RESA 2016 Top 10 Home Staging Team of the Year

Home Theater

Any salesman knows it's tough to sell from an empty wagon. The same applies to selling houses, and that's where Valerie Alloco comes in.

Alloco is a house stager, one of a growing number of interior designers who dress up homes to sell them. With a glut of homes available in a very competitive market, Long Island real estate brokers are looking for every edge, and an attractive interior can make a big difference.

"The trick is to match the furnishings to the property and to the potential buyer," said Alloco, a Northport resident who runs staged2sellny.com, which serves builders and brokers. She's a certified home staging expert, one of several designations in the interior design field earned by completing instructional courses, mostly online, offered by professional staging companies.

According to some statistics, homes that are "staged" sell for more than homes that aren't, and sell more quickly. In 2006, the Christian Science Monitor reported that staged homes sell for 7.4 percent more - in half the time.

Interest in staging is on the rise, with national cable programs such as "Designed to Sell" fueling imaginations and enrollment in accredited home staging courses doubling in the last two years, according to the National Association of Realtors.

House staging can be as simple as rearranging furniture or adding floral arrangements, but staging a vacant home is often an elaborate production - home theater presented in several acts.

"When buyers walk into an empty room, they can focus on negatives and every imperfection is noticed," Alloco said. "People can't emotionally connect with an empty house."

Mindy Ashkinos of Dix Hills said only about 10 percent of buyers can visualize how a vacant room will look fully furnished, and "first impressions are everything."

Staging larger homes can be pricey, depending on how long they stay on the market. The stager may charge anywhere from $500 to $1,000 for a couple of days of work (Alloco gets $75 an hour), but the client is also on the hook for things such as furniture rental, which can range from $1,800 to $4,000 a month.

Ashkinos, while pursuing a degree in interior design at C.W. Post, offers a pre-staging consultation so homeowners get an idea of what can make their house more appealing to buyers. Then they can decide whether to hire a home stager or try to do it themselves.

Builders have caught on, and now employ house stagers to dress-up their model homes.

The model at Mariner's Walk in Oyster Bay, prettied up by Lita Dirks and Co., looks like it's posing for a magazine shoot.

Renaissance Property Associates of Plainview hired Colorado-based Lita Dirks to stage the Oyster Bay model. Renaissance Vice President Walter Imperatore said the staging was important to show buyers different uses of space and how a townhouse works, since many buyers come from more traditional suburban housing.

"Our customers can really feel what it would be like to actually live there," Imperatore said.

Buyers can also save time by borrowing ideas from a professional and knowing what looks good in advance of purchase.

Ashkinos said most of her customers can use help making their homes shine, and another good technique is "depersonalizing" a room, which can include replacing family photos with more generic art.

"There are two types of homes that can benefit most from staging," Ashkinos said. "Vacant homes and ones that are too cluttered."

Alloco said older homes with tiny rooms are a real challenge, because the goal is to accentuate the positive and give each room a larger feel. "Rooms actually look larger with furniture in them," she said, dispelling a common myth.

Laurie Mindnich, a real estate sales agent with Options Realty in Riverhead, is a huge fan of house staging - and its results.

"There was this house that was on the market for over a year with another company," Mindnich said. "Valerie came in, moved some things out and changed other things around. We had two offers in 45 days."