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Home stagers expand services



Published: Sun, July 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Originally meant for seniors, they now help busy baby boomers move.

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

When a divorce compelled Carol Wolfe to put her seven-bedroom home on the market, she soon realized that managing so major a life change would require more than the services of a real estate agent and a mover.

"I have five kids and a lot of stuff," she said. "I needed help getting organized to move."

So Wolfe, whose children range in age from 7 to 17, hired Starr Osborne and her Chestnut Hill, Pa.-based firm, Tailored Transitions.

That was in February.

By the time the moving van arrived in June, Osborne and her team had helped pack the family's belongings and come up with a plan for furniture placement in their new rental home just blocks away. They had Wolfe's Oriental rugs cleaned and laid in the new place, unpacked her cookbooks, and ferried boxes of fragile items to storage shelves they erected in the basement. Osborne even supervised the construction of a hall coat closet and built-in shelves for the dining room.

"They will do absolutely anything you need," said Wolfe, 50, who also had Osborne stage her former home for sale -- a strategy that involves decluttering, paring down furnishings and making a home's decor as neutral as possible. "We were supposed to have the movers for two days, but we were so organized it only took a day."

Osborne, who launched Tailored Transitions last fall, is one of a new breed of entrepreneurs who combine home-staging with move-management services to help people cope with the angst and effort involved in trading one piece of real estate for another.

"In the beginning, I thought I would be working mostly with seniors who were downsizing, but that hasn't been the case," said Osborne, who picked up some of her skills when she moved her parents three times. "Most of my clients are just really, really busy, and they don't have the extra time to manage a move."

Change in customers

Barb Schwarz, founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals and the owner of a California company (www.Stagedhomes.com) that offers three-day training sessions for aspiring stagers, said she's seen a change in the field in the last five years.

Clients are not just looking for help with a sale, Schwarz said, but also for assistance with a move and finding the right places for their furniture in the new home -- something she calls "staging to live."

"Our members are meeting the moving truck, setting up the furniture, putting the toothbrush in the bathroom and the soup in the cabinet," she said.

Donna Willman, whose six-year-old company, Byron Home Inc., has focused on helping the elderly move from their longtime homes to assisted-living facilities, said she's seen growing interest recently from younger clients.

"We're getting more active seniors who are moving into condos," said Willman, who also does home staging. "And we're getting their adult children. They've met us and seen the kind of services we offer, and they say, 'I'd love this kind of help. This is fabulous.'"

Margit Novack, founder of Moving Solutions, one of the largest senior-move-management companies, said her firm is removing the term "older adult" from its promotional materials and redoing its Web site to emphasize that it also works with busy professionals.

"We are really looking at how to market to baby boomers," Novack said. "This is a generation that has paid for services all their lives. I think they are going to be much more accepting of bringing people in to get rid of clutter, put their house on the market and help them move."

Cost of living

Help doesn't come cheap. Tailored Transitions, for instance, charges $55 an hour, as well as an additional base fee that can range from $250 for a very small job to $1,000 for a more complex project.

For its client Mary Hangley, though, the cost is well worth it. Hangley, 64, plans to sell the eight-bedroom house she and her husband, Bill Hangley, 64, the chairman of a Philadelphia law firm, raised their three children in. The couple will move to a much smaller home they've purchased a mile away.

"I believe in having professional help," said Hangley. "When you are moving your whole life like this -- 32 years of accumulation -- it's a lot of decision-making. It's a complicated process."

Hangley is not only looking for help with home staging, organizing and packing. She also is working with Osborne and Tailored Transitions' resident interior designer, Mia Smith, to help decorate her new home, whose unornamented modern style couldn't be more of a contrast to the ornate Victorian she's used to.

So far, in three sessions with Hangley, Osborne and her associate Christine Bamberger have surveyed her overstuffed home and come up with a staging plan that will require removing and rearranging dozens of pieces of furniture and packing away bric-a-brac and family photos.

They've organized Hangley's basement (she entertains frequently and owns enough party equipment to launch a catering company). Also, they've helped her identify items that might be sold at auction and those that can be disposed of in a private yard sale for friends and family.

"We'll meet with clients weekly and break things down and give them homework assignments," said Osborne, who will work her staging magic on the Hangleys' home while the couple is away on a monthlong vacation.

Hangley's next assignment: Schedule that yard sale.

"I'm really prepared to let go of stuff," she said. "Our house is so ornate, you always feel like you have to keep filling it up. And when you have so much stuff, it can start taking over your life.

"I'm looking forward to having less to do."

XTo find firms that offer services relating to home transitions, including organizing, packing, design and staging, visit the Web site of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals: www.iahsp.com.




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