Every time I speak, I get the question:  what is the difference between   decorating and staging to live.  In many ways they seem like the same thing, I agree.  Both make homes prettier.  The difference, I would say, is the goal.  The goal in decorating is to make a room prettier, to be pleasing to the eye.  The goal of staging is a bit more complex. 

Staging is identifying how the people in the home hope to use the space, how they could use the space more efficiently, effectively, and happily.  Staging identifies how those living in the space aspire to live.  Once identified, we then, and only then, design the space to achieve these goals. 

Now the end product of staging and decorating may look very much the same, but the underpinnings are very different.  I use design to enhance how people live in a space, to help them become more who they want to be.  This holds true for staging to live and staging to sell.  We identify how the client—the buyer or the owner—dreams of living in the home, and I show them how to make it possible.

When I am at my initial meeting with a staging client, I always say “I am going to try to please you in every way possible, except,” I pause, “aesthetically. You are not going to like what we do,” I tell my potential client.  “….And I really don’t care.  My goal is to please your buyer.”

My goal is always to identify the statistically probable buyer and stage the property to please them.  I give the buyer visual clues that this property is their dream property. 

I remember in the 80s living in Manhattan.  One of my friends was an avid golfer, looking at life through golf analogies.  “Be the ball.”  He always advised, which as a non-golfer, I took to mean, get in the flow, think of nothing but the game.  Visualize a hole in one.  Now it could have meant something completely different, but that’s what I understood. 

Now while my golf is still largely non-existent, my tennis is a smidge better.  Recently, the zen tennis master, Ritesh, told me:  “Watch the ball.  The difference between a club player and a pro, is how long they look at the ball.  Forget looking at the court.  It will go where it is supposed to.  Just keep watching the ball.”

In staging, I have altered both bits of wisdom—switching out the word ball for buyer.  The strategy works:  Be the buyer.  Watch the buyer.

Probably the most important thing a seller can do is identify their probable buyer, and start to think like them.  Shop where their demographic likes to shop, read what they read.  Find out what is important to them and how they live, what they wear, and what colors they like.  (Or read the first chapter of my book:  Home Staging that Works.)  I identify the four generations of buyers and what they like and dislike. 

When you put your property on the market, everything in it will be judged, and weighed and internalized by your buyers as part and parcel of the home.  Buyers only rarely can see how it might be to live in the home.  They only see what is right out there in front of them, not how the space could be when they are living in it.  Give the buyer what they are looking for: not just the bricks and mortar, but the dream of the perfect life, and they will purchase your house.

Short sales are on the rise, at least here in Philadelphia. . Short sales (when the seller and bank negotiate the sale to preclude bankruptcy) and bankruptcies are not good for a house. They, by definition, exude distress and disrepair , the opposite of comfort: . No one wants to buy a forlorn home. It is scary and feels like bad luck.

Sellers need to find any way possible to maintain their houses. Whether by barter, DIY, or a loan if money is short, the seller will make their money back and more when the house sells.

Houses are expensive to own, and houses of people in financial distress have usually been ignored. As money gets tight, roof maintenance, gutter and window cleanings and utilities maintenance are all put on hold—not to mention interior and exterior painting, carpet cleaning and other aesthetic considerations. Almost every house my company, Tailored Transitions, works on has deferred maintenance—sometimes by the client’s choice or oversight and sometimes due to financial distress. I urge clients to remediate even if they have to take out a loan to do so. The money that they spend making their home as pristine as possible will come back at least 10 fold if not more at closing. The returns are huge: we recently staged a home that the realtor said would sell as is for $900,000. The seller spent about $30,000 with Tailored Transitions on staging and strategic upgrades. The house was so transformed that the realtor listed it at $1.7 million. It sold at asking within the week. Occasionally, we front the cost of remediation for a client, and then submit our bill to the realtor for renumeration, at a premium, at closing. In this climate, I am sure that sellers can find contractors and handymen in their areas willing to negotiate a deal like this.

Excerpts from: How to Sell Your House in Winter

Published at Minyanville.com By Piper Nichole Jan 05, 2010 11:15 am


Below are top tips on warming up your home sale when it’s cold outside.

1. Turn Up the Warmth
Many homeowners keep the temperature a little colder during the day when they aren’t home. Keep your house a touch warmer, said Mabel Guzman, 2009-2010 president-elect for the Chicago Association of Realtors. “Buyers will wonder what is wrong with the furnace or think the home is too expensive to heat,” said Guzman. The same applies for vacant homes. You don’t want buyers rushing through your house just to get out of the cold.

2. Just Because Winter Is Dark, Your Home Shouldn’t Be
During the day, draw back the curtains, open the blinds and if it’s a gray overcast day, turn on the lights so your home isn’t dark. At night, Michalene Melges, a Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Realtor with Keefe Real Estate, recommends showcasing your home with lights outside. For example, adding spot lights that highlight your entrance or a favorite maple tree.”Light it up! Winter, if done right … can be magical,” said Melges. “The sun sets around 4 o’clock but, the world doesn’t go to bed.”

3. Let People In
Ohio Realtor Cecilia Sherrard said the biggest mistake she sees is when sellers postpone home showings — sometimes not allowing buyers in for a couple of weeks (for example, due to weather or holidays). Sherrard said she has seen active buyers purchase similar homes to theirs within that time.

4. Hide the Shovel (and the Salt)
Make sure walkways are cleared of snow and ice. Porches, driveways, decks, and garages should have easy access. “Don’t leave your shovel or salt near the front door. These items tell the buyer that they’ll have to work if they own your home,” said Starr Osborne, founder of Philadelphia’s premier home staging company, Tailored Transitions, and author of Home Staging that Works (Amacom, 2010).



Snow Day

As I write this, we are socked in, like most of the mid Atlantic, by a major Nor’easter.  Philadelphia has ground to a halt.  The mayor has declared a state of emergency.   My family’s weekend forays to indoor tennis and soccer, the local camp fair, and a dinner party have all been cancelled.   We have 18 inches of snow, and those small flakes from the big storms of my New England childhood are still falling.  Did you know that big flakes mean the snow is ending?  That is what I remember being told anyway, 30 some years ago in Connecticut.   We spent our snowy mornings on a virtually vertical incline in the woods above two skating ponds about a quarter mile from our house.  The skating ponds had an island we could skate to, or canoe to in summer, and a pipe connecting the two that in droughts we could run through, yell in, and later hide in to sneak cigarettes.  But that is another story.

Snow today.   Snow conjures Currier & Ives images of country roads, and simpler times, and smoke rising in curls from a stone chimney.  Snow covers the untended gardens, blanketing us in cleanliness and simplicity.  Snow makes for coziness and nesting: Tomato soup, fires, and grilled cheese sandwiches, dogs curled up, kids playing board games.   Snow gives houses the opportunity to protect us and warm our hearts.  A good snow storm is a romantic time to turn inward, when going out into the world means reading the paper by the hearth,.

Really, you think?  Yes, all of the above is true.  But snow is also work.  Snow means shoveling,  and  puddles of muddy water melting under boots in the front hall, mittens drying on radiators, and kids pulling down all the coats in the closet to build a fort with the neighbor’s kids.  Breathe, I say to myself, just breathe and enjoy it.

And if you are on the market, snow means extra work.  You can use the snow to your advantage.  Houses look great in snow.  But.   The paths have to be shoveled— within an inch of their lives.  It usually kills any potential sale, when a potential buyer wipes out on your front porch.  Bushes need to be brushed off so they don’t look like they are being dragged to the ground, garages need to be swept of all the old mud that tires have brought in, and all those boots and snow pants, hats and gloves, need to be stowed like you have all the space in the world.

For more tips on how to sell your house in winter, check out Piper Nicole’s Minyanville article: http://www.minyanville.com/articles/house-selling-real%20estate-realtors-martha%20stewart-target-kohls-walmart-homebuyers-staging/index/a/26207.  I am quoted.    Here are my two cents: 

Hide the Shovel (and the Salt)
Make sure walkways are cleared of snow and ice. Porches, driveways, decks, and garages should have easy access. “Don’t leave your shovel or salt near the front door. These items tell the buyer that they’ll have to work if they own your home,” said Starr Osborne, founder of Philadelphia’s premier home staging company, Tailored Transitions, and author of Home Staging that Works (Amacom, 2010).


I am a home stager.  It seems oddly easy to define myself in two words, but for the first time in my life, I actually embrace my work life as my identity.  Sure, I am a wife and mom first, and way ahead of staging, but staging informs who I am and how I live my life.  It is who I am:  a home stager.  I started Tailored Transitions, a home staging company, in Philadelphia, in 2004—way before most anyone on the East coast had heard of home staging.   Since then, we have expanded to offer complete moving management services and interior design, all based on my home staging principles.  We have had good years and better years, but each year we have grown.   It has been a great ride, which means that  I spend way more more time than most thinking about how people live in their homes, what that means, and whether it leads to happiness.  Here’s the big secret:  beauty is in the details.  A well functioning home does foster happiness and is therefore beautiful.  Ideally, it will be visually beautiful as well.

I have always been unduly affected by my surroundings.  A bad smell can ruin a movie for me.    Maroon plush car seats can send me spiraling into a funk.  Conversely, my day can be made by sitting in their leather-like-butter alternatives.  I thought of my sensitivity as a problem, a shortcoming, that I was a bit of a princess, not cut out for the hard work of life.  Now, as the owner of Philadelphia’s most prominent home staging company, I realize that everyone is affected by their surroundings.  It’s just that, for better or for worse, I am more aware of my surrounding’s affect on me that is average bear.What I thought of as an affliction is actually an advantage.  I have made a science of codifying people’s sensitivities and using this information to sell properties.  I am here to tell you that it works, and that I feel really lucky that I have been able to monetize a shortcoming!

This job teaches a lot of life lessons.   Moving is one of the three top health stressors, right up there with death of a spouse or a child, and divorce.  Everyday we work with people at their most vulnerable.   I see what they are losing, what they love, what they yearn for.    We have moved a lot of older people, mostly downsizing them into continuing care facilities.  They are the ones that let go of their stuff more easily.  They know the cost of putting stuff ahead of people, they have seen loss.  I have heard more than once:  cherish everyday.  I listen to them in matter of fact, naked emotion, and can almost hear Joni Mitchell singing:  “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”  It is the sociology of the home, of how a home can be to make a life happier, that fascinates me.   I think it is a rich, untapped vein of awareness that they don’t teach us in school, and that affects every one of us, everyday.  Everyone wants to live better, live smarter, be happier, and very few know how to work toward this goal.    This is what I shall explore.  

What makes a home is so intrinsic to who we are and informs each of as we go through our days.  We have not evolved that far from the caveman.  Sure our articulation has become more sophisticated, but the premise remains the same.    We work to create shelter, bring back meat to our caves, protect our children from the weather, and maybe, in our free time, draw something important on the walls. 

So, here are my scribblings.  I like to think of them as ‘More Songs about Buildings and Food.’  This little homage to the Talking Heads probably ages me in some reader’s minds, and leaves others mystified.  But that is another detail about this business of living that I find so intriguingly obvious that we all seem to ignore, and is sometimes even considered politically incorrect:  we are all products of our time and place.  Sure we can transcend place if not time, but we are still reacting to whence we came.  In one guise or another this blog will explore how to create a home that encourages happiness for the owner based on their age and how they grew up. 

So here is my pragmatic advise: If you are staging to live in your home in a more authentic way, embellish the cave drawings (expectations and norms) of your childhood with your own scribbles.  And if you are hoping to sell your property, you need to erase your own drawings and stage your cave with drawings that will appeal to younger buyers. 

 More to come!


Starr C. Osborne is the author of Home Staging That Works: Sell Your Home in Less Time for More Money (AMACOM; March 2010).  She is the owner and founder of Tailored Transitions, Philadelphia’s premiere home staging, moving-management, and design company.  Their diverse work with realtors, developers, and private clients has included The Bank Building, Parc Rittenhouse, The Residences at Wood Norten, The Hill at Whitemarsh, Independence Seaport Museum, and Natural Lands Trust.  Tailored Transitions has been featured in USA Today, The Real Estate Professional, Philadelphia Style Magazine, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Starr’s background includes work with Sotheby’s, where she was Assistant to the President and managed international publicity campaigns, and later, with Christie’s, where she publicized all the celebrity auctions and was Editor of Auction News from Christie’s, the firm’s main publicity vehicle.  She later ran her own public relations firm servicing high-end artists, designers and products.  Starr has been published in Art in America, Artnews, House Beautiful, New England Antiques Journal, New York Woman and Victoria.

Ms. Osborne earned her B.A. in History of Art from Yale University and was Fellow at Historic Deerfield.  She lives with her husband and three children in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia.

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