How Not to Decorate by Justin Riordan

  • By Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP (orginally published by Oregon Home Magazine 2.24.17)

“Will you come over to my house and tell me how to fix it?” My brow furrows, eyes start to well, mouth opens in horror, the look of absolute terror fills my face. I get this question often, like all the time. It makes sense to ask me. I have a degree in Architecture, 25 years in interiors experience and own a very successful home staging company. If your going to ask somebody, ask a somebody with experience, right? The problem is that most people who ask me to work for them for free are friends and family. Because they are friends and family, I of course, would never charge them for my work, but I really cherish my relationship with them so I would also never say anything to hurt their feelings, and that’s the rub.
If you are asking a friend for interior design advice, prepare your self for one of two scenarios. One: They will just lie to your face so that your feelings will not be hurt. Or two: They will be brutally honest with you and hurt your feelings. Either way the outcome is not exactly what you’re looking for.
My best advice is to hire a professional (who is not a friend) to help you. Pay them for their time. Get honest unbiased advice.
That being said, most folks don’t have piles of cash allotted for interior design so here are the top things I would love to tell everybody to never put in their home.  These are the mistakes I see most often. They will never, ever be ok. Like never.
(photo at top)
You live a real life, with real people and you eat real food. I understand that you may not have a green thumb and real plants might die in your care. That is really ok. I kill just about every plant brought into my house. That does not mean I should run out to buy a bunch of “real” silk plants to fool people into thinking I am a super good horticulturist.
Whoever said that houses have to have plants in them in the first place? I think some silk plant maker in Po-dunk, Nowhere started that rumor. Stop listening to them. If you need to have something plant-like in your house, consider a weekly trip to buy fresh flowers after work on Fridays. It will start your weekend off on the right foot and let you enjoy the flowers when you are actually at home instead of at work.

Colors come and go… neutrals are forever. First, let’s define color. Think the rainbow as in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and all the colors in between like mauve, puce, and cyan.  The neutrals on the other hand are not found in the rainbow. They include white, cream, beige, grey, brown and black as well as neutrals in between like charcoal, buff and tan.
Decorating can be expensive. In order to keep that expense down, relegate your colors to items that are not expensive like art, throw pillows and blankets, accessories, and coverlets. Your expensive items like sofas, carpeting, chairs and tables should be purchased in neutrals. This way, the hope is that they will stay in style longer. If you purchase a red couch and get bored with it, you will need to spend thousands of dollars to replace it.  But if you bought a neutral couch and a few red throw pillows and blankets, you could change that couch to a blue or orange or even a puce sofa with less than $100 by simply swapping out the throw pillows and blankets.

This one is so popular right now and I fully blame a certain home decorating catalogue that comes every week. Big black and white photos of perfectly lovely families hung smack dab over the sofa in the living room or the master bed are not OK. The Victorians had a perfectly good rule to follow when it came to family pictures. Family pictures belong in hallways and areas of transition. By hanging a picture of your family in your living room you are telling the world that YOU feel your family is so beautiful that they are actually pieces of art. It’s ok for other people to feel that way about your family but for you to feel that way, comes across a vein and shallow and just… eewww. Having a picture of your favorite people in a small frame on your nightstand, sure, why not. Having giant prints of your children hanging over your bed? Super not sexy.
Hallways are a great place to hang family pictures. Folks who visit can look at them to find out more about your family, your story, your life. Then they can step away and go back to your living room, dining room and kitchen and talk to you without being stared down by pictures of your family.

How many times will I write about word art? It is still just as terrible as it was the first time I wrote about it years ago. It comes in various forms, sometimes it’s lots of words on a picture frame like MAN’S BEST FRIEND, BOW-WOW, FETCH, SIT, STAY, FUR, ROLL OVER.  (Just in case you were wondering you are supposed to put a picture of your dog in this frame, I know… creative, RIGHT?!) There are signs you can hang on your wall. They are usually sets of instructions with words like LAUGH, LOVE, LIVE or DREAM BIG! (I am still looking for one that says BARF!) There are even vinyl words you can put right on your wall. They are often reminders of who you are with words like “THE JOHNSONS” or “EMMA” just in case you forget who’s house or bedroom you are in, a gentle reminder is but glimpses away. There is no situation in which word art is acceptable. Please stop buying it… NOW.

This one is just simple logistics. I see this often. I like wallpaper, seriously, I am a huge fan, but this is not about wallpaper, this is about glue. Kitchens and bathrooms are places where lots of moisture lives. Glue tends to lose its best quality (stickiness) when it comes into contact with moisture too often. Nearly every time I see wallpaper in these rooms; the seams are starting to rise, making even the best wallpaper look bad. Use wallpaper, knock yourself out, just relegate it to rooms that do not have plumbing fixtures. In rooms with moisture content, stick to wall tile and semi-gloss paint. You will be much happier in the long run. (While we are at it, just apply this rule to wall-to-wall carpet as well. Moisture and carpet go together like socks and flip-flops, its not just a no, its a hard no.)



Justin Riordan

Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is the founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. 

Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for twelve years, bringing an esteemed skill set and diverse background to home staging. With more than a decade of hands-on project management and design experience, Riordan delivers an unmatched level of precision, expertise and service to his clients. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared over 2,100 homes for market.

Bad staging by Justin Riordan

By Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP (Originally posed on on January 16, 2007)

There is good staging. There is bad staging. I mean, like really bad staging. In an industry with no regulations, no standardized accreditation system, and tons of “hobbyist professionals”, one gets what one pays for. The problem here is not if that inexperienced or bargain basement stager will do a good job, rather if they’ll actually stop your house from selling, dead in its tracks.


It’s true; good, thoughtful staging can most certainly help a house sell for more money and in less time. Bad staging can bring the selling momentum of a great house to a screeching halt. The absolute best way for bad staging to kibosh your sale is to have it offend potential buyers.

Here are five potentially offensive staging props that could threaten your sale:

Bad Staging Seattle Washington

1. Alcohol. Alcohol is a common thing found in many homes. It can raise both positive and negative emotions in buyers. We aren’t too worried about the positive emotions on this one as nobody is going to walk into your house and say, “They drink Chablis, I drink Chablis, let’s buy this house!” That being said, a potential buyer may very well be uncomfortable or even offended by alcohol for various reasons.  They could be in recovery or alcohol could be prohibited by their religion. For any reason, a buyer could be offended by alcohol sitting in the living room, on the counter, or next to the bathtub (tacky) in what could potentially be their new home. Even worse is staging with two-buck-chuck and offending the connoisseurs.

Bad Staging Portland Oregon

2. The tipi (also spelled teepee or tepee). Cultural appropriation is a hot button topic these days. I’ve noticed a good number of home stagers using tipis in kids rooms and play areas.  I spoke to a friend who happens to be a Plains Native American to help me understand why the use of a tipi in home staging could be offensive. He explained that the tipi is a very sacred structure used for ceremonies and rites of passage and to use that sacred piece of somebody else’s culture to sell a house is less than thoughtful. It would be like using the pages of a King James Bible to wallpaper a bathroom, pretty but disrespectful. Whether you agree that using tipis is offensive or not, it’s important to understand that it may raise questions and emotions that are not related to “buy this house”.

Dead Animal Parts Seattle Washington

3. Dead animal parts. These items are going-to-town, off-the-charts popular. Walking into staged homes all over the county is not unlike walking into an animal autopsy. There are pieces of the beast strewn on the table, tossed over the chair, laid out on the floor and even hung on the wall. Whether it is antlers, hide rugs, fur throws or pillows, these are all clearly recognizable parts of animals that were once alive and are now dead.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some creepy dead animal decoration, but I know that I am not in the majority. Truly, it’s a very popular trend right now, but many of us are offended by it. A potential buyer might be vegetarian or vegan, an animal rights activist, or even just have a weak stomach. Needless to say, if your potential buyers are any one of these things and need to walk over the ripped-off epidermis of a recently murdered bovine, they might think twice about buying the house they actually love but can’t stomach the though of purchasing.

Blow up matress Portland Oregon

4. Blow-up mattresses. Did you hear that? It was the sound of a blow-up mattress deflating. Or perhaps it was the sound of somebody crashing to the ground after sitting on a blow-up mattress, which was in-turn sitting on top of four 5-gallon buckets. It sounds an awful lot like a lawsuit, doesn’t it? Not only do blow-up mattress look like blow-up mattress (i.e. horrendous), they are unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst.  It’s a stager’s responsibility to demonstrate that a real mattress and box spring can get up the staircase and into that perfect bedroom your buyer had in mind.

Dream Big Toilet Up

5. Word art. Do you really need a 3-foot tall E-A-T sign to get a buyer to understand that this room is the dining room? Shouldn’t the dining table surrounded by eight chairs tell that story that this is, in fact a dining room, designed for the specific purpose of E-A-T-I-N-G? Word art is fun, isn’t it? I always love to add one extra word or phrase to each one I see like “Life, Love, Family… Barf”. Ultimately, the staging should tell the story of how happy, successful, and fulfilled one could be if they bought the house. Word art is simply a lazy way to ineffectively send your message. (P.S. My favorite one so far? A big pink canvas that said “Dream Big” next to at toilet, with the lid up nonetheless. Ugh.)

When it comes to home staging, we all make choices. You can choose to simply pick the latest trends that you love and take the chance offending your potentially buyer. Or, you can make thoughtful selections that keep your buyer paying attention to the house and not the staging. Choices, darling… choices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company with offices in Portland, Seattle and Palm Springs. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Follow Spade and Archer on Instagram.

The All White Room. It’s a Trap! by Justin Riordan

This article, written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP orginally appeared on National Association of Realtors Styled Staged and Sold.

White staging

So… you’ve been seeing all those great staging projects, magazine covers, and television living rooms that look so pretty because they are all white. White sofas and white walls and white floors and white pillows and white tables … all white. And now you are thinking about going all white in your real life as well. Do yourself a favor and listen to Admiral Akbar: “IT’S A TRAP.” Don’t do it. Seriously, run the other way as fast as you can.

But then again I would give you the same advice if you were planning an all red room or an all black room. By having each and every thing in one room be all one color, you are proverbially painting yourself into a corner (pun intended). You would, for all intents and purposes, force your future self to stay with that one color forever, with your only way out involving a large investment in time, money, and energy.

With all these warnings, I see you are not convinced … that nothing I can say will steer you away from that all white living room or bedroom or office you have been dreaming of since early 2015 (since that was when they became hugely trendy, and oh, by the way, that trend will end in less than two years … but I digress). So I might as well tell you how to do it correctly.

All white rooms are sterile at best, but mostly white rooms can be warm and inviting. If something is not white, that is A-OK! Let’s say your floors are dark brown, that will totally work! We want to have some contrast with other neutrals to be sure that the whites pop out against them. (Please note this will work well with other neutrals like cream, beige, brown, grey, black, and sometimes gold.)

When upholstering soft goods, consider slipcovers. The convenience of slipcovers is that they can be easily washed or (if need be) replaced. If you are way over the slipcover like I am, then you are going to need some super fabric. I would highly recommend an outdoor fabric manufacturer like Sunbrella. They make a number of beautiful soft, comfortable interior upholstery fabrics that are tough-as-nails.

Keep your whites varied, chalk white, decorator’s white, whipped cream, oyster, canvas, salt, bone white, snow drift. If all the whites in the room are exactly the same it will look forced and contrived. By mixing the whites together, it will look more natural, elegant, and easy.

Allow yourself to have pops of color. After a few months in your all-white room, you may start to get bored or frustrated and find that you need a bit of variation. It’s very easy to add one pop of color at a time (pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple). This can be done with a bouquet of flowers, a throw pillow, or a pair of sassy lamps. What you want to avoid is having more than one color in your white room at the same time. Remember, this rule does not apply to neutrals.

I wish you the very best of luck with your all white room, and in 2018 when you absolutely hate that room, you will hear my judgmental voice in the back of your head saying “Sorry ‘bout it!”

Improvement Projects Before You List by Justin Riordan

This article written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP was originally published in Ville Magazine.

staging barcode

So you've decided you want to sell your home. The first thing you did was create a monster list of items you always wanted to do to your house but never got a chance to. Just to make sure you're not going in the wrong direction, you check in with a few of your friends to hear what they recommend. Low and behold, each and every friend had a different opinion of what you should do to prepare your house for market. Now what? The truth of the matter is you are going to need professional help on this one. Here are some recommendations on how to go about completing this task.

Find a real estate professional you can trust.
Use social media to ask your friends who they've worked with and if they had a good experience. Don't hire your friend’s cousin or your brother’s girlfriend just because somebody you know, knows them. Twenty-percent of the agents out there do 80% of the transactions; you want to work with one of those agents. Remember, this is business, it’s not personal.

Find a stager who is trustworthy.
Talk to your agent and find out who is doing a good job out there. Take a look at their website. Does their work look beautiful? Check out their reviews online and then meet with them. Any stager worth their salt will meet with you for free. Not all stagers are built the same. Price should be one of the last deciding factors on which stager to hire. Much like all other service industries, when it comes to home staging, you get what you pay for.

Trust your agent and your home stager.
These folks have been on the home selling roller coaster hundreds of times before. They rarely run into conditions they have not seen and addressed before. Trust them to lead you down the correct road. It can end up saving you bundle in time, money, and energy.

Hold on there, tiger. Did you already do numbers 1-3?
These items don’t cost anything and they are completely priceless when it comes to selling your home. Once you do those then we can move on to the inexpensive, but priceless home improvement projects to do before you list.

Install new address numbers.
They are the first thing your potential buyer will see when looking for your house. If they are well placed, easy to find and appear to be new, they speak to a general ability to keep a house in good repair. Cost: less than $100 Return: priceless

Remove your screen door.
I have never seen a screen door that was more attractive then the door behind it. Screen doors also can make the entry sequence into a house very difficult if the the lock box is on the entry door. Cost: less than $100 Return: priceless.

Remove window covering and hardware.
Empty drapery hardware says to the next owner of your home, “You have to go out and buy new window coverings.” Adding an extra item to the buyer’s already long list of things they need to do will only make them want to look elsewhere. Cost: less than $100 Return: priceless.

Replace your front door hardware.
Locks that are hard to use can make the first experience with your house stressful for your buyer. If your lock is tricky at all, replace it. Cost: less than $200 Return: priceless.

Wash all the windows inside and out.
Crystal clear windows help to bring in natural light which has shown to increase sales in retail establishments by a full 33%. If you are willing to do the job yourself, the cost can be less than $100. Return: priceless.

Fill your outdoor planting beds with dark mulch.
Be sure to use the kind that is almost black and does not contain manure. The dark color helps to make the beds look fertile and rich. But beware if the mulch contains manure, your fancy house can strongly smell like the outhouse.

Really, when it comes down to it, your list may be completely different from the list above. Your priorities will always be the same; they will work their way from first impressions to last impressions. In other words, it is much more important for your living room to look perfect than for your garage to. The front yard takes precedence over the back yard and so on and so forth. Just keep in mind that this experience is going to be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster; it always is. Take extra care in building your team. Once you have them, trust your agent and your stager and you will do great.

7 Reasons Buyers say "No" by Justin Riordan

This article written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP originally appeared in the All Things Real Estate Magazine.

no stager portland oregon

There are two reasons buyers say “No” to houses. The first is very simple… it’s just the wrong house. The seller has zero control on this sequence of events and should not spend a moment of energy or time on it. The second reason is a whole other story.  It’s the right house at the right price in the right location. In this situation the buyer should say “Yes” as soon as they see the house.  Heres the rub, they often say “No.”

The big question is why? The answer is simple. The seller did not properly prepare the house and the buyer could not actually see it. Here’s some of the reasons why:

1. It’s empty. Being empty is not the worse thing that can happen when trying to sell the house. That being said, it does not help. Only one in ten people can accurately visualize what an empty room will look like with their furniture in it.

2. It cluttered.  Buyers often have short attention spans. One shiny object and you've lost them. A cluttered house has thousands of shiny objets just waiting to draw the buyer’s attention.

3. It’s dirty. Have you ever walked into a retail store and purposely purchased a dirty shirt? And yet… and yet, every day sellers put houses on the market that are flat out dirty.

4. It’s stinky. Stinky houses can stink in two ways: Unintentional smells like cooking, pets, body odors, mold, manure mulch, illness or even death are definite detractors. The intentionally stinky house is usually caused by an effort to cover unintentionally smells. The effect is usually overwhelming to buyers.  Nothing says “buy this house” like freshly-baked-apple-pie-candle over wet-dog-farts.

5. It’s dark. Nobody walks into a house in the Pacific Northwest and says, “This house has too much light, I’ll need to buy window coverings”. But they will most certainly walk into a house and say, “This place is dark, lets go look at the next house.”

6. It looks difficult. The three most stressful times in our lives are death, divorce and moving.  Near all of us have been through the latter. Moving sucks. There is really no way around it. Its a lot of work, combined with a lot of stress. The more work the seller leaves for the buyer, the less likely the buyer is to buy because they are simply overwhelmed.

7. There are too many rules. The seller or the seller’s team has insured the buyer can’t see the house. They have posted signs explaining how the house works and what the buyers can and can’t do in it.  “Take off your shoes” “Soft close draws” “Don’t let out the cat” “Lock this door when leaving” “New Roof” “Don’t use the towels” Instead of seeing the house, they spend the entire time in the house following the rules.

If your house is the perfect house, make sure the perfect buyer can actually see it.

Bad House Design Trends by Justin Riordan

This article, written by our Founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP originally appeared in National Association of Realtors, Styled, Staged and Sold Blog.


staging yikes seattle washington

Design trends are just that: trendy. They change from day to day, year to year, and decade to decade. The ones that are popular now won’t be soon. The ones that were popular years ago aren’t now and the ones that were popular decades ago are already back again.

Interior design trends tend to follow fashion trends about three years later. As colors gain popularity in fashion, they follow shortly thereafter in interior design.  The trick is being able to see what are trends and what is classic.  The difference is that classic will never go out of style, whereas trends always eventually go out of style.

Here are some major trends from our recent past that are turning people away from houses:

 1.   Carpet in the master bathroom. The 1990’s brought us so many fine trends, carpet in bathrooms was one of them. The thought was that cold tile on your bare feet was unpleasant. You know what else is unpleasant? Mold in your carpet pad.

2.   Plantation shutters. They are expensive, I know. Every single one of my clients who has them tells me over and over how expensive they are. Plantation shutters were designed for plantations. Hot, muggy places. The shutters were designed to block light and still allow a breeze to come into the house. The issue today is that they still block light, over 50 percent of the light that would have come through a window is blocked by plantation shutters. The fact of the matter is that nobody wants to buy a dark house. If the shutters aren’t there, they won’t miss them.

3.   Curtains over closets. The odds of the next buyer having the same taste in curtains as you is slim. Curtains over closets scream “YOU HAVE WORK TO DO” to your potential buyers.  Do yourself and the buyer a favor, take the curtains down and put the doors back up.

4.   Family, Friendship, Love, Laugh, Dance… BARF! Word art inevitably tells a story of the seller’s life and is distracting to the buyer.  Nobody cares how deep your family roots run, or that this is Emma’s crib. Take it down.

5.  Accent walls. The term “accent walls” is a misnomer, they should instead be called focal walls as they tend to provide a focus point for the room. Unfortunately, as the focal point of a room, they tend to dictate how a room should be set up and what the color scheme should be for the room. If you have a purple accent wall and all of your buyer’s furniture is red, they are going to have to work to remove that paint or more than likely just buy some other house.

6.   “Faux” is french for fake. No matter what language you translate it to faux paint is fake and is as out of style as pleats on men’s dress pants. The overwhelming commonality of all of cultural trends is truth — people want real food made by real people in real time. The time of fake and fast is over. Faux painting will send your buyer away faster than you can say “marbleized”!

7.   Wallpaper. Wallpaper is hard to take down and, again, the chances of them having the same taste as you and having furniture that will go with it is slim.

8.   Curtains.  See item 7. Wallpaper and item 3. Curtains over closets.

9.   Platform beds and other Feng Shui items.  Feng Shui is the Chinese thought system of laws considered to govern spatial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of energy, and whose favorable or unfavorable effects are taken into account when siting and designing buildings. It most likely works great in China where most people are acutely aware of the thought system, but in Western culture it just looks like a giant platform bed with a mirror and a stick above it. Your buyer will most likely have no idea why you did it and it will distract from the room.

10. Collections. Using a collection to highlight built-in shelves works well, so long as the collection does not overshadow the shelves themselves. Completely overwhelming a house with a collection or series of collections will overshadow the house and positively or negatively take attention away from the house. Pre-pack these items to proudly display them in your next house.

11. Rounded outside gypsum board corners.  These became popular in the building boom of the 1990’s because they required less time and skill for laborers to mud and tape. This, of course, was a very cost effective way to build homes. However, we quickly realized that rounded corners left us no place to end wall finishes like paint and wallpaper.  Needless to say, the trend faded away and now we have tons of houses with rounded outside corners.

Hey buddy… CURATE THIS! by Justin Riordan

This blog post written by our Founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP, originally appeared in the Oregon Lifestyle and Home Magazine.

Staging in Portland Oregon

WE HAVE ALL HEARD HIM SAY IT. “I am more of a curator of furniture than an interior designer.” While this statement sounds like it could be true and is certainly very fancy, when we heard it, we all wondered to ourselves “What the heck does that mean?” The truth of the matter is there is a difference between curation and design, decorating and staging, artistry and invention and architecture. Lets take a look at each term:

Curators organize, preserve and document historical tangible goods and most often work in museums. Specifying a flooring material that will hold up to 1,500 sets of high heels walking across it each day is not curation, it is design.

Designers specify objects intended to accomplish a goal in a particular environment, using a set of already existing components, satisfying a set of requirements subject to constraints. So truth be told, picking out a lamp at a store and placing it in a house is not design, but rather decoration.

Decorators make something look more attractive by adding extra items or images to it. There is no shame in decoration, it can be hard work that requires a very select set of skills and either you have them or you don’t.

Inventors create something that has not existed before. As we all know, necessity is the mother of invention. Lets look at an example to explain this very true cliché. Before Thomas Edison, light only came from two sources; the sun, and fire. At some point, he understood that there was a need (or necessity) for a better means of light creation. He used glass, metal, gas and electricity to invent the light bulb. It did not exist before he invented it, thus it was not a design, but rather an invention.

An architect provides services in connection with the design and construction of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings that have as their principal purpose human occupancy or use. Architects are specifically focused on the design and construction of buildings.

Artists create something with imagination and skill that is beautiful and expresses important ideas or feelings. The artist needs an outlet to express ideas or feelings that are their own. Art is something that comes from inside an individual, it is the personal emotion made public. Buying a lamp and placing it in a house so it will sell faster is not art, it is staging.

Stagers prepare private residences for sale. The goal of staging is to make a home appeal to the highest number of potential buyers, thereby selling a property more swiftly and for a higher price. A stager practices a very small niche of decoration, with a small amount of design included. The one single thing that makes stagers different than interior designers or decorators is who they design for. Most designers and decorators and concerned with what their client likes, how their client uses their house, what colors their client likes etc. Stagers, on the other hand are concerned only with what will sell the house, what will appeal to the most people who will likely view the house. They are concerned with demographics of buyers, not the seller’s taste. In fact of all the people in the world who might buy they house, the seller is not one of them.

When hiring a stager, designer, decorator, architect, inventor, artist or even a curator, make sure you are getting what you paid for.

Baby it’s cold outside! by Justin Riordan

This article written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP origianlly appeared at

Cold Staging Seattle Washington

How to insure your potential buyers are comfortable seeing your home

Winter makes doing most anything more difficult. The simple act of going to see a home on the market is harder when there is snow, rain, freezing temperatures, and wind.

During the summer you might just grab your keys and go, arrive at the house, walk right in the front door, maybe kick off your flip-flops and start the tour. That same viewing experience during winter may involve you getting bundled up in your winter’s best coat, scarf, hat, gloves and boots. It could involve a harrowing drive through snow and a walk through un-shoveled sidewalks. Once you reach the front door you might have to deal with frozen RMLS boxes, nowhere to wipe your feet, and no place to take off your boots.

When showing a house during the winter months, we must take extra steps to insure our potential buyers have a lovely experience, thus leading them to buy the house they felt comfortable in rather the one than the one they struggled to even get a look at. Here is a list of things to take into consideration when showing a house in winter.

    1    Set the thermostat temperature to 68 degrees. Human beings have a four degree comfort zone of 68-72 degrees. Your potential buyer will be entering your house from a much colder outdoor temperature and will have on heavy coats, hats, boots, etc. While we want them to be comfortable, we do not want them to be boiling in comparison to the outside. Remember, they are only going to be there for 7-9 minutes. We want a small, comfortable transition to 68 degrees, not a overheating of 72 degrees.
    2    Provide a place to sit down at the entrance. If the space allows for a small bench or chair near the front door, place one there. Many of your buyers will automatically remove their boots if they are wet, whether asked to or not. Giving your buyer a place to sit down and remove them will make their viewing experience easier.
    3    Provide a place to wipe feet. We tend to use large 4’x5’ black industrial walk-off mats both inside and outside the front door. This solves two problems, both helping to keep the home’s floors clean as well as allowing your potential buyer to be comfortable, keeping their shoes on if they so choose.
    4    Shovel your driveway and sidewalks. Folks that are looking for houses in the dead of winter are serious. They are oftentimes traveling from distant locations to look at a number of homes in a limited amount of time. No amount of weather is going to stop them from taking a look at your home as time is their greatest concern. Make sure your house looks like it is easy to maintain with freshly shoveled sidewalks, driveways and clear, easy paths to your front door.
    5    Leave a light on. Daylight hours are limited during the winter months. Entering a darkened home in the pitch black brings feelings of fear and discomfort. We place all of our lamps on timers which turn on around 8am and turn off around 8pm. This insures the house will be fully lit whenever a potential buyer enters.  We tend to stay away from incandescent bulbs due to energy consumption and fire hazard.

Is selling a house in the dead of winter ideal? No, it’s not, but it is necessary sometimes. It’s also not the end of world. Just keep in mind what your buyers are going through to see your house and try to make their stay as comfortable as possible.


(Not So) Happy Holidays: How Seasonal Decorations Can Botch Your Sale by Justin Riordan

This article written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP, was originally published on the RIS Media Housecalls blog.

Merry Stager Portland Oregon

It always cracks me up when I see Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS) photos in July that show homes with fall leaves. The first thing I think is “must be a dud, it’s been on the market since last fall.”

Selling homes is an art. Not so much “still art” like painting or sculpture, but more like “time based art” like dance or film. It is a carefully choreographed performance that, when done well, looks easy and makes the audience feel at ease with their decision to take part. When not done well, the audience (or in the case of real estate, the buyer) is stressed, dismayed or feels sorry for the seller.  Needless to say, these three feelings do not lead to sales.

Much like time based art, a lot of work goes into the performance prior to revealing it to audience. In real estate, we have pre-inspections, repairs, cleaning, staging, photographs and marketing. One of the biggest flops we encounter in this choreographed dance is holiday decorations. Every year during this season we are asked to stage homes for people that have to sell. December is one of those months where nobody wants to sell, they have to. Most of these projects are due to life changes: deaths, divorces, births or job changes. They need to sell their house and they turn to us to get it done.  Most of these forced sellers are already in a heap of chaos, and selling their house is just one more item on the list.

Inevitably we are asked, “Once you complete the staging, where will our Christmas tree go?” We very gently explain that if they need to have a Christmas tree this year, it will need to be set up on December 24th and taken down on December 26th. Most of our clients understand and they agree to do so.

Holiday traditions are different for everybody. They bring up different emotions for each person who will walk through the door of a house being sold. That’s the rub. We want our buyers to be moved emotionally by the house itself, not by the holiday it is dressed for. It would be like going to a job interview in a Halloween costume.  Sure, you love Halloween, many of us do. Do you want your new boss to pay attention to your costume or to you and your resume?

Holiday decorations provide a time stamp to every picture in your RMLS listing, much like the fall leaves we discussed at the beginning of this article. I don’t know about you, but I always scoff at folks who still have their Christmas decorations up in May. My canned joke is “Either they are way behind or way, way ahead.” Nobody wants their house to be on the market for more than a few days. The truth of the matter is, it happens. The best course of action is to plan for the worst and simultaneously hope for the best. The pictures you post in December may still be up in May. You want those pictures to look as fresh in May as they did in December. Decorations, for any holiday, at any time of year, will date your listing quicker than you can say “price reduction.” 

Top 10 Stoopid Staging Ideas by Justin Riordan

This article, written by our founder, Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP orginally appeared on the National Association of Realtors, Styled, Staged and Sold blog.

Staging? Portland Oregon

Not all home staging is created equally. Staging Darwinism is real and only the smart survive. Below we countdown the top 10 “stoopidest” home staging ideas.

#10. “Bake cookies right before your open house.”

Our sense of smell is very closely related to our sense of memory. True enough, for some people, the smell of freshly baked cookies may bring back fantastic memories of days past when their loving mother baked cookies every Saturday afternoon. However, I use to work at Mrs. Fields, and my boss was a real jerk. Whenever I smell freshly baked cookies … I get slightly nauseous and a bit angry. Your house should smell like nothing when it is being shown. Scented homes lead to one of two reactions:

  1. Buyers who are chemically sensitive get headaches, irritated eyes, or nausea and want to leave immediately.
  2. Buyers wonder what you are trying to cover up and immediately become suspicious that you are a shyster.

#9. “My house won’t sell unless it has plants in it.”

Live plants or flowers in a vacant house tend to become dead plants very fast. Unless you are dedicated to checking on these plants regularly, you need to skip them, because nothing stops a house from going pending like dead plants. Fake plants are just that, fake. When it comes down to it, staging is creepy. You are in a house that appears to be occupied and yet, it is not. Every time you add something fake, it is one more reminder that this is not real and thus adds to the creepy factor.

#8. “If they can’t see past that ‘__________’ then they don’t deserve to buy my house.”

The truth is, if they can see past “____________” then you did a poor job preparing your house for the market. If you find yourself saying this, think again.

#7. “I can just lightly stage this room and it will work.”

Light staging or, as I call it, “the placing of random objects in a room,” like a chair and a rug in a bedroom, does not help sell houses. It will actually slow the process down. Staging is only meant to do three things:

  1. Show the room’s purpose
  2. Show the room’s scale
  3. Add light to the room

Random objects in a room serve only to draw attention away from the house. Light staging is like hiring a clown to dance in front of a rack of dresses to help sell the dresses. Your buyers end up paying more attention to the clown than they do the dresses. Either stage the room completely, or don’t stage it at all.

#6. “I am paying for the staging, you should only stage with things I like.”

You are correct in that you are paying for the staging, but you are incorrect in that you think you are the customer. Really when it comes down to it you are now a retailer, trying to sell a product. You have hired a stager just as a department store would hire a visual merchandizer to display their items to sell to a customer. Your stager is concerned about what the potential buyer will like. You should be too.

#5. “The style of the staging should match the style of the house.”

Nobody has an entire household full of mid-century modern furniture. When staging a home we want the house to look obtainable. We want our clients to say, “Hey, I could do that!” By staging with an eclectic mix of furniture that does not necessarily “go” with the house, we prove to people that their mis-matched, rag-tag lot of furniture could look good in the house as well.

#4. “We should make everybody take off their shoes before they enter.”

Why in the world would you ask people to be uncomfortable in their new home, the first time they see it in order to protect floors that will no longer belong to you in a matter of weeks? Regardless of how or if you ask, thoughtful people with dirty shoes will remove then before coming through; thoughtless people will leave them on.

#3. “We should pull out the staging as soon as the house goes pending.”

Uh-oh! You pulled out your staging before the inspection period ended in order to save a few bucks on rental furniture. Now your sale has failed because the buyer didn’t like the condition of the water heater. I see that frowny face. Next time leave it in through the inspection period, better yet, through the financing contingency.

#2. “Staging can fix anything.”

I so wish this was true, but often, it is not. Sometimes things are so bad. They need to be fixed prior to, or in lieu of, staging. If your entire house is painted in rainbow tie-dye, no amount of staging can help you.

And the #1 “stoopidest” idea … “Staging is easy.”

It is amazing how many sellers I meet on a daily basis. Nearly every single day somebody calls me to explain to me why they don’t need staging services. They say they know exactly what their house needs in order to sell, and how they have a lot of experience doing what I do and they could just do it themselves. I always wonder to myself, “Then why are you calling me?” The truth of the matter is, home staging is not as easy as it looks.

I often compare it to women’s gymnastics. You know you are doing it right when it looks effortless. If you get a chance Google “Nadia Comaneci, perfect score” and watch the video. I don’t think she even broke a sweat. Good home staging looks like that.

What it all comes down to is that “staging is easy” is the No. 1 biggest myth we would love to perpetuate.

In the end, “stoopid” staging does nothing to help you and could actually hurt your sale. You need a competent staging professional if you want top dollar for your house.