CBS News February 24, 2019, 9:55 AM Getting houses ready for their closeup
High up in the Hollywood Hills, a modern, three-bedroom home is about to go on the market. And for sellers looking for buyers, home stylist Meridith Baer is the ultimate matchmaker.
"You want people to walk into this space and feel at home," Baer said. "What we want is for them to walk in the front door, fall in love, and just know that it's it. It's like when you find the right mate or the right pet."
She has a proven track record of taking a totally empty home and dressing it up, with the goal of getting as many prospective buyers to fall in love with it at first sight, and make an offer.
One of L.A.'s top realtors, Konstantine, said, "You really have 12 seconds to capture them."
And this home is one of his listings:
"That's where all of this effort is: 12 seconds long. And they'll walk in, and they'll go to the stairs, and they'll say, 'I'm done,'" he said.
"Seriously? It's happened?" asked correspondent Alina Cho.
"It happens every day with me. Because of [Baer]."
First challenge: you walk in and there's … a blank wall. Lorena Segura, one of Baer's three dozen designers, suggested a console, "and probably either an art or a mirror."
Last year Baer's company staged more than 2,000 homes nationwide. According to the industry, staged homes sell 76% percent faster, and often for tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price. Sometimes she designs for celebrity clientele, like Cher and Taylor Swift.
In just 24 hours, Segura turned an empty wall into an inviting entrance. "So, a bowl for the keys. Always a beautiful piece of something live; we love orchids, moss."
The living room went from drab, to dramatic. And in the kitchen, one of Baer's tried-and-true tricks: Carefully positioned props, like glass containers with pasta, or an open cookbook.
Segura said, "We want someone to be ready just to say, 'Yes, this is me. I see myself there doing this.'"
In the dining room, a large table, counter-intuitively, makes the house feel larger. The large mirror helped, too.
Baer also seduces buyers with a little humor, in the upstairs bedroom: "I remember one time I did a master bedroom, and I threw a negligee on the bed, and shoes across the room, and a Tiffany box that had just been opened."
The seller, Jacob Weber, has hired Meridith Baer twice before. "They made it look like – this is a morning show, I can't refer to sex appeal, or can I?"
"You can," Cho said.
"All right. They made it look like people have a lot more sex in that house than had in it before!"
Baer says sellers spend as little as $5,000 for a staging, and as much as $150,000. Weber's cost? $14,500.
Weber said, "For the $14,000 [cost], you're probably gonna make back $120,000. So, if you like money, then you would spend the 14 grand."
That budget will also get you a cozy man cave. "This is gonna mean a lot to a young Hollywood couple, to have their own screening room," Baer said.
Weber's house did sell, in a little more than a month, for $100,000 above the asking price.
Baer has been staging homes for two decades, though she had no design training, not even a class. Yet, she has "It." "I always know that if I could just move that a little to the right, it looks better," she said. "And I don't know how I know that."
In college, Baer started modeling and appearing in commercials. That led to small parts on TV and in movies, which led to screenwriting. One of her films starred a then-unknown George Clooney.
Fast forward to 1998: she was renting a home in L.A. and fixed it up so beautifully, the owner sold it out from her. "I had 250 plants and nowhere to go!" she said.
"And a houseful of furniture?" Cho asked.
"Yes. And so, I had a friend who was trying to sell a house that'd been on the market for about a year, and it was empty. And I said, 'OK, how about I bring all of these plants over there?'"
So she fixed up that home, too, and it sold within a week for $500,000 above the asking price. Suddenly, she had the makings of a business – but no place of her own. "I was now homeless," Baer said. "So I'd say, 'OK, and part of the deal is that I'll live here and I'll give you a discount.' Because I just love making things beautiful, any house that I lived in would sell usually within weeks."
Which meant she was moving a lot. "It did get to me, you never quite feel secure. You really don't ever know how your day's gonna end and start. You have no control over your life."
Times have changed. Today, Meridith Baer is the largest home stager in the country, with a staff of 250, and offices in five cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, New York and the Hamptons).
Baer's office near L.A. sits above a 200,000-square-foot warehouse, containing miles of lamps, chairs, rugs, fake fruit, fake flowers, golden Buddhas, jars of Q-tips and cotton balls, a full-time artist, and a laundry, too (because someone's got to iron all the sheets).
So, what if a prospective buyer not only wants the house, but everything inside, too? "Everything is for sale," Baer said. "I always said, 'I would sell anything except for my cat!'"
There is one occupational hazard: after seeing the transformation, sometimes the seller decides to stay put, like actress Scarlett Johansson. "We staged her house, and then she went, 'Oh, I kinda like this house now,' and took it off the market," Baer laughed.
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Story produced by Jay Kernis.