When Personal Style Impedes a Sale

Working Around Distinctive Décor to Sell an Apartment

The Appraisal


John Blesso’s apartment. The chairs are originals from Yankee Stadium.
Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

John Blesso feels as though he has made plenty of compromises to try to sell his Morningside Heights apartment. Before every open house over the past five months, he has hidden away his toaster, cocktail shaker, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, remote controls, shaving cream and loofah, and even taken his towel off the towel rack.

“I had to hide every example that I am a human,” he said.

But there are still some things he has been slow to do. He has yet to repaint his walls, which are avocado and orange. And so far he has not gotten rid of his coffee table, which is shaped like New Jersey.

It is one of the central maxims of real estate, right up there with “location, location, location”: A home should be staged so that buyers can imagine themselves living in it. That means removing the seller’s thrift-store discoveries and funky artwork to encourage potential buyers to mentally install their own thrift-store discoveries and funky artwork. Nonetheless, many sellers leave behind their favorite ice-breakers, at the risk of having them become deal-breakers.

Frances Katzen, a Prudential Douglas Elliman broker, once bickered with the seller of a Mercer Street penthouse about his collection of contemporary art, which she said featured “scary images of dangerous sharp objects.” (Actually, she was bickering with the seller’s girlfriend, who worked in the art world.) She sold the place for $4.825 million after the artwork came down.

But that was less of a challenge than the one-bedroom bachelor pad in the financial district that she took on last year, which had a Confederate flag above the couch.

During open houses, Ms. Katzen said, she felt uncomfortable as buyers stared at the flag; she tried to explain that it was a “nonpolitical fashion statement.” After receiving no offers, Ms. Katzen told the seller that his flag had to go. The seller resisted, arguing that it was a “term of endearment,” she said.

“It offended people,” Ms. Katzen said. “If you’re provocative, people don’t want to engage.”

After he finally relented, she said, she sold the apartment.

Some distractions cannot be moved into storage. Sharon E. Baum, a Corcoran Group broker, is selling a $999,000 penthouse at 280 Park Avenue South that looks out directly at the MetLife clock; she jokes to buyers that they should pay more for the apartment because the clock will always help them be on time. (Another view from the apartment is of a billboard.)

While Ms. Baum says that many buyers want to picture themselves simply moving in with a toothbrush, that is not what they will find in Manhattan, where small spaces are filled by big personalities. She has taken on apartments painted lavender and an East Side penthouse with a swinging bed, and she has gone with a client to one Upper West Side apartment whose living room was crowded with cages filled with chirping and fluttering birds that threw food at one prospective buyer.

In 2005, Pierrette Hogan, a broker who is now at Sotheby’s, was trying to sell an East 79th Street penthouse with walls lined with antique guns and machetes. Ms. Hogan said that even though she had warned buyers before they arrived, some cringed or “ran away” without seeing the entire apartment. She said her client insisted on keeping the weapons up because he felt they “added to the beauty of the penthouse.”

“It certainly took much longer to sell the apartment,” she said, adding that it went for one-third less than the asking price. The buyer, Barbara S. Fox, is a real estate broker who was able to look past the machetes.

Mr. Blesso said he actually thought about redecorating (or undecorating) when he first listed the apartment. Now, he and his broker, Tracie Hamersley of Citi Habitats, have finally decided that he should paint the walls white and hire a stager. He will also let the coffee table go.

But he is not thrilled about it.

“There are a lot of people who lack imagination,” he said. “They need to be able to have things spelled out.”


21 Home Staging Tips and Tricks to Sell Your Home Fast

By Laura Gaskill, Houzz

If you are planning to put your house on the market this summer, it goes without saying that you are hoping to sell your home as quickly as possible and get your asking price. Set the stage for success with these 21 tips for styling and upgrading your home, and see results — fast.


1. Boost curb appeal. This is something you always hear, and with very good reason. Many people thinking of touring your home will do a quick drive-by first, often deciding on the spot if it is even worth a look inside. Make sure your home is ready to lure in onlookers with these tips:
○ Power wash siding and walkways
○ Hang easy-to-read house numbers
○ Plant blooming flowers and fresh greenery
○ Mow lawn, and reseed or add fresh sod as needed
○ Wash front windows
○ Repaint or stain the porch floor as needed

2. Welcome visitors with an inviting porch. Even if you have only a tiny stoop, make it say “welcome home” with a clean doormat, potted plants in bloom and — if you have room — one or two pieces of neat porch furniture. Keep your porch lights on in the evenings, in case potential buyers drive by. Illuminating the front walk with solar lights is a nice extra touch, especially if you will be showing the house during the evening.

3. Get your house sparkling clean. From shining floors and gleaming windows to clean counters and scrubbed grout, every surface should sparkle. This is the easiest (well, maybe not easiest, but certainly the cheapest) way to help your home put its best foot forward. You may want to hire pros to do some of the really tough stuff, especially if you have a large house. Don’t skimp — this step is key!

4. Clear away all clutter. If you are serious about staging your home, all clutter must go, end of story. It’s not easy, and it may even require utilizing offsite storage (or a nice relative’s garage) temporarily, but it is well worth the trouble. Clean and clear surfaces, floors, cupboards and closets equal more space in the eyes of potential buyers, so purge anything unnecessary or unsightly.

But it’s my style! Guess what? It may not be the style of those seeking to buy a house in your neighborhood. So even if you have an awesome vintage-chic look going on, rein it in for the sake of appealing to the most number of people. You can bring your personal style back into play in your new home.

5. Strike a balance between clean and lived-in. Yes, I know I just said to get rid of all your clutter (and you deserve a big pat on the back if you did it), but now it’s time to judiciously bring back a few elements that will really make your home appealing. Think vases of cut flowers, a basket of fresh farmer’s market produce on the kitchen counter or a bowl of lemons beside the sink.

6. Style your dining room table. The dining room is often a blind spot in decorating the home. Between dinners, a large dining table can look bare and uninviting, so styling it up with visitors in mind can increase the appeal. An oversize arrangement can look too stiff and formal, so try lining up a series of smaller vessels down the center of the table instead.

7. Take a good look at your floors. At the bare minimum, give all floors a thorough cleaning (and steam clean carpets), but consider having wood floors refinished if they are in poor shape. If you don’t want to invest in refinishing floors, the strategic placement of area rugs can go a long way.

8. Rearrange your furniture. In the living room, symmetrical arrangements usually work well. Pull your furniture off the walls and use pairs (of sofas, chairs, lamps) to create an inviting conversation area.

9. Choose sophisticated neutral colors. Now is not the time to experiment with that “fun”-looking lime green. But that doesn’t mean you need to go all white, either. Rich midtone neutrals like mocha and “greige” create a sophisticated backdrop that makes everything look more pulled together.

10. Create a gender-neutral master bedroom. Appeal to everyone with a clean, tailored master bedroom, free of personal items and clutter. You can’t go wrong with clean, crisp linens, tasteful artwork and a blanket folded at the foot of the bed.

11. Open those closets! Open-house visitors will peek inside your closets. Closet space can be a make-it-or-break-it selling point for buyers, so show yours off to their full advantage by giving excess stuff the heave-ho. Again, this is really important, so even if you need to store a few boxes elsewhere, it’s worth it. Aim to have 20 to 30 percent open space in each closet to give the impression of spaciousness.

12. Clean up toys. Of course there will be families with children looking at your home, but just because they have kids too doesn’t mean seeing toys strewn everywhere will sell them on the place. When people are house hunting, they are imagining a fresh start. Show them that in this house, it is possible to have a beautifully organized kids’ room, and they might be swayed.

13. Use “extra” rooms wisely. If you have been using a spare bedroom as a dumping ground for odd pieces of furniture and boxes of junk, it’s time to clean up your act. Each room should have a clearly defined purpose, so think about what potential buyers might like to see here. An office? A guest room? Another kids’ room? Whether you buy inexpensive furnishings, rent them, or borrow some from friends, making a real room out of a junk room will have a big payoff.

14. Try a pedestal sink to maximize space. If you have a small bathroom but a huge cabinet-style sink, consider swapping it out for a simple pedestal version. Your bathroom will appear instantly bigger.

15. Use only perfect personal accents. Especially in the bathroom, it is important that anything left out for visitors to see is pristine. If you have a gorgeous fluffy white bathrobe, hanging it on a decorative hook on the door can be an attractive accent —but if your robe is more of the nubby blue floral variety, you might want to hide it away. Look at every detail with a visitor’s eye — bars of soap should be fresh and clean, towels spotless, the garbage always emptied (you get the idea).

16. Entice people to explore the whole house. By placing something that draws the eye at the top of the stairs, in hallways or in corners, you can pique curiosity and keep potential buyers interested throughout a whole home tour. A piece of artwork, a painted accent wall, a window seat, a vase of flowers, a hanging light or even a small, colorful rug can all work to draw the eye.

17. Show how you can use awkward areas. If you have any room beneath the stairs, or a nook or alcove anywhere in your home, try to find a unique way to show it off. By setting up a small work station, a home command center with a bulletin board, or built-in shelving, your awkward spot becomes another selling point.

18. Beware pet odors. Really, this can be a big one! If you have pets, get all rugs steam cleaned and be extra vigilant about vacuuming and washing surfaces. Also be sure to keep any extra-loved pet toys and doggie bones hidden when tours are scheduled.

19. Create a lifestyle people are looking for. Generally speaking, you want to play up what your neighborhood or area is known for. Have a house in a quiet, grassy suburb? Hanging a hammock in your backyard and a bench swing on your porch could be the perfect touch.

20. Stage the outdoors too. Even if your condo has only a teensy postage stamp–size balcony, play it up with a cute café table and chairs, a cheerful tablecloth and even a little tray of dishes or a vase of flowers. When people look at this scene, they won’t be thinking “small,” they will be thinking, “What a charming spot to have breakfast!”

21. Think seasonally. Make sure your garden is in beautiful shape in the summer, and that any extra features you have, like a pool or a fire pit, are cleaned and ready to go. Take advantage of the cozy vibe of the season in autumn and winter, by building a fire in the fireplace and simmering hot apple cider on the stove.