Before and After: See This 687 Sq. Ft. Apartment Staged 3 Wildly Different Ways

published Sep 19, 2019
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The home as styled by a former tenant

September is Transformation Month at Apartment Therapy! That means every day, we’re sharing a new before & after to show the power of transformations at home. Head over here to see them all!

Here’s a ~relatable~ anecdote: A couple of years ago, I was apartment hunting and came across a listing for a picture-perfect apartment. It was impeccably designed and had incredible-sized windows in the living room and bedrooms. Despite being in New York, it looked light, airy, and massive. I e-mailed the real estate agent and booked a showing. Though I’ve been catfished by an apartment’s listing photos before, I was surprised to find out that the aesthetic I had so loved about the space translated IRL, too. I enthusiastically signed the lease, surprised that I got a place this beautiful for my budget. But come move-in day, as I unpacked all my belongings, I found that that light-filled space was… not as beautiful as it was when it was professionally staged. No matter how I rearranged things, it just seemed like I had moved into a completely different apartment.

Was this an example of bait and switch? Was its former beauty an optical illusion? Not quite. If anything, it was a true testament to the power of home staging, the real estate practice of zhuzhing up a property pre-sale so its best points are immediately noticeable to potential buyers. Whereas design is focused on creating an aesthetic that pleases the apartment dweller, staging is all about optimizing a home so that it appeals to the widest range of potential buyers. It’s not a trick, per se, but instead a methodical way of accentuating what’s already there. To make a fun metaphor (that only I’ll like): Stagers are like Orpheus in “Hadestown:” They help make you see how your room could be, in spite of the way that it is.

But because you rarely get to see the before’s in a home listing, staging can be a “you have to see it to believe it” phenomenon. Thankfully, McKenzie Ryan, a New York City-based real estate agent with Compass, has shared not only the before-and-afters of staging 225 Rector 16E (just one of her on-the-market properties) with JCL Staging and Design, with me but also answered all my questions about the process along the way. Here, our conversation about the property, the power of staging, and how you can use these principles to get your home to look the way you always wish you could:

Apartment Therapy: Let’s start with the big picture. Why is home staging important? Does it actually help to sell a property?

McKenzie Ryan: Staging in today’s market is paramount. With all of the inventory on the market in New York City, it’s really important that a client’s property stands out immediately to buyers. I had an unstaged one-bedroom in Battery Park City that felt small, plain, and completely undesirable at first. But it actually was a great apartment—south-facing with river views. Without any furniture, buyers weren’t able to imagine the experience of getting to see the Statue of Liberty while sitting in the living room or laying in the bed. It was a huge disadvantage.

AT: I’ve seen comments on articles we’ve run that people don’t think staging is needed in all markets. They feel like it’s just a NYC or luxury thing. Is this true?

MR: Elevating and designing your home to its greatest potential is something that any seller in any market should want to do. I don’t think it’s specific to New York City or any type of property, either. Experienced brokers, stagers, and designers can see a home the way a buyer wants to see it. We know what [a buyer] will fall in love with, and can elevate these characteristics so they’re the first thing a buyer sees when they walk in. It’s about making multiple buyers want your home to ensure not only a higher selling price, but also a shorter time on the market.

AT: Do you stage yourself or use a service?

MR: I do lighter staging myself with pieces I’ve collected over the years. Most of the time, I do this when I have a client who’s not that interested in investing any more upfront money into their homes. This is a common complaint, so my company offers a service called Compass Concierge, where they cover the upfront cost of furniture/cosmetic renovations. I also work with JCL Staging and Design.

AT: Do your clients ever stage their homes themselves if they’re worried about costs?

MR: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to put a room together, but you will need to spend more time, then. It’s not about your taste or designing something that looks like your home, it’s about designing a space that looks like the buyer’s new home. You’ll have to research current market design and trends. You’ll need to pull together some inspiration from design magazine, Instagram profiles, sites like yours. You’ll have to search a lot of affordable places like Home Goods, Amazon, and thrift stores. You might repaint items and find new couch covers and use lots of pillows. So yes, you can save money to stage it yourself, but you may spend more time. I’d recommend balancing which of those are more valuable to you in the long run.

AT: Okay, let’s look at the Rector Place property. When you first stepped into the home, what did you immediately notice?

MR: Anytime I walk into an apartment, I try to understand its strong suits so I can highlight them. I noticed that the home was so naturally bright, but [in the second iteration, the one I worked with] that the dark colored furniture was detracting from that appealing aspect. Additionally, the view out the window was literally the Hudson River. The furniture pieces—specifically the dining room table and chairs—were too big and blocked this.

AT: I think many people would look at the style “before” photos and think they’re more than fine. But can you point out a few reasons why that styling wouldn’t work for selling purposes?

MR: It was too specific to the current resident’s taste. You need to appeal to as many eyeballs as possible—especially when it comes to design. I’ve heard from many potential buyers that a space is really nice, but it gives off a somewhat interesting vibe. When they say that, what they really mean is that it looks nice, but it’s not for them. Design can be safe but can still be exciting. When you find that balance, you hit the jackpot. You know you’ve done a good job when a client asks if they can buy the home with the furniture, because it looks so livable.

AT: What were some “tricks” you did in this staging? For example, the room generally looks more spacious/brighter. What were some of the things you wanted to highlight—and what did you do to achieve that effect?

MR: We took out the blue statement wall in favor of a fresh coat of white paint. Since the blue was a bit darker, the exterior light from the window was getting lost. White’s an aesthetically-pleasing color, but also makes the space feel bigger since the light can bounce off it. We also placed the mirror where it was to maximize the amount of light around the apartment—that’s one of the greatest staging tricks! We still wanted to have some color in the room, though, so we decided to play with some strategically-placed pops. They were positioned towards the window so the eye would be drawn towards the gorgeous view. We also replaced the window treatments with soft white, sheer full-length shades to help create a heavenly, pleasant look when direct light was shining through them. And then, to highlight the ceiling height, we hung them above the top of the window.

AT: I noticed, too, that you removed many of the personal items, like that Kate Moss portrait as well as the assorted picture frames.

MR: If there’s a chance something in the home is going to create any sort of negative feelings in some buyers, then it’s better to eliminate it from the apartment. Like I said before, it’s about capturing the most interest as possible. Also, a new buyer wants to envision themselves in the home, so when you’re selling it’s no longer about you—it’s about the future of the home. You have to detach yourself from a property.

AT: I definitely think accentuating the architectural highlights of your home is a great everyday design tip, but are there any other staging principles that readers not selling their homes anytime soon can use?

MR: I definitely suggest decluttering. When it comes to staging, you have to be mindful of the stuff you keep in your apartment, the colors you use, and most importantly, how you lay things out. Don’t waste space. When it comes to apartment design, it’s the same principle.

Thanks, McKenzie!

The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

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