Home Staging With Sue Kauffman

A lighting showroom’s new best friend might just be a local home stager.

enlightenment home lighting magazine: The art of "home staging"

 Not that long ago, “staging” a home meant cutting the lawn, removing dirty dishes from the sink, and keeping laundry out of sight when the real estate agent was showing the house. Enter the Recession.

Ever since 2008, the stakes have been higher when trying to sell a home due to the glut of properties on the market within the same neighborhood and price range. Homeowners who wanted to sell quickly began seeking the expertise of professional home stagers.

According to real estate market statistics, proper staging can reduce a listing’s time on the market by an estimated one-third to one-half versus non-staged homes and could net as much as 10 percent more than a residence that was either empty or not staged.

Sue Kauffman, owner of Artistic Advantage in Harrisburg, Pa., began her career as a faux finisher specializing in decorative plaster finishes and has since added home staging and “interior re-design” to her cadre of creative services.

“HGTV started talking about home staging years ago, but it’s recently caught on because there are so many homes for sale,” Kauffman explains. “It’s become a very effective tool since the real estate market dropped. A homeowner has to stand out from the other houses in the same community.”

According to Kauffman, home staging is about accentuating the positive and de-emphasizing the negative in a home. “Homeowners seem to be swayed more by what I tell them to do than what their real estate tells them,” she reveals. The challenge, of course, is attachment. “People can get defensive about their décor. They like it, so why wouldn’t everybody else? They are not able to see their house like a homebuyer would.” And it’s Kauffman’s job to show them that perspective.

Staging is typically done in a day, with the initial consultation lasting approximately two hours, during which Kauffman takes notes and photos. Sometimes people can’t see perceive clutter until they see it clearly in a photograph. “I tell them the top 10 things they need to either do themselves or hire me to do,” Kauffman states. “For example, if a family room has too much furniture in it, we might move some pieces into the basement and create a casual seating area down there,” she reveals.

“Home buyers should walk into that house and want to sit down and imagine the place as if it were their home,” Kauffman remarks.  Use accessories that accentuate the colors of the room or that tap into an emotion such as setting up a board game or putting out a bowl of popcorn. “I’ll use vases with greens wherever I can,” she adds. “The accessories should consist of things that make someone feel comfortable in that house. It’s all about creating emotional connection points,” she states.

For that reason, Kauffman tells homeowners to put away family photos, mementos, and awards. “When evaluating a home, people prefer one that is not so personalized. Subconsciously, photos and plaques make potential home buyers feel like they’re visiting someone else’s house instead of envisioning it as theirs,” she says.

enlightenment home lighting magazine: "Home Staging" with Sue Kauffman
“For kitchen countertops, I remove appliances unless they are very common things like coffeemakers, which is something that most potential home buyers own and therefore it would be very familiar to them.  Sometimes I’ll put a cookbook on the counter,” Kauffman notes.

Home stagers often work with an empty house, which is where their inventory of goods comes in handy. “When rooms are not furnished, they look smaller,” Kauffman points out. “All you see are walls – and the defects in those walls.”

Bringing in furniture brings perspective to home buyers.  The previously empty room will now appear bigger as long as the furniture is in proportion. “A house that’s empty looks smaller; staging gives a reference point,” Kauffman explains.

Therefore, a good home stager often works with a local furniture store, where they can rent pieces. The same arrangement could easily apply to a lighting showroom. “Lighting is a definitely an area that will grow for me,” Kauffman remarks. “Having a light, bright, airy house is crucial to selling homes, therefore I consider lighting to be key. I recommend putting floor lamps or torchieres in the corners of a large room. In the family room, create a cozy reading area with a nice lamp,” she says.

“I find that undercabinet lighting really enhances the kitchen. If a homeowner doesn’t want to install a hardwired fixture, I suggest a plug-in model,” Kauffman reports.
Believe it or not, this home stager doesn’t experience a lot of resistance to lighting upgrades. “It’s been easy to get people to change their lights out. They seem to instantly realize that they get good value for their money by doing so,” Kauffman observes.

For example, the master bath often needs new lighting – and most clients are in agreement that their existing fixtures look dated. “There’s a lot you can do to make a bathroom look bigger,” Kauffman states. Lighting plays a large part in the remedy. “If there is no window in the bath, then you have to create a lot of light. Maybe put a sconce on the wall to generate ambiance,” she remarks. “If there’s a large tub, maybe they should consider installing a decorative fixture above. I find dimmer switches to be very important in the bathroom.”

How does this home stager guide homeowners in their lighting selection? “I’ll show them design books or get manufacturers’ catalogs from a lighting showroom. It’s a great help for a home stager to be able to show catalogs and pictures to clients,” Kauffman states. Sometimes she’ll suggest that they reshade an existing lamp to add a little color into a room.

In the case of an empty home, Kauffman typically stages several rooms: the dining area, master bath, master bedroom, kitchen, living room, and foyer. “Anything they see when they’re first walking in the door is staged; it’s the first impression a potential home buyer has,” she remarks.

For the dining room, Kauffman might present a fully set table or perhaps draw attention with a marvelous centerpiece that she could rent or buy at a lighting showroom. “I like to use plants, like palms, in a room to add color and an outdoor feel,” she comments.

In a casual breakfast nook, she might place two empty coffee cups next to a coffee urn on the table. It’s all about making emotional connection points, as in, “I can imagine having my morning coffee here.”

Depending on the neighborhood’s demographic – does the street have more professional couples, empty nesters, or growing families? – a home stager might opt to stage an extra bedroom as a nursery, boy’s or girl’s bedroom, or a home office. “A real estate agent can get you those stats,” Kauffman advises.

In addition to renting furniture pieces, wall art, and accessories, many home stagers amass their own inventory to pull from as they might have several listings on the market simultaneously.

“Mirrors are a great prop to have,” Kauffman states. “There are so many beautiful styles available on the market. Mirrors make the room look bigger and reflect more light.  I’ll put them over a fireplace, in the entryway, and maybe use a cheval mirror in the bedroom,” she remarks.

Lighting showrooms would be well-advised to make friends with local home stagers. Invite them into your store and perhaps explore some sort of reciprocal arrangement. Those new home owners might want to know where the best place is to find the perfect lighting to upgrade the rest of the rooms in the home and outside.  Perhaps welcome them to the neighborhood with a special savings on their first purchase.

Checkout Sue Kauffman’s Quick Tips for Home Staging

Sue Kauffman’s Quick Tips for Home Staging

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