Dressed to sell: how styling your home can help seal the deal
PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 June 2017
Want buyers to fall in love with your property at first viewing? Meet the property dresser who can help your house fly off the estate agent's shelf, even in the current market
Can you pass an estate agent’s window without pausing to have a look? Do you stay up late into the night, glass of wine in hand, poring over online property portals? ‘Property porn’ is big business, and it’s a stronger person than most who can resist the lure of beautifully shot rooms filled with tasteful furniture.
On the flip side, we all know the response a bad estate agent’s picture elicits. Dodgy angles, poor lighting, mismatched furniture and shabby or just downright bizarre décor will hardly have you reaching for your mortgage advisors phone number. A picture might say a thousand words, but it’s what those words are saying that matters when it comes to finding a buyer.
Now more than ever we live in a profoundly visual society, and even your morning coffee comes primed and ready for its starring role on your carefully curated Instagram feed. With property sales slowing across London, competition to stand out from the crowd is fiercer than ever. Unphotogenic properties can languish on the market for months.
If your property isn’t attracting the attention it should, it might be time to call in a property dresser. Whether you’re trying to downsize and sell the family pile or shift an investment flat whose tenants have long gone, they can whip your property into shape and get it camera ready in a matter of hours.
Shelly Robinson has been in the business of property dressing for 15 years, and has witnessed the picture perfect revolution first hand.
“I was quite shocked at how unthinkingly some people would present a property,” she says. “Things have changed quite a lot and people are much more aware now of dressing properties. The estate agents who are really savvy are the ones who stress the importance of presentation to their vendors.”
Clients come directly to her company Robinson Stone. There are estate agents dotted all over London who have her on speed dial for when they take on a property in need of a makeover, but they don’t take commission. “Some agents have asked us what’s in it for them and really the answer is they get a sale,” she laughs.
Robinson is kind but firm, with a no nonsense approach. “You home or your investment flat is probably the biggest asset you have, so you have to give it your best shot,” she says. “We like to say to people – you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression and it’s true of properties too. You have to make sure that when people walk in the door of your property that they love it.”
Love comes at a price, particularly in the current climate. “It’s a tough market at the moment, there’s no denying that. People seem to be hesitating about buying or moving,” observes Robinson. Property dressing is a small price to pay to inject a little bit of liquidity, and costs only a tiny portion of the asking price. For restyling jobs Robinson Stone charge by the hour, whilst dressing an empty property costs anywhere between £3,000 for a one bed and £10,000 for a five bedroom property with multiple reception rooms.
Properties that have been tenanted or left empty for some time are Robinson’s bread and butter. With buy-to-let landlords beginning to throw in the towel to make way for first time buyers I can only see this market expanding as vendors vie for those carefully saved for first deposits. But properties that have been rented out for a period of time tend to look tired.
“You can’t love something that looks tired,” stresses Robinson. Luckily, she has a tried and tested recipe for perking up a property. First step: elbow grease. “Clean it, clean it and clean it until it’s sparkling,” she instructs. “Clean it beyond what people think clean is. It makes an enormous difference, even if the paintwork hasn’t been refreshed and looks a little tired.”
Once everything is squeaky clean, from the window to the walls, it’s time to get down to dressing.
“Empty rooms aren’t memorable. If people are viewing multiple properties their going to remember the one that had some character,” she says. Robinson Stone maintains a library of contemporary yet classic furniture that can work in any setting. Sofas, rugs, coffee tables – everything you would expect to see in someone’s house.
“The furniture is hard working. We don’t like it in our warehouse, we like it to be out earning its keep,” says Robinson. Currently they have about 12 dressed properties on their books, but as things take longer to sell they have the potential to up their capacity to 20.
“We put things in and arrange them so it feels comfortable and welcoming, like somebody’s stylish home,” she says. “Not intimidatingly so because that’s not good for anyone, just tidy and stylish and fresh.”
Carefully chosen accessories are key, so Robinson also keeps a collection of items such as fluffy towels for the bathrooms and fancy bottles of olive oil to put in the kitchen. There’s even a collection of wine for the wine rack and art for the walls. Fresh flowers or expensive fake silk versions adorn every room, and the beds are given fresh and inviting white linen sheets. “We can really help create a little personality around it.”
The whole process takes less than a week. “We’re small and swift,” she says. “We don’t waste any time.” In the interim Robinson requests that agents take the pictures of the property down from their website so jaded buyers have time to forget it. Once the new photos have been shot the property can go back up and garner fresh attention.
As well as property makeover services, Robinson Stone also offer a makeunder service for downsizers in need of a serious declutter before the viewers come marching round. Just as too little personality can put a buyer off, so can too much.
“Estate agents will tell you, if you take someone in to a house full of family photographs they’ll be drawn to them,” says Robinson. “People are intrigued; they want to get a sense of who lives there and what their lives a like. People look at books on bookshelves and form opinions of what sort of people they are.”
The trick is in depersonalising the home just enough to give the viewer scope to see themselves living there. “You’ve got to help them see the size and shape of the rooms and imagine their own furniture in them. That’s the trick really.”
In order to create room for some imagination, years of accumulated possessions need to be re-homed. “We hold their hands through the process and give them tasks as homework, say finding if a library would be interested in taking their book collection,” says Robinson. “I quite like the hand holding. People are always so thrilled that we’re prepared to do that. Where else can you go to find people to help you with a difficult move?”
Selling a home that’s been in the family for something like 40 years is always emotional, Robinson finds. Even if they’ve decided to sell in order to buy a house in France or help their adult children on to the property ladder there are lots of memories to sift through. In cases where the sale has come about due to divorce the process can be even harder. As always, Robinson’s no nonsense approach is a boon.
“We’re very gentle, but tough as well because they have to get through the process. We can’t take away the pain but we can make it less stressful,” she says. The payoff isn’t just about a quick sale, either.
“We see them transform. At the end they’re usually really excited about going on to the next thing, the next bit of their lives.”
GET THE LOOK
Of Special Interest
This shop in Crouch end is full of lovely decorative items and lamps, which I often use for dressing
44-46 Park Road, Crouch End, N8; ofspecialinterest.co.uk
I love using Kristjana Williams’ quirky maps and skylines of London, as well as her birds. They bring in some colour and a little humour too. They add something a bit memorable for viewers, without being too distracting from the property.
1100 Great West Road, Brentford, TW8; kristjanaswilliams.com
The White Company
Making the bed look fresh and inviting is important. I source all the bed linen from The White Company.