HOME & GARDEN
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Five years ago, Kathleen Clarke and her husband of 23 years, Walter, gutted their Hahaione Valley home down to the beams. One of Clarke's favorite spots in the house is the living room, where she holds both formal and informal parties. Clarke's minimalist approach to decorating -- simple but well-crafted pieces of furniture and accessories with interesting details -- is what she emphasizes when she stages a home for sale.
Personal flair fuels career
Kathleen Clarke relies on instinct when staging homes for sale
Kathleen Clarke didn't go off searching for a job. Her job found her. True, there were tip-offs that her passion for interior design and decorating could lead to a career. Instead of shoes, she bought couches -- like the one she found while on vacation in New York City and then shipped home to Hawaii.
But other than idly flipping through design magazines, Clarke never gave a job in that field much thought, although she had been searching for a career since finding herself with an empty nest last year.
The mother of three college-age kids finally entered the game, pushed forward by countless compliments from friends on the look of her own home. Her interest ramped up from hobby level to professional.
"I've been a mother for 30 years," said Clarke. "I've been sitting at home with the kids and haven't worked (outside the home) for 30 years. I was beginning to feel like a fossil, extinct."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Master suite: The home originally had eight bedrooms, but now has five larger bedrooms. The black-and-white master suite is reflective of Clarke's modern aesthetics. The window offers a view of another central location for entertaining -- the slate-lined patio and wooden pool deck, where views of the coastline become a conversation piece.
Serendipity stepped in. A little more than a year ago, during an evening out, the subject of home decorating and, subsequently, staging came up over drinks with friend and Realtor Darouny Hu.
"She was my client," said Hu. "She turned the property she bought into a beautiful place. She did it all by herself. She has such talent and has a really good eye."
Clarke was not familiar with staging -- the concept of giving a seller's home a look that will attract potential buyers. But with a personal home-décor style that favors clean lines and sparse Asian-influenced accessories, Clarke was a natural for helping potential buyers picture themselves in a new space.
Six months later, at Hu's request, Clarke staged her first home for a client, the owner of a condominium. Since then, Clarke opened her business Professional Staging by Kathleen.
Now much of the advertising for Clarke's capabilities comes word of mouth through clients and through Realtors who have gotten wind of Clarke's talents.
Guided by a personal motto of "flowers, fruits and books," Clarke has staged 12 homes on the market in the past year. "I don't have formal training," she said. "I go by feel."
As Hu told Clarke when she started staging her first property, "This apartment needs staging. It needs Kathleen."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Bathroom: A focal point in a second-floor bathroom is a large ornate mirror, which Clarke picked up from every handyman's place -- Home Depot. The mirror is one of three in her household.
Designers who can boost curb appeal are a hot commodity
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But what if it's not saying what you want to hear?
Turning over a home quickly is often a dilemma for both Realtors and sellers in a slow market; so is making a home stand out among all the other Joneses of the neighborhood, particularly in planned communities.
Beyond the obvious, such as repairing physical imperfections, or painting and carpeting the interior in neutral, peaceful tones, sometimes a professional touch is needed to set one apart property from another in a buyer's mind.
In many expensive homes, or for sellers with flexible budgets, a professional stager could be the answer to the question, How do I make my home immediately appeal to as many people as possible?
Enter people like Kathleen Clarke or former Realtor-turned-professional-stager Charene K. Davis -- both designers who've picked the fluid art of staging as their field of choice.
A licensed stager, Davis said certification is not necessarily reflective of a person's qualifications. "It's a word-of-mouth business. It's more about the hands-on experience."
Staging is all about creating a good first impression, said Davis, whose company, Aloha Staged Homes, has worked with area brokers for firms such as Coldwell Banker Pacific Properties, Prudential Locations and Re/Max. Her business has temporarily made over 200 properties on Oahu; a profile featuring three of Davis' high-end properties is airing all month on Oceanic Cable Channel 16's "Living Local with the Baraquios."
Said Davis, three immediate differences exist between stagers and interior designers: permanency, budget and client. "Interior design is much more permanent. Staging is temporary and is also for an unknown buyer. You also have a smaller budget to work with. An interior designer may have $50,000 to $200,000 to spend." A stager spends a fraction of that amount.
"A lot of the time, people don't think they need to do it," said Clarke of staging. "Realtors may suggest it."
If a home appears disheveled, that disarray will be the first thing that people notice -- though it might not reflect the maintenance of the interior, says Davis. If staged properly, a home will likely sell in 30 to 90 days, even during a slow-market period, according to Davis.
COURTESY CHARENE K. DAVIS
Charene K. Davis recently styled this Old Pali Road home, currently on the market. Davis' accessories bolster the home's focal point, a working brick fireplace.
Homes that sell upward of the median Oahu price of $655,000, to $1 million or more, are the most likely to rely on a stager, according to Davis.
"You need to grab them from the beginning when they drive up," said Davis, who suggests playing up the strongest aspect of a home, such as a grand entry, along with a well-pruned yard.
"In a hot market, properties can sell all by themselves in a matter of days. But in a slower market, homes that are staged will sell before homes that are un-staged. All the other variables remain the same -- same neighborhood, same market, same size."
She said homeowners often subconsciously purchase a home based more on emotional reasoning than logistics.
By focusing on the senses, stagers often play up the appeal of a freshly spruced-up home not only by de-cluttering, but also by adding sensual and sophisticated touches such as "mood" music, fresh flowers, new linens, wine and, yes, even chocolates.
Plants, basic furniture and artwork can also go a long way in making a sale. "The artwork is often on loan from an artist, and the home is an extension of the gallery," said Davis.
Holding selling parties for serious potential buyers on the grounds of properties for sale will likely to be the newest staging trend in Hawaii, said Davis. "In my four years in staging, I have seen the business grow. But it still has not reached industry standard. Though staging is now a household word, 10 to 20 percent of Realtors stage properties themselves. That's what you need to do. It's a buyer's market."
Whatever technique is employed, it's all about holding people for a little while longer during a walk-through, said Clarke. "You want to keep people long enough to form an opinion."
Tools of Clarke's trade include 60 to 70 throw pillows, five sets of towels and multiple sets of furniture. Sometimes it's not only the house that is sold; buyers have also purchased pieces from both Clarke's and Davis' collections.
A typical staging session takes eight to 10 hours; Davis' fees average $2,500 to $3,000 over the first 30 days for rented furniture, tropical plants and accessories for the most visible areas of the home: entryway, living room and sometimes the common bathroom. For additional rooms, fees increase on average by $500, said Davis. For Clarke, condominiums begin upward of $1,500, and homes, $2,000.
Reactions from homeowners to a staging project have been worthy of an HGTV taping. "People have screamed," said Davis.
Both Davis and Clarke say that staging is about more than the favorable presentation of an available property. Through the arrangement of carefully selected furniture, artwork and other accessories, "buyers envision the lifestyle they would like to have," said Davis. "Sometimes people can't always see the potential when a place is empty."