Few of my neighbours go to church. But they do attend Sunday services. The proceedings take place in the early afternoon, at shifting locations around the city. Congregants are called to worship with signs proclaiming “Open House.” Inside, real estate agents share the Gospel According To While You Were Out. Some of the visitors are looking to buy a roof over their heads — but most are there for what might be loosely described as spiritual reasons: Having shunned God’s house, modern yuppies instead worship their own, travelling from open house to open house, proclaiming to one and all the Good News of granite countertops and imported-tile backsplashes.
As my wife and I learned last month, when we put our own house on the market, this is not that old-timey real-estate religion. In my parents’ day, getting a house ready for sale meant vacuuming the carpets, mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, tidying the bedrooms. These days, it means constructing a full-fledged alternate reality — a beautiful, surreal plane from which everything and everyone you love has been expensively airbrushed out of existence.
No matter how professional and well-mannered your stagers are, there is no getting around the fundamentally humiliating nature of the client’s experience. Implicit in the stager’s recommendations is the fact that the way you live is undesirable — ugly — to prospective home buyers. When the stager enters your house, you hope that this will be an easy job for her, your house being so tasteful and uncluttered. “I wouldn’t touch a thing!” you imagine her saying as she admires your carefully chosen decor and furnishings. Instead, you hear a parade of euphemisms. “This couch, uh — it has that studenty look, don’t you think?” or “A bed made of rattan! I love it! But, you know, not everyone has our avant-garde tastes.” (Illustration: Kelsey Heinrichs)