You’ve probably seen it in a model home or a resale property that’s been staged: It’s the tray that rests oh-so-perfectly on a corner of the bed, atop a gently tousled chenille throw. The tray holds a bottle of champagne, a crystal wine glass, and maybe a rosebud in a tiny vase.
This, some home stagers lament, is a staging cliché. In and of itself, that’s not a crime, but it falls into a category of distractions that take buyers’ attention away from a home’s "Buy Me!" message, according to Craig Schiller, who owns Real Estaging in Park Ridge, Ill.
Schiller said that, obviously, he favors staging — the practice of bringing in or removing some furniture and accessories, etc., to give a for-sale property a certain "look" intended to make it appeal to buyers.
But sometimes stagers overdo it, he said — they either strip a home of its personality or add so many touches that homebuyers end up looking at the "stuff" rather than the house itself, he said.
Five things to know about the risks of "overstaging":
1. "Fake" is OK, but it has its limits, Schiller said.
"You can be fake, but don’t be contrived," he explained. After all, staging is, to an extent, the portrayal of an artificial existence — it probably doesn’t represent the way residents actually live in a home, but rather an idealization, he said. But some staging gestures just strain credibility, he said.
"Things like leaving the reading glasses across the open book, champagne glasses next to the bed, lit candles next to the bathtub, that’s what I’m talking about," Schiller said. "I see fake pies and fake breads."
His rule of thumb: Any single thing that would attract your curiosity is not good.
"They’re looking at that and not your house," he said. "When the stuff is the star of the house, it’s overstaged."
2. Artificial plants and flowers can do a world of good to brighten a room, but in certain circumstances, they can hurt the sales effort, he said.
"I use fake plants, but they can date themselves," he said. "For example, if in the spring a stager sets out a beautiful set of (artificial) tulips, through the summer, they start to age. In the summer, if they’re doing geraniums, by winter that’s a problem. You just don’t want to give any indication that this home has been on the market for too long."
3. A home seller who watches enough real estate cable programs might start to wonder if any kitchen that doesn’t have stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops is going to wither on the market, he said. But don’t necessarily buy the advice that a major kitchen renovation to achieve that state is mandatory, he said.
If the budget won’t cover at least new countertops, make sure the existing ones are as clean and uncluttered as possible, and go at the "updated look" via accessorizing, Schiller said.
"If you can make it an old kitchen with some newness in it, then you’ve solved the problem," he said.
He concedes, though, that competition in individual micromarkets might mean biting the bullet and doing that pricey renovation.
"I was in a high-rise condo, newer construction, where there were a lot of units on the market," he said. "If you’re competing with other ones in that building and the others have granite, then definitely do it."
4. One word: Christmas.
Schiller said many stagers insist that during the holidays, homeowners banish all hints of the season for the fear of offending potential buyers.
"Stagers are taught to de-personalize," he said. "Sometimes they’ll strip a house down to this empty, hollow shell with no personality whatsoever."
And the issue always comes up in December, he said.
"I tell people, ‘It’s your heritage, you can do a tree — but don’t do it like Santa Claus threw up in the place,’ " he said. "Don’t go crazy in every corner — don’t put out a little village and all that stuff. A tree would be quite appropriate, or a centerpiece on a table — just a few things."
5. Landscaping matters a lot, but when a house is for sale is not the time to go crazy with expensive trees and flowerbeds, he said.
Sellers often think — erroneously — that they ought to tackle all the yard fix-ups they never got around to doing while they owned the place, he said.
"I’m always pulling the reins back on people who want to do too much, more than they need to do to sell it," Schiller said. "You don’t need to complete the dream or vision of the house — you only need to do enough to get it sold."
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.