisp new makeovers is not uncommon, either.
"Second-home markets attract buyers who want complete packages, and I've sold many properties here furnished," said Realtor Roger Emmons. "Staging depends on the property, which worked with immediate gratification on Eliza Street."
Barbara Bowers is a Key West realtor and host of a radio talk show about owning and maintaining property in the Florida Keys. To suggest a home to be featured in the Keys Homes section, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Homes listed for sale may not be considered.