Truth in advertising. Is that always a good idea?

It depends what you mean by “truth.” If you’re putting your house on the market, how truthful do you want to be? Is it ready to be shown right now, the way it usually is (if the truth were to be known), with a pile of dishes in the sink, a pair of jeans puddled up on the master bedroom floor, a basset hound lying spatchcocked on his back in the entryway, a bushel of newspapers and magazines causing a side table to bow beneath its weight?

That’s one way to show off your house. Another method, more popular, is to haul everything out of it, give it a good scrubbing, maybe throw a few cans of Semi-Gloss Country White from Walmart on the walls, and show the home completely vacant and bare. Let potential buyers go hog-wild with their imaginations.

These days, sellers and real estate agents prefer a more savvy and effective method of having professionals stage the home by bringing in appropriate decor to show how perfect the house will look at its best-case beauty: a picture-perfect model of taste and elegant simplicity.

“I use stagers all the time,” says Long Beach real estate agent Joe Sopo. “My job is to display the home at its best, so I really encourage sellers to have their homes staged.

“Most people don’t have the talent for decorating,” he says, “but we all appreciate it. I ask people what kind of style they’re looking for, and they say, ‘I’ll know it when I see it.’ A stager’s job is to create that.”

A dining room staged by DesignIT. Courtesy photo

Pam Dooros is the stager and owner of DesignIT in Signal Hill. Her company is one of the area’s busiest stagers, with almost 100 homes in the area currently on the market featuring her interior design work. She says her company has staged 2,450 homes in its 16 years.

DesignIT’s warehouse on Palm Drive looks like a place where Pottery Barn does its shopping. The place is packed with large items, like sofas, beds, coffee tables and dining room sets, but also the small touches: hundreds of placemats arranged by color, wine bottles, a thrift store library’s worth of books—“book cases are hot right now,” says Dooros, “and if you’re putting up book cases, you need books.” True.

The look that people are going for is changing as baby boomers age and refuse to go anywhere gently. Go to places like Leisure World, where Dooros says the big decor scheme now is the Surf Pad. No more velvet easy chairs protected by antimacassars. Instead, surfboard coffee tables, “Endless Summer” posters and “This Way to the Beach” signposts made of weathered driftwood. Nobody wants to grow up.

Cody Dooros works on a lamp while at a warehouse where DesignIT keeps all its home decor in Signal Hill. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Dooros says “99.9 percent” of the places she stages come to her vacant, which is how she likes it: No pets, no food, no kids; just a clean slate, ideally with new paint, because Dooros doesn’t paint or hang wallpaper.

She also doesn’t haul around major appliances like ranges, refrigerators or washer/dryers. Or big-screen TVs, which, she says, are frequently stolen by burglars drawn to “for sale” signs to plunder whatever’s in an unoccupied house.

“Even the faux TVs that you see sometimes are expensive, and they’re difficult to move because they tear or get bent.” She says she also frequently uses empty wine bottles, too, though she does have a nice stock of cheap wine she buys at Big Lots.

Because most home sellers spruce up their place with a coat of neutral-colored paint, she always brings in splashes of accent colors to make the place pop, along with area rugs, nice furniture, artwork and various other trappings of a well-kept home.

“You can make almost everything work anywhere,” she says.

She charges $1.50 per square foot to stage a house, with a $1,500 minimum for a three-month contract. “If your home doesn’t sell in three months, you’re doing something wrong,” she says.

Is it worth it?

“Absolutely,” says Dooros. “You spend $2,000 on a staging, I can guarantee you’ll get at least that much more for your house.”

Agent Sopo agrees. “Whatever it costs you to stage your house, you’ll double that money in return.”

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.

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