All the world’s a staging

Those who read even the mundane posts about my actual non-writing life may remember that the last time we listed a house, it went south. I think it finally closed about the time it hit McMurdo Sound.

If you remember that, you may remember all the lessons I codified that I’d learned about this, which I swore not to repeat. Now I’m learning about a thing never before mentioned to me: staging.

In real estate, staging = ‘pretending you don’t actually live like normal people with normal belongings.’ All right, very well. I can avoid trashing the joint for a little while, though I think my beautiful wife would give a feminine harrumph about that. That’s fine, dear. Since my wife is not with me in this house, at least there’ll be no one to blame but myself.

What staging evidently means, in to-do list terms, is:

  • Getting the mover to move most of your crap out of the place. If the staging person says it’ll help the place sell, or if you can’t get by without it for even a day, it stays. Otherwise, it goes into storage. This really isn’t such a bad thing, if one considers it, because it means that at final loadout time, most of it happens from a storage facility into their van, and much of the remainder is the stuff the stager ordered left in place.
  • A complete grounds and interior cleaning. While I can do some of that, the entire job to stagers’ satisfaction is beyond my abilities. Part of that is because I have my wife’s dog, who considers it a form of family participation to destroy landscaping. If I fill the hole in, Fabius thinks it’s a cool game, and digs it back up. When I pick up his gifts, his dog mind says Wow! This is my favorite thing! I better get to dumpin’! Charming.
  • If there’s anything I plan to sell before we move, and that I know is unsuitable for staging, better get cracking.
  • Arranging any minor repairs or touch-ups the stager requires.
  • Taking no offense when the stager goes though the house like a squad of fashion freaks, more or less informing me that I have the taste of an unschooled yak.
  • Getting rid of the pets. (No, of course they won’t be abandoned. Alex, my white-eyed conure pal, and Fabius will head to the new place where Deb will be. But they can’t be here for staging, lest it disgust the buyer. Getting Fabius gone will also enable me to make meaningful repairs to those dog depredations he would otherwise keep depredating.)

Sounds like a hell, doesn’t it? “Hi. This, that, and basically all this crap must go. What savages even bought this? Oh. My. God. When was this grouted, ancient Philistia? And I hope you can get by with one bathroom for a while, carefully cleaned after each use. Yes, I suppose you may shower, provided you fog the place with straight chlorine gas and fungicide afterward. Jeez. Couldn’t you arrange to do it with a garden hose in the yard? Goddamn, look what you eat! How do you not die immediately of some horrible disease?”

Nah. This is great. This is what I wanted: a listing agent with a plan of action, with minions who will tell me what to do or have done, so that I can get rid of this joint coveted property and sod head off to civilization Portland. And yes, we will interview the likely agent at her office, and yes, we will make clear to her what we will consider a successful transaction. And yes, we have even had the discussion, tactfully, about what happens if we need to rescind the listing. I don’t want to make the whole plan. I want the person to make the plan who is paid to make the plan, and to give me clear and sensible direction.

I am told, by people I trust, that selling a house is staging and pricing. The seller has power to affect both. Ask too much per square foot relative to comparables, and it will not appear as a good value, and you’re hoping someone will fall in love with it and overpay. Refuse to present it as an appealing property, and once-excited buyers will find excuses not to want it. We must price it with realism in mind, and stage it with a mighty staging. When it goes on the market, it may be easiest for me to just get the hell out of here for a week.

We tried it the wrong way before, and must accept the fault for engaging (without competition) a terrible listing agent who didn’t offer much of a plan or guidance. Let’s see how the right way works. It’s a nice house, great natural privacy, easy to maintain, convenient to schools (too convenient, at least from my standpoint), low crime area, pretty kitchen, only two owners and one of those for but a year and a half, and more. It doesn’t suck. I want this place in contract with a serious buyer in two days, and I don’t think it works to go half the distance with a plan. Either do it as guided, or forfeit part of the benefit from the immense sum paid out to get it done. In the service of that, I have a tough hide.

I must plan to take a perverse pleasure in being told about the wretchedness of my taste. I can’t really argue. I am a bizarre creature: my work productivity is immune to decor. If my office were a solitary confinement cell at Walla Walla, provided it contained the things I need and I could get out when the job/day was done, I could still function. At times I must remind myself to look away from the monitor: to look outside at the sky, at my wife’s beautiful and loving art on the walls, at the wall of historical, literary and linguistic references behind me, at the globe mobile on which I bonk my head every time I lean over the machine, at the flashing light that informs me I’m already almost out of yellow toner, at Alex, at something besides a computer. If I have zero decorative taste, it is because most of my working life is spent ignoring decorations. Are you using too many adverbs? I care. Is my wall bare cinderblock with rusty metal protrusions from the original forms? I only care if I may scrape my arm open on the metal, as I did in my basement not long ago. The only question in my decorative mind is the balance between wall space for my wife’s art, and bookshelves. The rest, I simply do not care.

We will bring it. We will do as told, get done what we must get done, spend a few hundred on what I cannot do myself. There’s an art to being a good client, and most people do not grasp this in my country. In the United States, most people repeat the adage that the customer is always right. It’s false. The customer isn’t always right, and if s/he thinks s/he is, s/he is a great fool. The customer is right as often as the vendor can arrange for him or her to be without giving away the store.

With that in mind, we must be a good client to our listing agent, and to her staging folks. Because there’s a dynamic that happens, and I know it from my own work. Once a client trusts me, that client believes me when I tell him or her that s/he may at any time contact me for guidance. We work together. I am a knowledge worker, just as a real estate agent is. All I have to sell is the fruit of my grasp of an art. I have had clients I could not help because they were unprepared to receive my help. I have clients who take me at my word and consult me when they are stuck. When my client trusts me, I kick into my very best mode, and I go to lengths most editors would not go. The client who trusts me gets my very best, and at the very best rate.

We will soon see, won’t we, if I have learned?

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