by Rose Bennett Gilbert, Trustee

November 9, 2017

Maplewoodian Leah Gomberg really knows how to make a house a home.  In the past year alone, she's done it some 150 times...all over town and South Orange, and in surrounding communities, too.

Not that she ever lives in those houses herself.  Leah is a home stager, owner of Sweet Life By Design, a successful, l1-year-old business in a thriving industry that didn't even exist until the l990s or so (when a Washington-state realtor named Barb Schwartz started redecorating to help her clients sell their homes and launched a new business model that now has  millions of followers, world-wide).

Leah joined their ranks big-time soon after she and her family moved in 1996 from Greenwich Village to a l917 house on Highland Ave.  In those old-tech days, she recalls, the local realtor had scant marketing tools, little more than photos of houses available for viewing by prospective buyers.  That took a lot of time and effort, Leah recalls. "I saw eight houses in one day! Some empty.  Some attractive.  Some disgusting!"

Today, potential buyers can easily preview their options on line, Leah points out. And she makes sure they like what they see...which does not include weary wall-to-wall carpets,  cracked plaster, crowded closets, or frumpy front doors.  Such turn-offs signal that a house has not been well cared for, she warns.  "It's 'Nope!' at first glance!"

That's just the beginning of the professional tips and how-tos Leah will share Nov. 14 in her popular class Home Staging 101 at the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School.
High on her check-list:

Make it Q-Tip clean.  No one wants to buy old dirt! 

  • Paint it fresh -- she'll suggest the right colors, usually a warm neutral like gray or greige.  "White white is too stark, not cozy."  
  • Do strategic decluttering  "Get rid of little things like toys and too many decorative objects, and make spare room in the closets.  You need to show how spacious and organized a house is."
  • Let in the light.  Replace heavy draperies with sheers.  "People respond to light." 
  • Banish that old wall-to-wall carpet. "People would rather see a wood floor in not-great shape.  Wall-to-wall is not only dated; it makes a buyer wonder what it's hiding."
  • Repair obvious eyesores.  "Experienced homeowners realize that all houses settle over time, and walls often crack.  But young buyers see those cracks and think something's really wrong with the house."
  • Enhance curb appeal.  Fix up the front door.  Keep the yard neat.  Wash the windows.

What about the furniture itself?  Leah has a local warehouse full of answers, dozens of sofas, chairs, rugs, lamps, and decorative accessories, plus a staff to rotate them in and out of houses as needed.  Sometimes she simply rearranges the homeowners' things to make the space look more enticing.  Other times the house is totally empty and begs for furnishings to help a buyer see it as "home."  Leah can do over an entire house in a few hours, she says.

"I've had a lot of experience with old houses."  With old-house sellers and buyers, too, Leah points out.  "Moving is really stressful. It helps that I have a master's degree in social work.  People worry about bringing in a home stager.  They think that they'll be judged.  We help them understand that the way you live and the way you sell a house are not the same thing."

Her ultimate advice:  "Make your house a product."  The bottom line, as she quotes the International Association of Home Staging Professionals:  " Staged homes spend 88 percent less time on the market, and sell for 17 percent more than unstaged homes."