A dash of design panache could be the difference between breakthrough or bust for property sales or leases, particularly in inner city areas where an avalanche of new apartments is set to tip the balance in favour of the buyer or tenant, say experts.
Like any issue involving design and taste, there are as many views as viewers when it comes to the ephemeral and elusive issue of aesthetics, especially when recruiting specialists might mean spending more thousands, or tens of thousands.
“It works,” says Kim Hallis, a design diva and director of Create Expectations, a company that attempts to capture the lifestyle aspirations of a house hunter with a seductive mix of furniture and fixtures. “Nine times out of 10 they will recoup every cent they spend.”
“It’s the bane of my life,” says Christopher Koren, a director of Morrell & Koren, a buyers’ advocate, former auctioneer and 30-year veteran of the property market. “Add the cost of styling to advertising and commissions and you end up spending almost double,” says Morrell.
In the past decade hundreds of interior designers, antique specialists and style consultants have turned a cottage industry into a pulsating postcode of fashion ideas and lifestyle makeovers.
This could be a godsend for the hapless vendor who can’t match their socks, couldn’t identify a fashion trend if it popped out of their porridge and use colours only to distinguish football teams.
Hallis, who has been in the industry for 17 years and who at any time is typically designing up to 45 house interiors, says the modern buyer is “instantaneously visual”, which is designer talk for wanting, or needing, to be seduced by a look or a lifestyle.
Hallis, a former pharmacist assisted by stylists Julia Nobile and Melissa Boardman, reckons she has more than 50 couches, 500 lamps and thousands of cushions in three warehouses around Melbourne. She says cash-rich, time-poor buyers don’t want to be trawling around the suburbs every weekend for months.
“They want a lifestyle, an image, something fresh, fashionable and fun,” she says. What’s hot depends on your market.
The fashionable set are currently into either “modern minimalist” (with its pared-down designs, clean lines and minimal furniture) or mid-twentieth century styling with plenty of Danish-style furniture and teak veneer sideboards.
Perennial favourites include the “Toorak” or “Double Bay” classics that feature velvet sofas, winged armchairs and luxury sofas or, at the other end of the spectrum, bold colours, zig-zag patterns, a splash of neon and plenty of cushions, best with bright parrot motifs.
Real estate agents love the design dictates because it helps them sell, particularly in the era of social media where the image is the message and texting the messenger.
Demand has never been stronger as new inner-city apartments flood into the nation’s capitals at up to three times the markets’ ability to occupy them, making it tougher to find tenants or owners.
Agents’ monitoring of clicks reveals, perhaps not surprisingly, that well-presented, interesting-looking places that are expertly photographed are more likely to attract and retain a promiscuous eyeball for a few more seconds.
Koren says a seller needs to balance the cost and effort required with the likely outcome.
“It is all a question of how far you want to go, how much you want to spend,” he says. “I would recommend doing just enough, which means making sure everything is neat and tidy. I’m not sure it needs to be completely overhauled.”
Styling costs typically start around $2500. A seller can easily spend up to $40,000 using hand-picked antiques or specialist furniture to create a look, ambience and, hopefully, a competitive splurge that will shoot the price way past the cut-glass Venetian chandeliers and through the roof.
Sheryl Ward, who lives in Melbourne, recently used a stylist when she decided to downsize from the family home after her children had left and her lifestyle moved-on.
“Presentation is important,” Ward says about a house she had lived in for 30 years. “I was selling what had been a family home and needed a fresh pair of eyes to see other potential ways it might be structured and what might need to be added or removed.”
More than 50 people inspected the house during the three weeks it was on the market. Her real estate agents said to expect three “serious” bidders on auction day.
“None of the three serious bidders put up their hands and it was another person who bought it,” she says. “In the end, it was not a hot response, which was disappointing. But I got the price I wanted.”
FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT IN ONLINE SALES
Trying to rent or sell your property through social media is like speed dating. First impressions count.
Harcourts is one of the real estate agencies monitoring how potential buyers and tenants respond to an online property advertisement.
Just like speed dating, a smart, sharp and seductive combination is more likely to sell on first glance than dumpy and frumpy.
James Edmundson, sales consultant, says ”styled” properties will have online viewers looking at seven pictures of the property, compared with an average of two.
“In the old days it was tough to get a vendor to slap on a coat of paint,” says Edmundson. “These days many are hiring professional stylists to make sure a property looks its very best.”
He claims better presentation recently produced a $25,000 higher sale price for an apartment in inner suburban East Melbourne than an identical apartment next door.
Both were the same size, on the same floor, with three bedrooms, two car spaces and an identical view over a courtyard.
The property with arty pictures, cool furniture, great lighting and balcony views across a verdant garden sold before auction for $840,000. Its neighbour (with what looked like Ikea leftovers and a view over a stark and sterile landscape) was passed in for $718,000 and later sold at $815,000.
Haesley Cush of Ray White, says impacts of social media are still being measured and adapted into sales campaigns.
“The better the image, the more likely people will look at it and become engaged,” Cush says. “Old lessons are being learnt again. A proactive approach will often get the result. It’s like the old-fashioned letter box drop – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.” By Jayden Vecchio