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Staging My Life

The Madness of Selling a Home You Still Live In


There are few things in life I despise more than moving houses and making the bed — the former because, well, no one really likes packing up their entire existence and carting it across town, and the latter never made much sense to me at all: In an era where efficient use of time is tantamount, why spend even a minute prettying up a piece of furniture only ever seen by your closest family and friends? Nonetheless, over the summer, I was forced to repeatedly engage in both practices, hauling pieces of my family’s life back and forth between the garage and preening our pillows, sheets, and comforters in my own personal version of hell.

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Matt Kettmann

My newfound tasks were all part of the apparently necessary real estate practice called “staging,” in which those seeking to sell their homes while still living in them must pretend for certain periods of time, a.k.a. open houses, agent visits, etc., that they don’t. The general idea is to make your home look like a luxury hotel room — comfortable, livable, and spacious, with stylish accents and just enough decoration, but not too much, less you turn off potential buyers.

In Santa Barbara’s once again bustling real estate scene, this same exact process is going on from Carpinteria to Goleta, maybe even on your own block, and experts hired by realtors make a pretty penny advising how to make your property fetch a higher price than asking or, better yet, incite a bidding war. And, according to realtors, it works.

Staging would be a tough task for a single person, but throw in a wife who recently had to go back to full-time work plus a couple very young kids, and the days spent engaging in this elaborate charade promise to be some of the most hectic of your life. I spent my July 4th holiday packing up everything that we didn’t use everyday — and wouldn’t presumably need till we moved a month and a half later. The next morning, the stager came through to move the furniture that was left, re-hang our art more artistically, and make a list of things to buy, which was dominated by stark white things like new pillows, bath towels, and dish rags. Oh yea, Trader Joe’s orchids are apparently critical to any sale. I also focused on beautifying the front yard and patio through that holiday weekend, making both areas look better, bigger, and more inviting than they ever seemed when we were living there pre-staging limbo.

We got the house professionally cleaned Saturday and had to keep it pristine until Sunday’s first open house, for which I had to move trash cans, clothes, shoes, kid chairs, case of wine, two crib-like things, and dish rack into the garage, and the fresh fruit, tea pot, iPhone chargers, toaster oven, laptops, and other now forgotten items into the cabinets. And make the beds, perfectly. When it was over, I brought all that stuff back out, and we later messed up those beds with sleep. Clean and repeat and remake on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and the next Sunday.

I realize that I’m in many ways lucky to be playing this tiny violin, as anyone who has the considerable resources required to make any moves in the Santa Barbara market should be happy to have the opportunity. (The tragically sour part of our upgrade from condo to home was that it’s directly related to the sudden passing of my father at age 63 in May.)

Reasons and resources aside, our little staging exercise seems to have worked, as we sold our condo pretty much immediately. Thankfully, unless we strike it rich and move to Montecito one day, this move should be our last for years to come, maybe forever.

And to where, you wonder? The good land of growing families and big backyards: Goleta here we come!

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