Home Staging goes Cajun. Michelle Molinari tells her home stager story.

Michelle Molinari has been one of my favorite home stagers since I ventured out to Active Rain and found that there were others of us. I love her straight forward style. She’s not PC, but you do know what she thinks. I like that.

I can also say that she’s probably the one person in this business that I personally learn the most from. Whenever I can’t figure something out, I go to her. Somehow she always has all the answers. Maybe it’s because we are both tech junkies, but I really love the way she embraces innovation and helps to keep the home staging industry moving forward.

How long have you been a home stager?    Since 2007.

Why did you decide to become a home stager?

My mom has been an interior decorator almost my whole life, and I have assisted her in some capacity or another since my teens. After watching the shows at the time about staging, the idea appealed to us both to  segue into that exclusively. Decorating homes was always a kick, to please the homeowner. But with the premise of staging to sell,  were drawn in by the challenge of having the  specific goal of creating a buzzworthy product to help sell it quicker than non-buzzworthy homes.

What did you do before you were a home stager?

I have been an artist since the age of 16, and many of my works were commissions from my mother’s decorating clientele over the years.  But  I was never completely satisfied doing just one thing. I have also been a Montessori Pre-K teacher,  owned a nanny placement agency, managed retail stores & restaurants, and been a color consultant for a Benjamin Moore store. But I always came back to to my core strengths – color, composition, & creating! I have an entrepreneurial spirit I cannot suppress.

Once I got a bee in my bonnet about directing my talents to help sell houses, well,  it all fell into place. Interacting with my pre-school student’s parents taught me patience, being a business owner taught me to have a good work ethic & perseverance, retail taught me how to deal with the public, and being a color consultant taught me that I have a real gift that not everyone else has. I can put all my various strengths to use as a property presentation specialist (aka, real estate stager).

Tell us a little about your business, how it operates and who your clients are:

Our business started out as a team and it has always been that way. Staged homes are STILL a rarity in our area of Louisiana. Our team specializes in more than one way to help homeowners and agents. We use our talents and training to obviously physically stage houses in our local market, with truly astounding results. In fact, our fully staged homes receive & acceptable offers in hours & days, not weeks & months .Products we have developed that are marketed nation-wide include our exceptionally detailed DIY Staging and Curb Appeal Strategy Plans. We advise, down to the exact products. paint colors, and local store price, everything a homeowner needs to prepare their property for sale themselves. All we need to do this for anyone, anywhere are good pictures and answers to a few questions. Being able to help sellers outside of our area keeps our skills honed while we continue to build our local influence.

Our real distinguishing niche is our Conceptual Staging Images included with those DIY reports. We actually SHOW the homeowner what their house would look like if they followed our suggestions. I taught myself how to make these images, and they convince sellers to be proactive like no silver-tongued pitch ever could.

What’s your favorite part of the business?

That is easy to answer – the THRILL of a fast sale. Selling houses can be such a daunting experience and can take a long time. It is the biggest RUSH to find out one of our staged houses received and accepted an offer in a couple of hours, or in a single day, or within a week. Presently, 90% of our fully staged homes sell in less than 8 days, and 72% of the homes we advise on where sellers follow our report suggestions sell in 30 days or less.

What’s your least favorite part of the business?

I hate tax season. It gives me migraines. It’s cruel and unusual punishment for right-brained people.

Who are some of your favorite stagers?

This is a tough question, because there are so many really talented people in this industry. Matthew Finlason  of HGTV’s The Stagers is an inspiration. He has more talent in his baby toe than pretty much anyone on the planet. It is a well-known fact that I have had a business crush on Melissa Marro for years and years. And, one stager in particular who’s work is just astonishingly high quality is Margaret Gehr of Chicagoland Home Staging.  Her work blows me away with it’s quality &depth.


Tell us about your best staging experience.

A man in our town was mentally and physically disabled in a car accident. He was an ambitious,, hard-working man single young in his mid 20’s, who worked his crawfish farm and had bought a nice house a number of months before the accident. His  rehabilitation was long and arduous, and his family was not sure if he would ever regain the independence to return to live in his own home.

Our company was called in to complete renovations he had started prior to the accident and bought new furnishings from top to bottom while he was away, using his savings. It wasn’t “for sure” if it would be sold, but we were told to treat as if it would be, just in case.  He hadn’t been home in over a year, and his doctors wouldn’t allow him to live in a house with stairs until he could safely navigate them quickly in the event of an emergency. This house was his major asset, and the family hoped for the best, knowing that  living in his home again was his ultimate goal, but were being pragmatic about his situation as well.

In the middle of the process, he was unexpectedly brought on-site. The mess of construction upset him greatly, and being challenged in his speech, it was hard to know what was going on in his head and how to soothe his state of mind. We spent the rest of the time working on his home very concerned about how the resulting design would be received. Frankly, we were terrified he would hate it. We had been given a lot of lee-way to use the budget to make the house as valuable and sellable as possible, and had re-configured the first floor due to a really problematic entry design that completely prevented wheelchair access, and had even moved the front door of the house to solve it.

When it was complete, he carefully and slowly moved from room to room on his feet, repeating only two words over and over: “Love it, love it, love it”. Going up the stairs and in every room, that was his response. It was a very good day for our company!

But the BEST day would come three months later. We called his mom to find out how he was doing. To our surprise, he was living in the house, without assistance! He was even crawfishing on his land again. His desire to live in his home propelled him to make incredible strides in his recovery.

We learned from that day on  that staging not only sells, sometimes, it heals.

Tell us about your worst staging experience.

Oh Brother! It was last June. She was an out-of-state homeowner. She altered the contract 9 times. It took three months straight for our renovation team to whip her completely and totally neglected property into very basic selling shape. We removed 95 enormous bags of debris from her back yard alone. She stopped talking to us the moment we told her it was ready for a walk-through and that final payment was due. She didn’t return calls or emails, not even to her agent, for 3 full months. She finally contacted us, and wanted us to come back and fix a minor flooring issue and repaint a wall. We gladly agreed, if she would agree in writing to pay us at the time of completion as she plainly stated and initialed to in the much-revised contract. She refused. We refused to come until she agreed to pay. We went round and round for three weeks. She accused us of being “mafia-esque and purposely delaying the sale, which was entirely her fault when she stopped speaking to her agent. Needless to say, we finally got our renovation money, and she listed it FSBO in December 2011. As of today, March 19h, 2012. it is still for sale.

What was your favorite room or art or accessory?

Another tough question! I have a pair of oversized mercury glass birds I love to use. Birds are very popular now, and we have been incorporating them for years into our designs, because birds come in a variety of colors and types, and  work in every room, no matter what the purpose of the room is. And, I like acorns. Acorn stuff is hard to find, but it can go virtually anywhere, and is masculine, without any cliche.

 If you were to pick a theme song for your career as a home stager, what would it be?

For my career, it would be “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox. It’s a song of struggle and triumph and taking and heeding advice  in a tough world, between a mother and a daughter. I have listen to it pretty much every day since we began this business. It never fails to fuel my fire!

For my company, however,it would be “Everybody’s Working for The Weekend,” by Loverboy.

If you were going to write a book about your staging career, what would it be called?

Staging Cajuns, of course!

What would you tell someone new, thinking of getting into home staging?

Get yourself a big hat rack, because this career requires a lot of “hats!”

Learn more about Michelle’s home staging company at Feature This… Real Estate Staging and Curb Appeal.  You can also become a fan of Curb Appeal Concepts to stay up to date on the latest curb appeal trends.

Learn from Michelle by taking one of SAR’s training or mentoring packages. You can also earn your designation on Curb Appeal Confidence or Presentation Poise. Michelle is also currently creating a color designation course as well as several technology courses for SAR.

Read more home stager stories in our, “I’m a home stager.” series. 

Melissa Marro

About melissamarro

Melissa Marro is an international award winning home stager and professional speaker for the home staging and real estate industry. Founder and CEO for both SAR, Staging and Redesign Training and MRRE, Market Ready Real Estate's online home staging consultation program, Marro continues to help inspire and empower new and existing stagers as well as move the industry standards forward.

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