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Designer launches virtual home staging program

Nicknamed the residential illusionist, Gayle Novak works her magic staging occupied and vacant residential homes going on the market.

As the CEO/design director of Enhance Your Home LLC, Novak and her team help homeowners and listing agents present properties in the best possible fashion, or what Novak terms “showcase ready.”

In response to the current COVID-19 crisis, Novak is helping her clients stage their homes via Virtual Home Staging Consultations, a program she launched April 1.

“We can still do consultations without going into a client’s house,” Novak said in an email. “We can maintain a safe distance, keep the client, their family members and our team members safe during this quarantine period but still get the home staging done.”

She offers two different virtual options for clients to choose from to stage their own homes.

With the first option, Novak conducts the initial meeting with her client through Zoom. After clients email pictures of their home, she prepares a PowerPoint overview and written staging report providing step-by-step instructions for them to follow as a “do it yourself” process. The cost is $299.

“The ‘DIY’ staging project can be done on the client’s schedule,” Novak said. “And the fee is substantially less than our regular staging fee.”

Another option includes a FaceTime virtual walk-through with live staging instructions for $149. In addition, Novak does a five-day follow-up Zoom or telephone consult.

She believes staging a home isn’t about the personal design taste of the seller. It’s about creating a compelling visual scene appealing to a potential buyer’s emotions.

To provide a good first impression, her services entail working with clients to declutter, depersonalize and deco-touch-up their home.

Decluttering the home, according to Novak, maximizes the residence’s perceived square footage, resulting in the home looking and feeling larger.

“Buyers need to be able to see themselves living in the home,” she said. “Unfortunately, the sight of personal items and clutter make it impossible for buyers to do this.”

Her approach to depersonalizing the home broadens the range of buyers by showcasing its assets.

“We always remove personal family photos and personal items,” Novak said. “If needed, we replace them with neutral art.”

She said deco-touch-ups such as painting, installing new flooring or updating faucets or sinks make a big difference to buyers.

“Buyers want to move in and begin living in their new house,” Novak said. “Without making lots of repairs or changes.”

Novak’s techniques include rearranging or replacing furniture, staging closets and adding art pieces or accessories. Rooms she focuses on include the living room, kitchen, master bedroom/bath, guest bath and dining room.

She said her staged properties resulted in quicker sales for more money than if they had remained unstaged.

“According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), for every $100 you invest in staging, potentially you get a return of $400,” Novak said. “That could mean thousands more at closing.”

The National Association of Realtors Research Department reports that 49 percent of buyers’ agents said staging had a positive effect on most buyers’ view of the home. About one-third of buyers’ agents said staging a home increased the dollar value between 1 percent and 5 percent compared to similar unstaged homes on the market.

Novak cites one example of an unstaged home in Anthem that had been on the market for months. She and her team spent a full day on the interior, and the home sold just a few days after it was staged for the asking price.

”It was in bad shape,” she said. “It was a lot of work, but it resulted in the owner selling the property for full price.”

On average, the staging process takes Novak and her team approximately four hours — sometimes longer, depending on the client’s needs. Novak’s services are typically paid for by the seller.

This year, Novak is adding home color consultations to her repertoire. Using a new integrated system from Sherwin Williams, she showcases different colors on the home’s interior walls. The system offers a huge selection of colors and tools to help with color selections.

“We will take a photo of their room, then they can see what the room looks like with different color paint,” Novak said. “All without putting paint on the wall.”

The cost for home color consultation is $99 an hour and includes a 25 percent-off coupon for paint.

Novak started her company in 2007 after staging and selling her 3,200-square-foot, two-story home located on 4 acres in Texas.

“Homes were taking up to 12 months to sell, and we had less than five to sell it,” she said. “So my friend told me about staging.”

Novak discovered a school in California that offered staging courses. Within a short time, she received her certification in staging and redesign.

Upon earning her certification, she staged her home, selling it for a profit of $75,000 within 10 weeks.

“The Realtor was blown away,” Novak said. “Nobody was selling a house for less than a year, and ours sold in 10 weeks.

“I overly staged our house,” she continued. “I took all the clothes out of the closet and put them in suitcases under the bed. I even gift wrapped some boxes and put them on a shelf. It looked perfect.”

After selling her home, Novak moved to Chicago, where she started her official business. The first home she staged was a $1.3 million-dollar suburban Chicago home with historic significance.

Novak staged the home for free. In exchange, the owners agreed to host an event for area chambers once the staging was complete. The event allowed her to showcase her work and market her service.

Novak traded all the work in exchange for the vendors to have exposure at the event. She enlisted the help of over 20 businesses to complete the project, and it didn’t cost her a dime.

“We had 150 people show up,” Novak said. “They were blown away at how the house looked. The house sold in a couple of days for full price.”

Novak completed over 70 homes the first year she was in business and averaged over 100 houses every year after that. Her success in Chicago occurred during the recession, making it all the more remarkable.

It was one of her Chicago clients who gave Novak her residential illusionist nickname.

“One of my clients said, ‘You’re just a magician,’ ” Novak said. ” ‘You work magic in people’s homes.’ ”

Moving to Vegas in 2014, Novak took a three-year break from her staging business before founding Enhance Your Home.

“I had to go back to work,” Novak said. “I like to be busy.”

The Las Vegas market presented a challenge for Novak. She quickly discerned that Vegas holds a different perception about home staging than the Chicago market.

“It’s an interesting thing,” Novak said. “Coming to Vegas is like going back 10 years. Not a lot of Realtors use staging, and that really surprised me.”

Novak has worked tirelessly during the last three years to teach area Realtors about the value and importance of staging. She is accredited in Nevada to teach continuing education through her Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) membership, an international staging association.

Novak conducts Staging to Sell, What Every Agent Needs to Know about Staging classes at area mortgage and escrow companies. Averaging five to eight students, her three-hour class costs $25 and is worth three credits toward licensure.

“I want controlled growth,” she said. “I’m looking for eight to 10 Realtors that I can work with on a regular basis.”

Novak also is a member of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP).

Besides owning and operating her business, Novak is a two-time cancer survivor and a domestic abuse survivor. She dreams of one day creating a foundation to help women coming out of abusive relationships to get divorces. She further plans to write a memoir and lecture to support the foundation.

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