Staging helps buyers get a feel for a space

| Saturday, July 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Sometimes having a vision for a room requires more than good eyesight.

Sue Redmond of Allison Park is in the process of buying a new condo unit along the Allegheny River in O'Hara, but had a hard time deciding whether it would work for her until she saw the living-dining area with furniture.

“I had no problem with the bedroom,” she says of seeing the use of the space, “but I just wasn't sure of the other space.”

Realtor Lori Hummel of Howard Hanna Real Estate says Redmond is not alone in having difficulty conceiving how space can be used. It is an issue that is causing architects, developers and other professionals to show various ways of dealing with that empty space.

“Most people just don't have vision,” says Hummel, who is working on the 53-unit Chapel Pointe building along the Allegheny.

Kevin McGuire agrees. “It is difficult to assess an empty room,” says the vice president of sales of VHT Visual Marketing Services, an architectural photography firm from Chicago that does virtual staging for clients such as Pittsburgh's Coldwell Banker Real Estate.

VHT creates images of rooms filled with photographic furniture to make them more attractive on websites.

Coldwell Banker Realtor Georgie Smigel finds those images helpful but says the importance of that form of staging often depends on the nature of the market. For instance, in the transient Cranberry market where she is centered, clients generally are not interested in seeing a room furnished. They are moving frequently and have a good idea of what works and what doesn't.

Similarly, she adds, older houses with boxier floor plans probably show better with less in them.

Developer Todd Palcic, owner of Penn Avenue Renaissance, who is building condos and apartments Downtown, says the presentation of a room can be as simple as taping out the outline of a Queen Anne bed. But he knows a colleague who spends $20,000 a year to rent furniture for staging.

When architect Gerald Lee Morosco is asked how often he finds it practical to include representations of furniture in plans for rooms, he has a simple answer: “Always.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, at whose Taliesen center Morosco studied, did the same, he says, sometimes even designing the furniture itself.

“You have to put furniture in a plan to let people see the function of a room,” he says.

The importance of furniture

Hummel agrees that illustrating the use of a room generally is done best by showing how residents might live in it.

The Chapel Pointe site is largely finished, but she still has sites in it that are what she calls “really unfinished”; where walls are only suggested by studs and appliances are only words referred to in the future tense.

Those are difficult to sell, she says, as can be the sites that are finished with flooring, carpeting and equipped kitchens.

So the addition of some furniture becomes a way to help clients such as Redmond get a feel whether the site offers what they need.

Most often at Chapel Pointe, Hummel has furnished only the living-dining room of the sites that sell between $325,000 and $880,000. One, however, has been completely done, right down to bottles of would-be liquor in the bar area.

Morosco agrees the need for furniture in the living area — the site often used for entertaining — is the most important part of the job. But he says there is one, specific item that needs to be shown.

“Those big TVs rule everything these days,” he says. “That is the big deal. Clients want to know where they can put their TV.”

While simply indicating a space with tape sometimes works for him, Palcic also says actually placing furniture in a room can be necessary.

“It is difficult to understand scale,” he says. “It's like looking at a picture and saying, ‘Is that a really big rock in a national park or are you just taking a close-up?' ”

Professional organizers sometimes deal with this issue in another manner. When selling a house, the owner sometimes needs to make it neater and clean it up to display the space and its use without any suggestion of the owner's lifestyle or interests, says Vickie Dellaquila of Organization Rules in McCandless.

Such a simple presentation of space and its use can make the difference of months in sales, she says.

Sometimes the furniture does not even need to be there.

Virtual vs. real staging

Matt McCue, chief operating officer of Chicago's VHT, says a digitally decorated room can be attractive in cost to the seller as well as the buyer.

“It can cost $2,000 a month to rent furniture,” he says. “With us, the client is paying $225 to $300 in a one-time fee.”

His company has been creating decorated images for about five years, he says. Clients will come to them with an idea of how to decorate a room and what type furniture to use, often to appeal to a certain audience. The images then are used on websites or in ads.

Howard Hanna soon will be using a system that will create images for their advertising as well as allowing buyers to create their own, says Adam Bauer, director of digital marketing for the firm.

That software, developed by a outside firm, will present an empty room for a potential buyer who will be able to initiate changes such as the color of the walls or the style of the furniture. In that way, he says, a customer could try to fill the room in a way he might actually do it.

The work would be done on anyone's individual computer.

“Everybody's perception of space is different,” he says. “The way things are right now, we all have to give the customer what he wants.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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