Stage Right

With real estate sales still lagging, what can you do to prepare your home to sell fast—and for top dollar? Try home
staging. (Photos by Barbara Cluck-Miksits)

Home staging is not just a catchphrase; it’s a key step toward a quicker, more profitable sale of your home. “With staging, you’re helping prospective buyers see themselves living in your house,” says Barbara Cluck-Miksits, owner of BCM Home Staging in Bergen County. Cluck-Miksits worked her magic at the home shown on these pages.

“Staging showcases the house and its features by de-cluttering and depersonalizing each room,” she says. The ultimate goal: making your house look bigger, brighter, cleaner, and homier so someone wants to buy it at very first blush. After all, studies have shown that many buyers make a decision about a house within seconds of walking in the door; others make a decision without ever getting out of the car. “First impressions are very, very important,” says Cluck-Miksits.

Generally, the first step in staging is removing the clutter. It can be a big job. “When you sell your home, you’re going to move. When you move, you’re going to have to pack,” says Cluck-Miksits. “Most of the principles of staging just mean that you’re going to pack up some of your things early.” Bookshelves are virtually emptied, countertops are cleared, drawers and closets are organized. Items that reflect a distinct personal taste —say, lacy curtains or a purple velvet chair—are sent into storage to be replaced by more neutral pieces.

Michele Rose, a real estate agent in South Jersey, discovered the importance of neutrality when she put her Mount Holly town house on the market. “I have a very feminine taste in decorating—lots of lace and pink,” she says. “I knew it wasn’t going to show as nice as it could, so I took it back to a more neutral look.” She removed curtains (leaving the windows bare) and painted mauve walls a more neutral coffee color. “That immediately made it look more contemporary,” she says.

As for personal items, all of them, including family photographs, should be packed away. “You want to remove all distractions,” Cluck-Miksits says.

Uncluttered space—increasing traffic flow—is important as well. Furniture should be arranged in an open manner, welcoming guests to come fully into rooms. Excess furniture should be stored.

Upgrading standard-issue items can also be key. Rose upgraded her hallway and kitchen light fixtures and replaced her polished-brass cabinet hardware with brushed-bronze pulls—simple touches that pack a punch. “I looked at it as the jewelry of the house,” she says. “It was not a big expense, but it makes a big difference.”

In the Flemington home shown here, de-cluttering was first and foremost. But it’s not just cluttered homes that benefit from home staging. Bart Denin, an agent with Ocean Pointe Realty in Sea Girt, recently sold a new oceanfront home for more than $5 million. When first showing the empty 8,800-square-foot house, “the potential buyers got caught up in, ‘How do I furnish this?’ rather than ‘I want to live here,’ ” Denin says.

“Staging the house took all the objections away,” he says. It subsequently sold quickly, at top dollar.
Does staging work for the average house? Cluck-Miksits claims that the last few homes she staged “were under contract in four days or less, and sold for $20,000 to $22,000 over asking price.”

Michele Rose concurs. She says that after staging her own home, she sold it within a week at 6 percent above market value. Lesson learned. Rose promptly enrolled in staging classes and founded Rose-Colored Staging in Burlington three years ago. “Whether it’s getting a higher price or selling faster—or both—my experience shows that staging sells.”

Industry figures back up their claims. The Real Estate Staging Association tracks and compiles sales statistics on staged homes. Its most recent numbers confirm that staged homes sold significantly more quickly than those that weren’t—whether occupied or not, new on the market, or recently re-listed. (The RESA website has a wealth of information. Check out

How much does staging cost? “It’ll always save you money in the long run,” points out Cluck-Miksits. She says her fee on the Flemington project was roughly $1,700. Add that to fairly minimal purchases—new window sheers, throw pillows, live plants and flowers, a gallon or two of paint, a shower curtain—and the entire project cost well under $2,500. Says Cluck-Miksits, “The investment in staging is always less than a price reduction.”

Click here to see a slide show of "before" pictures of the featured home.

Our experts:

Barbara Cluck-Miksits, ASP
BCM Home Staging, LLC

Michele Rose, HSR
Rose-Colored Staging

Chris Cipriano
Cirpriano Landscape Architects

Steve Matthews
Realtor, Prudential New Jersey Properties


What’s In a Name?

Like many specialties, home staging is linked to several different accreditations, acronyms, and associations. Whatever the letters following the professional’s name, the most important qualities are experience and objectivity. “Staging is not about who lives in the house; it’s enabling the buyer to see themselves in the house. You need an objective, trained eye,” says Michele Rose of Rose-Colored Staging. Adds Barbara Cluck-Miksits of BCM Home Staging, “It’s not something you should tackle on your own. Know-how counts.”

ASP: Accredited Staging Professional. Standing based on an extensive training course. ASP was created by Barbara Schwarz, considered by many to be the mother of home staging.

HSR Certified:
Professional Home Stager and Redesigner. Another training certification for professionals requiring a 21-day course.

IAHSP: International Association of Home Staging Professionals. A worldwide networking and educational association for home stagers.

ASHSR: American Society of Home Stagers and Redesigners. Like IAHSP, a networking and educational organization.

RESA: Real Estate Staging Association. A professional support organization with chapters nationwide.


Go Green:

Not only does greening your home help the environment, but it also saves you money in the process. It can make you money, too, if you are selling your home. “Buyers are ultimately more attracted to homes that are energy conscious,” says Steve Matthews, a real estate agent in Montclair who recently completed the National Association of Realtors green certification. “It may not make or break the deal,” he adds, but retrofitting your house with a few green elements “may get you more money in the long run.” Here, a few of his tips:

Replace old windows and doors with newer models
. A drafty house wastes energy and can kill the deal.

Wrap hot water pipes. Many older homes had asbestos surrounding the pipes, and no new insulation was added when it was removed. “Wrapping your pipes is something you can do yourself and it really makes a difference,” Matthews says.

Invest in Energy Star appliances. Old appliances turn off buyers, so freshen up your kitchen with Energy Star-rated models. The same is true for window air-conditioning units. “Newer models are not that expensive but much more cost-efficient in the long run,” he says.

Repaint with non-VOC paints. Ultimately better for your health, for the environment, and for resale.

Read more Home & Style, Jersey Living articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.

Required not shown
Required not shown