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Theatrical Staging? Real Estate Staging? A Lesson Learned
Written by
Ann Sachs
October 2012
Written by
Ann Sachs
October 2012

This post was published October 15, 2012 on my Theatrical Intelligence blog

My husband Roger and I recently sold our big old New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. We had moved into the building  in time to celebrate our daughter’s first birthday in 1975, and six years later our son was born there (well, almost – we got to the hospital just in the nick of time!) When the apartment next door came on the market we borrowed money to connect the two spaces; Roger and I had ample workspace, and our kids could run and play.

We were countryfolk at heart, lucky in love and real estate, living our dream in Manhattan with a spectacular river view.

Thirty-seven years later it was time to cash in our asset and move on. Our kids had been independent for years, and five bedrooms seemed ridiculous. 

Deanna Kory, our esteemed real estate broker, recommended staging the apartment. What? Theatrical staging refers to the mounting of a play; real estate staging, I learned, means removing all traces of people living in the apartment so prospective buyers won’t get distracted, and will imagine themselves living there. 

I hated the idea. One theatrical truth I’ve learned over the years is that specificity makes a landscape universal; removing specificity makes it generic. Yet Deanna advised that staging could increase the selling price from 5 to 125 times the cost of staging (!) Roger and I immediately got to work.

Plasterers, painters, window-washers, rented furniture (beige), lamps (square), towels (ugly) and chatchkas (weird) invaded our turf. Amanda Wiss and her company Urban Clarity got us organized, and our son Sam, an architectural photographer, did a photo-shoot of the results. The photos didn’t resemble the comfy home in which we’d raised our family, but it sure was ready to sell. 

Preparing to show the apartment reminded us of the half-hour-call that precedes every theatrical performance: it looks hectic but really isn’t. It’s a meticulous routine. 

Our routine: make beds, poof pillows, empty wastebaskets, clear every surface, vacuum (Roger), arrange fresh flowers (me), leave no traces of normal life, and exit. Contemplate our future. Wait for Deanna’s “all clear” text. Head on home. 

Eventually the perfect buyers arrived. And as the lovely young mother vividly described the way her family would live in our space, I knew the staging had worked. 

But there’s another chapter to our story… where did we go? HA!  Not very far: we are now living 10 feet 2 inches below our former home. And our new apartment was NOT staged, which I believe is the reason we got it.  

We were always fond of the elderly couple downstairs – fine neighbors. Distinguished college professors who loved NY’s Upper West Side, they often invited students to gather in their book-lined home for heady discussions of physics, language and art.

It seemed natural that when our dear neighbors died (a couple of years apart) it was in the home they loved. In fact, their clothes were still hanging in the closets when the apartment was being shown, and their books and paintings were everywhere. It looked as if one of their salons was about to begin. Their apartment reflected a highly specific way of life – in other words, it was staged – according to the theatrical definition of the word. And it simply did not sell.

We knew that the downstairs apartment was for sale six months before ours and we would’ve bought it in an instant if we didn’t have to sell ours first. But we couldn’t make an offer contingent upon a sale.  Then... Deanna's brilliant and diplomatic negotiating skills proved it's not just a rumor that she's the best realtor in New York: 428 days after the apartment came on the market our offer was accepted.I will forever recommend real-estate-staging to anyone who wants to sell an apartment in Manhattan. 

Theatrical staging? Nope. Though it sure worked in our favor!

In the meantime, the Hudson River is an inspiring setting, and we thank our lucky stars for it every day.

We may have moved… but we’re still here. 


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