Extreme home staging
An ideal family for a model home.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Home sellers long ago discovered that small touches could boost selling prices - fresh flowers, the smell of freshly baked cookies. Now a real estate developer, Centex of Dallas, is adding in beautiful people.
The experiment in what's called "staging" is simple: Home buyers enter a home and see not just furniture but real people - actors - playing out the life they might lead there.
"Staged model homes tend to be sterile and dry - this was a way to put the heartbeat back into the home," said Jim Garfield, spokesman for Roddan Paolucci Roddan, Centex's publicist.
The Centex program, which its creators call HomeLife, has been used twice so far at Milestone, a 166-house development in Santa Clarita, about 25 miles north of Hollywood.
In one performance, the 'model' family spent about three hours pretending it was Mom's birthday. They baked a cake, sang happy birthday and the children drew and framed a picture - of a Centex house. The original cast included a former Baywatch hunk, Jaason Simmons, in the role of Dad.
"It's physically manifesting somebody's dream," said Garfield.
Amanda Larson, a marketing director for Centex, says the idea came about when she sat down with Roddan's creative people and worked out an idea to make the visiting-a-model-home experience "more interactive and more memorable."
The scenes are not completely scripted. Instead, actors are given scenarios, schooled on the home's features and benefits so they could answer visitors' questions. They pretend shoppers are just guests in their house.
HomeLife will get an additional encore on July 15, at another Centex property, this one at the Westerly at RiverPark, near Oxnard. Besides Mom's birthday, other programs may include cooking dinner, listening to music and watching television.
Is the point lost?
The foray into the fringes of home staging is not without its skeptics.
Barb Schwarz, a staging pioneer and the author of "Home Staging: The Winning Way To Sell Your House For More Money," says, "The last thing a broker wants to see is people in the house. Home buyers will start talking to the people - and not about the house."
Schwarz says the whole idea of staging is to focus on the space, to get the potential buyers to mentally move themselves in.
"You're selling the space," she says, "not the stuff and certainly not the people. Staging a home is about depersonalizing it. Putting people in it is the ultimate way of personalizing the space."
Perhaps because it was so innovative, however, the program proved successful, according to Larson. It drew a lot of attention and, more important, traffic; more than 100 house hunters streamed through during the first HomeLife presentation. She reports at least one home was sold.
It may have been Roddan's and Centex's first foray into extreme staging but it won't be the last. The plans are on for something even more extreme.
But neither Larson nor Garfield will talk about that, except he promises, "It's going to be really, really cool."