Leslie Tarbell Donovan Sets the Stage

Home staging has become more prevalent to help sells properties for top dollar.
Home staging has become more prevalent to help sell properties for top dollar. Photo credit: frazaz/iStock/Thinkstock

Not too long ago, home staging was a foreign concept. With the advent of shows like Million Dollar Listing, consumers are now more aware of the importance of showcasing a home in its most pristine state, and that includes helping potential buyers imagine themselves in the home by outfitting it with proper furnishings. We spoke with Leslie Tarbell Donovan, one of the East End’s most prominent stagers, to find out more about this now-common practice.

Why is staging so important?

In a perfect scenario, a home should be staged before it’s listed on the market.  Staging is one of the best investments a homeowner can make in the process of selling a home, and the low cost of staging provides a huge return on the investment. The longer a home remains on the market, the lower the price will be, so hiring a professional stager is critical prior to showing it, and certainly before dropping the price. Staging a home from the outset eliminates an adverse first impression and negative word of mouth.

How is it different from interior design?

Interior designers usually have a blank slate to work with, so naturally that requires a larger budget. Staging works with an occupied, furnished space. A stager uses the client’s own possessions, then edits and re-styles the placement, enhanced by the addition of complimentary accessories, modern touches and minor home improvements.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

When I became the East End’s first Accredited Staging Planner in 2002, the process was virtually unknown, but as more real estate surveys surfaced and annual statistics grew, the good news traveled fast.  It’s now a known fact—90% of staged homes sell in one-third the time it takes to sell an un-staged home. Most owners don’t view their homes objectively and only 10% can actually visualize the potential of their home. But with the help of television shows like Million Dollar Listing the public has become educated in a big way.

What kind of budget should people expect to need if they’re looking to stage their Hamptons home?

The client usually provides me with a budget, not the reverse, so the cost of staging can vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. The furnishing and accessories budget can range anywhere from $1,000 to as high as $50,000. As a rule, I get paid by the individual project, and with prop/furniture purchases I prefer to waive the commission usually charged by designers, and thus I pass the savings along to my client.

Any home design pet peeves?

An adverse odor or strong smell in a home is a major distraction and one of the hardest things to erase from a potential buyer’s memory. Pets, heavily aromatic foods, home/healthcare, dampness/mold or strong “Febreze” type cover- ups  that smell like they’re purposely disguising something are among the biggest offenders. Displaying objects such as weapons or personal religious objects are also something to avoid when offering your home up for public viewing, as they divert a buyer’s attention in the wrong direction. Another factor that I’ve learned to work around is when the owner is currently living in their newly staged home, especially during the summer months when entertaining and the frequency of weekend guests is at a high point. A good staging must then balance between maintaining a comfortable lifestyle while ensuring that the home remains in pristine, showing condition.

What attracted you to the East End?

My husband, Art, and I have a lighting design company that we established in 1990.

Staging Places was a natural spin-off and a subsidiary of Donovan Design. Because of its literary and artistic history, inhabitants of the East End possess an innate appreciation of the arts and culture, uncommon in most small suburban towns.

For more information on Staging Places, visit stagingplacessouthampton.com.

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