by Andrew Gross “We create spaces buyers fall in love with!” Lucy Castro Val adopted that motto for her company, “Leave it to Lucy” when she came to see how vital home staging was to the overall experience of home sellers and buyers.  Almost four years ago Lucy moved to Palm Coast from her native Toronto, Canada, with her husband Ulises and baby daughter Ella. She moved to be near her mother, stepfather and aunt, and to be the main caregiver to her elderly grandmother, Mary Mathey, a Palm Coast resident since the 1980s. When her grandmother started to receive home nursing care, and little Ella began nursery school, Lucy rediscovered her longstanding passion for interior design. It was her mother, Suzanne Lynch, a real-estate agent with Palm West Home Realty, who suggested that Lucy’s great eye for design, together with her serious work ethic, could be the basis for a successful career in home staging. After studying to obtain her Designer designation, Lucy started staging some of Suzanne’s listings. Her work has brought her superlative reviews and Lucy has never looked back. She believes the residents of Flagler County will be very enthusiastic when she introduces them to the benefits of professional home staging. Although a relatively new industry, home staging has become a necessary part of preparing a house for market in the country’s large urban centers, and Lucy is proving every day that it can be just as effective in suburban and vacation markets, like the one in Flagler County. Lucy can look at a space and teach others to see it in a new way, so that it appeals to a large number of potential buyers. She has made it her business to present uncluttered and beautiful scenes throughout the houses she stages. Carefully deploying an inventory of sleek, modern, on-trend furniture, appropriate artwork, and a myriad of tasteful “props,” Lucy “sets the stage” of a house. She creates vignettes and “memory points,” so that buyers can imagine how they would use such spaces as the living room, kitchen, bath, or office. She also uses color, or a touch of the unexpected, to get that WOW factor that leaves an impression on the home shopper. It’s a mood changer! In no small part, choosing a new home is an emotional decision, and Lucy’s services help potential home buyers to dream big. Now buyers can imagine the house as it will look totally furnished and functioning as a home...maybe their own home! Unfortunately, the approach that sellers so often take is to put their house on the market without proper preparation or professional design expertise. This can result in a listing that looks cluttered, full of oversized or out-moded furniture, and overflowing with family photos or other personal memorabilia. Or it might result in an empty house that seems barren, boring, and cold. In either case, it is very difficult for potential buyers to imagine living in such a home, or even to appreciate the true proportions, merits, and possibilities of each room. Moreover, today virtually all buyers begin their search for a new property by turning on their computers and viewing online listings. When a listing features photos of cluttered or cavernous spaces, buyers are much less likely to take the time to find out more about the house, let alone book an appointment to actually visit it. It’s easier to click the mouse and look at the next available property. So the power of online photography – both good and bad – cannot be overestimated. An unflattering photo can result in a sales opportunity being lost forever. Even local buyers, already familiar with the pluses of an area or a neighborhood, will quickly pass by unappealing photos of house interiors. Why doesn’t everyone use a professional home stager? A common misconception about staging, and a reason sellers fail to consider the service, is that staging a home for sale is definitely not the same as furnishing it for personal or family use. Even the most tasteful and organized homeowners would never want to forego many of their possessions that carry personal meaning. Staging a house, however, is not about decorating for function or to express the owner’s taste and interests. Its purpose is to enhance the qualities of a home, presenting it so that prospective owners can see how they, not the present owners, would live there. Lucy comes in with an educated eye. She knows what looks good to buyers and to the camera. She creates an immaculately decorated and pared down environment so the home looks spacious as well as beautiful – an inspiration to prospective buyers. Of course, sellers, not buyers, hire home stagers. It is true that the price of a house, which is based on several market considerations, is the major factor in determining whether it sells, and sells quickly. How the house looks to the potential buyer is the second most important element. Lucy works with agents from many different agencies, but is still surprised that more sellers do not hire a stager, and that more real estate agents do not recommend the service to their clients. If a house remains on the market, the seller must continue with month after month of mortgage payments. Often the seller will have to reduce the asking price, sometimes more than once, in order to come to an agreement with a buyer. Since a staged house so often results in a quicker sale, without price reductions, staging is a real bargain. Time and again, Lucy has seen that the decision not to stage a home is significantly more expensive than failing to stage it. Lucy’s business has grown over the last couple of years as more sellers and realtors see 

how crucial staging is. Realtors in-the-know have continually decided to “leave it to Lucy” because her staging company has produced quicker sales at higher asking prices. We all know that selling one’s house is usually a very stressful experience. Lucy finds meaning in easing that experience. She and her family cherish their lives here, and Lucy finds joy in creating spaces that new homeowners can fall in love with.

Andrew Gross, who has a Ph.D. in Political Science, works in digital marketing in Toronto.