Although many people think the coolest part of my job is seeing fantastic houses, in reality, the best part of my job by far is coming in contact with amazingly talented people. And Meredith Baer is definitely one of those incredible talents.
Imagine how hard it is to pick out a single sofa for a living room, and then imagine furnishing, top-to-bottom and head-to-toe, a 10,000 square foot house in a few days. I can't, but Meridith, Brett Baer, and the rest of her team manage to do just that. They are superstars in the world of both house staging and design. Time and time (and time) again they create magic through their staging, and I've seen it directly translate to faster sales and higher prices.
I had the opportunity to chat with Meridith, (who's not only a star in my world - she's now the star of HGTV's "Staged to Perfection"). Take a look at our Top Ten to get some insight and advice from Meridith on dressing up your house. Whether you're an agent or a seller, Meridith's advice is invaluable.
Thanks, Meridith, and I'll see you, Brett, and the rest of the gang on our next project.
How did you get started in the staging/luxury furnishing/designing business?
Accidentally. Prior to staging I was a writer. I had fixed up a home I was leasing, and when the owner saw what I had done, he decided he wanted to move in; so he kicked me out. I had 250 potted plants and no place to store them. A friend had been trying to sell a house for 6 months with a central courtyard. I asked if I could decorate the courtyard with the plants. I would come by every week and care for them. I also asked if I could put my furniture in as well to show lifestyle.
The house sold the first week in multiple offers for a half a million over asking. The buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent asked if I would do “that” for them. I said “yes” and that was the end of my writing career.
In addition to furniture staging, what renovations do you think make sense to do before putting a home on the market (i.e.: paint, carpet, redo baths and kitchens, landscape, etc.)? Do you feel like the average home seller gets his money out of those renovations when selling?
Keep it neutral and simple, just do superficial changes. White paint, beige carpet (if the existing carpet is worn) a small amount of landscaping for curb appeal, stainless steel appliances, and stage; show the lifestyle. If the homeowner’s furniture is going to stay in the house, strip it down to the essentials. Just enough to show the use of space, and as little of the homeowner’s artifacts as possible. The important thing is to get people to enter a house and imagine themselves living in it. A blank canvas is the best way to get to that point.
You’ve had thousands of staging “success stories” by this point. Any stories that really stand out?
1920’s Italian villa in Montecito; had been on the market for a couple years. Everyone felt that the house was amazing, by nobody could figure out how to live in it because it felt like a museum. We staged it and the properly sold within 30 minutes.
Another recent house we staged was an extremely rundown, sad looking house that required major renovations. Too add to it, the homeowner’s husband had recently passed on and there was not a lot of equity in the house. The realtor was skeptical that he could sell it at asking. We staged the house, it sold in multiple offers and she was able to sell it and move on.
Do you stage according to “profiling”? In other words, do you stage according to who you think may buy a property? (i.e.: families, single guy, etc.)
Yes and no; we always try to keep the aperture as wide open to the buyer as possible. We’re regularly surprised by who buys our houses, so you can’t be too assumptive. At the same time, the better you can anticipate your buyer and play to their aspirations, the more successful the sale will be.
What's your personal home like?
Paradise. A moderate in size Cliff May remodeled by Peter Choate on a quiet, equestrian street. The entire house was built to enjoy the exterior from every room. The star of the house is the gardens but the interior changes completely every 6 months with my design mood.
What architectural/design magazines do you read every month?
Elle Décor, Dwell, Architectural Digest, Veranda, Connecticut Home and Garden, Traditional Home and blogs Bungalux (religiously) and Houzz.com
Who are your personal idols in the areas of design and architecture?
Windsor Smith, Rose Tarlow, Carolos Scarpy, Kelly Wearstler, Darrell Carter, Axel Vervoordt, Bunny Williams, Alberto Pinto, Richard Shapiro.
We've seen some of your more permanent design projects (i.e.: design for a client as opposed to for sale). They're extraordinary. Do you have a preference in terms of working on projects that are luxury leases, design for clients, or staging? In other words, which projects do you enjoy the best? Are there certain challenges to each?
We tend to love what we’re working on for in the moment..
In staging a house, is it the real estate agent or the client who has more input as far as style goes?
The realtor; she knows what the buyer wants, she won’t make a dollar until the house sells, and she knows.
You work that Meridith Baer magic all over the country now. Do you see a difference in styles from New York to LA to San Francisco, for example?
Yes; in the warm climates the exterior is extremely important. Each area tends to have its own needs.
But there’s also a general aesthetic we do that works everywhere; every home wants beautiful rugs, gorgeous lamps. There’s also a lot of cross pollination; we’re buying East Coast pieces and bringing them West, in Connecticut we’re doing our version of a traditional house which includes much more modern.