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The San Diego Union Tribune: Showhomes is Setting the Stage to Sell Your Home
Setting the stage to sell a home (San Diego Union Tribune).

You may need to pinch yourself if you check out Joe Muscatel’s Poway home in the coming days. It may feel like yours as soon as you walk in, even though upward of $1.4 million stand between you and his property.

That’s because the 4,900-square-foot single-story residence has been staged to engage any potential homebuyer. This month, a crew of about 10 people furnished the vacant home with all the fixings of a model in a new for-sale development: a bowl of plastic apples, still-life paintings, high-end bed frames, formal dining tables with floral centerpieces, and even a closet filled with neatly folded clothes. Those fixtures will help showcase the home at 14032 Lake Poway Road in an open house Saturday afternoon.

The goal is to sell the home, which has been listed on and off since July, by making those who visit the property imagine that they could be the ones living there. That’s what staging a home is all about. Staging helps make the home more appealing to the widest possible audience.

“It’s got to look like an interior designer lives here,” said Lisa Gulliver, co-owner of Showhomes San Diego, which staged Muscatel’s home. “The makeover is taking out grandma’s heirlooms that they don’t have the heart sometimes to put away and say, ‘let’s just pack it up now.’ ”

Muscatel, 49, recently moved to Florida for a job in medical fitness. Instead of leaving the home vacant, he decided to invest $3,500 to have it staged. Up until early January, he’d lived in the home with his wife, Joette, so the place at least had a lived-in feeling. That still wasn’t enough for it to sell. Muscatel bought the property for $1.3 million in March 2013, investing another $75,000 in a custom hot tub and outdoor kitchen. He first listed it for $1.495 million last summer, but found a hard time getting any traction, even after reducing the asking price to $1.479 million.

“This price range, anything north of $1.25 million is moving pretty slow in this area,” Muscatel said, noting he didn’t want to leave the home vacant after moving out of town. “We wanted to make sure that the house represented itself, it was marketed extremely well, and a big part of that was having furniture in it.”

Lisa Gulliver, who owns the staging franchise with her husband, Chris, said it’s important to appeal to the broadest audience, so that’s why generic furnishings are better. She said any individual lifestyle, such as choice of paintings, would appeal to 20 percent of those who view the home, whereas nobody would think twice about an image of landscape or fruit. In all, by recasting the home, Lisa Gulliver said it’s likely to sell faster. A 2012 study by the Real Estate Staging Association reported that staged homes sell 73 percent more quickly, within 32 days of being re-listed.

Miro Copic, a marketing lecturer at San Diego State University, said home staging started to become more common during the Great Recession, when properties would languish on the market as people waited for them to hit bottom.

“Houses were on the market for eons and real-estate agents had to figure out ways to move a house,” he said. “During a downturn it helps them be more successful, it helps keep pricing up and moves the house faster.”

Michelle Silverman, a La Jolla-based real estate agent with Berkshire Hathaway, said home staging gives potential buyers a different perspective.

“I always tell my sellers you live in a home one way and you sell a home entirely differently,” she said. “If the house feels like a hotel after it is staged, then you have accomplished the right results.”

Lisa Gulliver said Showhomes San Diego currently has about 25 homes on the market staged, ranging from $800,000 to a $7.5 million property in La Jolla. The services generally range between $2,500 for a few rooms to $8,000 for a full house, Chris Gulliver said. Many times, the organization arranges for a home manager, someone who lives on the property, letting people in to see the home, in exchange for paying less rent.

“Anytime you breathe life into a home it feels better — it’s going to sell faster than even a staged home,” Chris Gulliver said.

A Google search reveals dozens of home-staging businesses in San Diego County, offering services to revamp anything from a condo to a multimillion-dollar home. Carol Kaplan, owner of Everything Creative Home Staging in Miramar, said the services are used all over the county, including North Park, Hillcrest, Santee and Lemon Grove.

“It’s not just because it’s a high-priced house that it needs to be staged, I think that’s a bit of a misconception,” she said. “Some of the lower-end homes are priced better when they stage.”

To find the furniture and supplies for stagings, Lisa Gulliver said she goes to consignment shops, visits wholesalers in Los Angeles, and many realtors call her when clients are downsizing from Rancho Santa Fe, so she can buy some of their items

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