May 21, 2014

Staging For Sale: A Lifelong Passion

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By Kitty Merrill

Her mother was a Hamptons real estate broker. And when Allegra Dioguardi was a little girl, her mom would take her along when she "fluffed" listings for show. So it's no surprise staging for sale has been a lifelong passion for the local business owner.

But they didn't call it staging back when Dioguardi started out. When she received her degree in Interior Design from Parsons School of Design, her very first job entailed merchandising model homes for sale. For 25 years, she travelled all over the country working for top national builders like Toll Bros. and Hovnanian, and one of the country's largest, most prestigious model home firms, Builders Design in Maryland, honing her staging (aka merchandising) expertise along the way.

In fact, she recently sold her own home "to the first person who looked, for the full price," she reported.

Dioguardi started her own business, Styled and Sold, in 2006 and returned to the Hamptons in 2008. Operating from a base in Westhampton Beach, she works with home sellers, investors, realtors, builders, and "anyone interested in enhancing their home or property," staging owner-occupied homes as well as new construction and vacant homes.

Her philosophy is simple – and romantic. "I believe what sells homes is 'love at first sight.'" Potential buyers need to be able to visualize themselves living in an abode -- "It's all about someone walking in and saying 'I could live here,'" the designer asserted. Dioguardi works to create a space that looks like a bed and breakfast or "high end spa."

Key to merchandising an owner-occupied home is "editing," she revealed. Most owner-occupied houses need some "depersonalizing without being sterilized." Tchotchkes, memorabilia and family photographs have to be pruned to remove clutter and offer "more of a Zen feeling."

In the Hamptons, "We're also selling a lifestyle," Dioguardi pointed out. The casual, beachy feel exemplifies a simpler life without "all that stuff we have," and an effect that's "beautiful and neutral."

By contrast, when it comes to vacant, new construction, Dioguardi draws from an array of resources to furnish and decorate a house. She offers "visual clues" related to how the potential homeowner would live in the house, "so they can feel engaged with the space."

Often, she said, buyers elect to purchase staging merchandise. Sometimes it's conveyed as an incentive and sometimes, Dioguardi hosts professionally-run tag or estate sales.

With the onset of the Internet age, staging has become invaluable, Dioguardi believes, because 90 percent of buyers view the home they're going to purchase online. Listing photos are key and Dioguardi advocates for the use of a good, professional real estate photographer. "You have less than 10 seconds to make a great first impression when potential buyers are viewing your property online or in person," she said.

While merchandising homes for sale is Dioguardi's specialty, Styled and Sold also offers classic design services and interior re-design, working with items an owner already owns.

Not content to keep her knowledge to herself, Dioguardi also hosts webinars and provides home staging training and mentoring to aspiring and seasoned home stagers. An intriguing factoid found on her Style and Stage website? CNN and careerbuilder.com both named home staging "The #1 job poised for growth in the coming years."

Dioguardi describes her company as "small, personal, affordable and professional." Speak with her about home staging for just minutes, and it's clear she can add another adjective – passionate.

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