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388 S. Lake Avenue,
Pasadena, CA 91101
When Personal Style Impedes a Sale
John Blesso feels as though he has made plenty of compromises to try to sell his Morningside Heights apartment. Before every open house over the past five months, he has hidden away his toaster, cocktail shaker, vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, remote controls, shaving cream and loofah, and even taken his towel off the towel rack.
“I had to hide every example that I am a human,” he said.
But there are still some things he has been slow to do. He has yet to repaint his walls, which are avocado and orange. And so far he has not gotten rid of his coffee table, which is shaped like New Jersey.
It is one of the central maxims of real estate, right up there with “location, location, location”: A home should be staged so that buyers can imagine themselves living in it. That means removing the seller’s thrift-store discoveries and funky artwork to encourage potential buyers to mentally install their own thrift-store discoveries and funky artwork. Nonetheless, many sellers leave behind their favorite ice-breakers, at the risk of having them become deal-breakers.
Frances Katzen, a Prudential Douglas Elliman broker, once bickered with the seller of a Mercer Street penthouse about his collection of contemporary art, which she said featured “scary images of dangerous sharp objects.” (Actually, she was bickering with the seller’s girlfriend, who worked in the art world.) She sold the place for $4.825 million after the artwork came down.
But that was less of a challenge than the one-bedroom bachelor pad in the financial district that she took on last year, which had a Confederate flag above the couch.
During open houses, Ms. Katzen said, she felt uncomfortable as buyers stared at the flag; she tried to explain that it was a “nonpolitical fashion statement.” After receiving no offers, Ms. Katzen told the seller that his flag had to go. The seller resisted, arguing that it was a “term of endearment,” she said.
“It offended people,” Ms. Katzen said. “If you’re provocative, people don’t want to engage.”
After he finally relented, she said, she sold the apartment.
Some distractions cannot be moved into storage. Sharon E. Baum, a Corcoran Group broker, is selling a $999,000 penthouse at 280 Park Avenue South that looks out directly at the MetLife clock; she jokes to buyers that they should pay more for the apartment because the clock will always help them be on time. (Another view from the apartment is of a billboard.)
While Ms. Baum says that many buyers want to picture themselves simply moving in with a toothbrush, that is not what they will find in Manhattan, where small spaces are filled by big personalities. She has taken on apartments painted lavender and an East Side penthouse with a swinging bed, and she has gone with a client to one Upper West Side apartment whose living room was crowded with cages filled with chirping and fluttering birds that threw food at one prospective buyer.
In 2005, Pierrette Hogan, a broker who is now at Sotheby’s, was trying to sell an East 79th Street penthouse with walls lined with antique guns and machetes. Ms. Hogan said that even though she had warned buyers before they arrived, some cringed or “ran away” without seeing the entire apartment. She said her client insisted on keeping the weapons up because he felt they “added to the beauty of the penthouse.”
“It certainly took much longer to sell the apartment,” she said, adding that it went for one-third less than the asking price. The buyer, Barbara S. Fox, is a real estate broker who was able to look past the machetes.
Mr. Blesso said he actually thought about redecorating (or undecorating) when he first listed the apartment. Now, he and his broker, Tracie Hamersley of Citi Habitats, have finally decided that he should paint the walls white and hire a stager. He will also let the coffee table go.
But he is not thrilled about it.
“There are a lot of people who lack imagination,” he said. “They need to be able to have things spelled out.”