As prices (and stakes) soar in the real estate market, staging has evolved from
simple decluttering into a bona fide and competitive profession.
Leslie Whitlock excuses himself for the third time during our phone interview. Holding his mobile away from his mouth, he shouts, “Hey, come here!” to a mover unloading too much at once from a van parked outside a Dutch colonial revival house in Pasadena, California. “Under your arm is a beautiful matelassé bedspread,” he says, politely but firmly chastising the mover. “By carrying it that way you’re crushing the linen.” Turning back to his interlocutor, he sighs. “They don’t get it. You have to keep the furniture clean and the quality high. Who wants to walk in and see somebody’s dirty chair?”
Whitlock is energetic and funny, but he doesn’t fool around. He can’t afford to. His business—staging homes to ensure they sell fast and for a premium—used to be the quaint purview of third-tier decorator housewives who glided in, tidied up a bit and arranged pretty flowers in a vase. Today, the business is fast-paced and high-pressure. Last year, Whitlock staged 800 houses. “I have three or four projects a week, 52 weeks a year,” he explains. Acquiring a poor reputation (for shabby furniture, say) could land him on stagers’ skid row.
A perfect storm contributed to the higher visibility and increased stakes of home staging. In a video interview with Shell Brodnax, CEO of the 10-year-old REAL ESTATE STAGING ASSOCIATION (RESA), real estate legend Barbara Corcoran talks about the growth of the profession. “Ten years ago, no one knew what it meant,” she recalls. “I think the advent of the Internet set the stage for home staging. Heretofore, people would ride by a house and have a peek at the front… and decide if they wanted to see it. Now everything’s obvious inside the house. Everybody shops online. Nine out of 10 people start their search there… [Home staging] used to be an extra; now it’s an essential.”