Even as a little girl, Allison Crane's favorite pastime was redecorating her bedroom. Now she has turned that passion into a career, staging homes for sale.
The idea of staging is not new, but it has been slow to catch on in Berkshire County, said Crane, owner of Places + Spaces Staging company.
Staging can mean anything from rearranging furniture to complete renovation, depending on the need. It is an investment, one that gives the homeowner the best chance of selling a home in a sluggish market and still earning top dollar for it, Crane said.
"The way we live in our homes and the way we market and sell our homes are two separate things," she explained. "You have to look at the home through buyers' eyes."
For Stockbridge residents Joan and Dan Burkhard, staging made all the difference in the sale of their house in 2011. It had been on and off the market for three years, during which time the Burkhards employed several different Realtors.
"I thought my home was lovely," Joan Burkhard said.
A friend recommended Crane's services and the Burkhards followed all of her recommendations, including painting the dining room, taking down personal items such as pictures, wallpapering the front hall and carpeting the steps.
Within six weeks of making the changes, the Burkhards had several solid offers on the house.
The renovations costs them about $8,000, but measured against a sale of over half a million dollars, it was an investment worth making, said Joan Burkhard. The couple built a new house in Stockbridge.
Not all of the staging projects cost that much. The average is between $1,000 and $2,500, Crane said.
"I'm not here to spend people's money," she explained. "I am here to assist in the process. My role is to increase the odds of that house selling for top dollar and quickly. I work hard to use existing items in the house."
In many cases, Crane said she is the "last resort" after a property has been sitting on the market.
She begins with a consultation, which includes a walk-through of the house and interviews the homeowners about their budget and their goals.
She then creates a two- to five-page report detailing what she believes needs to be done. The report costs $250. A homeowner can then decide how much or how little to undertake.
"I am flexible. I try to work within a homeowner's budget," Crane said.
In many cases, she does the work herself for a fee of $75 per hour. That may include decluttering rooms, painting, rearranging furniture and, in some cases, refinishing the existing furniture.
In other cases, Crane acts as general contractor and brings in electricians, plumbers and painters whose services she recommends.
That was the case for one house on Pomeroy Avenue in Pittsfield that is currently for sale. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom dwelling had been neglected for many years and needed a complete renovation. Allison and her contractors stripped wallpaper and ripped up carpeting. They repainted every wall and laid down all new flooring.
Brought it to life
"We brought it back to life for the current market," said Crane, who also owns Allison Crane Interiors, an off-shoot of Places + Spaces.
The arrangement allows her to take on interior design work for those looking to stay in their homes.
In fact, after selling their Stockbridge home and building a new own, the Burkhards turned to Allison Crane Interiors for help in the selection of paint colors, furnishings and other decorating decisions.
"Allison is a hard worker. There is nothing she couldn't do," said Joan Burkhard.
A Berkshire County native, Crane initially aspired to work in marketing, but studied in the liberal arts, graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in psychology and minor in English.
She moved to Boston and landed a job in the financial industry, but found the fit wasn't for her.
"The office job allowed me to live in Boston, but I was going stir crazy sitting in a cubical all day," Crane said.
After eight years, she moved back to Berkshire County and went to work part time for Crane & Company. She is a seventh-generation descendent of company founder, Zenas Crane. She also worked at Colorful Stitches in Lenox. With that job, she attended trade shows and got immersed fiber and color and texture.
"It just fed everything I was lacking, that I was starving for," Crane said.
In the meantime, Crane married and had a son and took a step back from her career to be a full-time mom.
Renovating her own home, she began discussing home staging with her contractor, who told her she has an eye for design, so much so that he bought her a book on home staging.
At the same time, a cousin contacted her about a program in staging offered at the Mildred Elley business school in Albany. Crane said she found Realtors had a need for staging professionals, so she enrolled, completed the course and launched Places + Spaces in 2010.
Business was slow to start. She expected to fare well in the stagnant housing market, but it took some time. Now, she makes presentations to realty groups and about half of her referrals come from Realtors, she said.
Lori Rose, associate broker at Stonehouse Properties, recommended Crane last fall to a homeowner in Richmond whose house had been on and off the market for more than a year.
"It was a nice house and good property, but it didn't have a 'wow' factor," Rose said.
In that case, Crane worked largely with what the homeowner already had, tweaking the presentation by decluttering and adding accents and color, such as pillows.
Rose took a new round of photos for marketing and the house sold almost immediately.
"Allison has an incredible sense of style and a good sense of what buyers are looking for," Rose said.
"Staging has been slow to catch on," she added. "People think of the money and what it will cost and not as an investment. The alternative is to lower the price."
Suggesting changes to a homeowner can be tricky, Rose said. "It is a delicate issue. ... We have to be re spectful of the home and its furnishing and style," she said.
That's where Crane comes in. She can use her trained eye to make the necessary suggestions while the Realtor preserves her relationship with the homeowner.
Sparse is good
The biggest change most homeowners need to make is to declutter, Crane said. That means editing down personal belongings by 30 percent.
"If it feels a little sparse, that's good. The camera shows everything," she ex plained. "We are selling the space, not the items in the space."
Crane recommends taking down family photographs and any political or religious icons, as well as collections such as guns, deer heads and, in one case, an extensive collection of china that covered the walls of several rooms.
"Our goal is to neutralize the space so that any potential buyer can envision themselves there," Crane said.
She estimates that between 65 and 75 percent of the houses she staged have sold.
"I really love staging houses," Crane said. "It is fairly quick and the effect is immediate."
For more information, visit www.allisoncraneinteriors.com.