Cheryl Eisen and Joe Fairless

JF1119: Staging Your Listings Can Help Sell Faster, And For More Money! With Cheryl Eisen

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Cheryl was located in NYC, and found it very difficult to separate herself from every other agent in the city, and there is a lot! She started staging for additional income. It definitely helped her income, as she is now wildly successful, staging homes for very high profile people. Cheryl shares a lot of great information for us to take in today. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!

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Cheryl Eisen Background:
-President, Interior Marketing Group, Inc.; a Premier Luxury Real Estate Staging Firm
-Helps move billions of real estate each year with doing $1B in real estate in 2016 alone
-Some clients include Kim & Kanye West, Ivanka Trump & Jared Kushner, Bethenny Frankel, Paris Hilton
-Recently expanded to Turn-Key Furniture Rental and Interior Design services, providing the same expedited luxury interiors for long-term rentals and permanent living
-Based in New York, NY
-Say hi to her at www.imgnyc.com
-Best Ever Book: The Start-up Playbook

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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff.

We’ve spoken to Barbara Corcoran from Shark Tank and a whole bunch of others. With us today, Cheryl Eisen. How are you doing, Cheryl?

Cheryl Eisen: Great! Hi, everyone.

Joe Fairless: Nice to have you on the show. Everyone is giving you a collective hello back, I’m just filling it for them. A little bit about Cheryl – she is the president of Interior Marketing Group, which is  a premier luxury real estate staging firm, and has recently expanded to turnkey furniture rental and interior design services. She helps move billions of real estate each year with doing one billion in real estate in 2016 alone. Some clients include Kim and Kanye West, Ivanka Trump, Paris Hilton, and a whole bunch of other famous people. With that being said, Cheryl, do you wanna give the Best Ever listener a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Cheryl Eisen: Sure, absolutely. Hi, everyone. I started about ten years ago by selling real estate for the Corcoran Group, and I realized that it’s very hard to sell real estate in New York City when there’s so many great brokers to compete with, so I decided to start staging the properties, which is something I’d seen on TV. As I started staging, my selling got more successful, and the brokers were saying “Who staged this property? Can you stage mine?” and I quickly became the stager to go to in real estate, and that’s sort of where I made my name.

Joe Fairless: So with staging it’s gotta be an art and a science… I imagine, I don’t know; I’m guessing there’s an art and a science to it, so how do you successfully stage a property?

Cheryl Eisen: I think it’s just understanding marketing principles, I think it’s that simple. I don’t have any design background, I just sort of was watching what buyers were responding to in terms of what would make them buy a property one over the other? And it was really how they connected with the space. So when I look at a space, I try to figure out what’s going to feel comfortable and homey to them without alienating them. That’s sort of how I design a space; it’s not so much what looks pretty, it’s actually what will buyers react to and not react to? So we stay away from those things which are like taste-specific things like colors. But people respond to whites and sort of like ethereal things, and comfort, space, light… Those are the ways in which I learned how to design for buyers.

Joe Fairless: Since this is an audio interview, versus us being in front of maybe a PowerPoint where you can show before and after pictures – it can be a little challenging, but I’d love if you could too give us an example of a before and after… What a place looked like before and what you did afterwards specifically.

Cheryl Eisen: A lot of times the most impact I think we make is when we get something called an estate condition property, which is a property where it hasn’t been touched since the ’70s or ’60s; I think everyone’s seen one of those, with the formica table tops and falling apart bathrooms, and the walls sort of crumbling. One of the things that makes such an impact on those properties is when we come in, we paint everything, put beautiful light fixtures in, beautiful furnishings and rugs, and it totally transforms the space into a place that you can actually envision moving right into, versus sort of a crumbling shell of a place that existed in the ’60s and ’70s. You can actually paint almost anything – table tops, cabinets… And when you add beautiful light fixtures as well, it starts to feel new. If that’s a good visual, I’m not sure…

Joe Fairless: Yeah, it is. You said earlier that you’ve got no design background – you’ve said that, right?

Cheryl Eisen: That’s correct.

Joe Fairless: I have no design background, and if you told me “Hey, Joe, we’ve got a new client; go in there, paint everything white or neutral colors”, I guarantee you, I still wouldn’t pick out the right color gray. So just going a little bit deeper, how did you know the details of the items?

Cheryl Eisen: It was actually trial and error. Again, when I watched buyers, I saw what they responded to – what colors they seemed to respond to, what sort of furniture they seemed to respond to, what type of things actually enhance an apartment versus distract  from it… So I started using those colors.

With paint colors specifically, there’s so many shades of gray… Some of them turn blue, or green, or purple, and I learned actually by having a place turn completely purple that this gray is not to use. We had to totally repaint and find the grays, so now I stick to that pallet.

I also stick to certain types of furniture that I see worked in almost every space. Low-profile furniture, not too period-specific… Simple rules, if you follow, it’s pretty easy.

Joe Fairless: It sounds like it’s to be as neutral as possible, versus picking one angle and going all in on that angle.

Cheryl Eisen: Correct. I think neutral homes are appealing to a broad audience, and the whole goal when you’re selling real estate is to have broad appeal, versus like 10% of the population would be interested in this space. Even if the color blue alienates 4% of the population, why take that risk? So we stick with neutral tones, but we layer them with different textures [unintelligible [00:06:41].02] sort of fluff, and beautiful woven fabrics, and this makes it feel deeper and more sophisticated, but without distracting your eye with tons of things to look at, like colors and trees and anything like that.

Joe Fairless: Outside of paint colors, when you walk into an apartment – because you’re in New York City, right?

Cheryl Eisen: Yes.

Joe Fairless: So we’re primarily talking about New York City apartments – is that correct?

Cheryl Eisen: Yes.

Joe Fairless: Okay. Until you dominate the world, right?

Cheryl Eisen: Exactly.

Joe Fairless: So New York City apartments… Let’s say you walk into one that you haven’t staged, but someone has attempted to stage it and you just find yourself shaking your head and maybe smiling like “Oh, my gosh… Why did they think that was a good idea?”, what would be that example?

Cheryl Eisen: I’ve seen that happen, actually… About 18% of our work is bad staging that we have to come in and completely redo. What that staging is – from what I’ve seen in New York, in any event – is where they’re trying to just decorate a home like a decorator, instead of doing it for a buyer. So what you’re looking at is the furniture, the art on the walls, and not the beautiful home with the views, or the selling points of the actual home; you’re distracted by the actual furniture. That’s one big mistake people make.

The other one I think is when it’s staged, then it really looks staged. It looks cold, like you’re trying to fool someone with some furniture in there, and I think that does the opposite of what we want it to do, which is really look like a home, something soft and something you wanna just swap into, into a bedroom, for example.

There’s a fine line between overdoing it and underdoing it, but I think the right staging really makes a huge difference.

Joe Fairless: Now if we can, let’s draw parallels to an apartment building owner who has a model unit that he/she shows to prospective renters. What would be some tips that you have for him/her when they go to stage that unit for prospective renters?

Cheryl Eisen: I remember when I was looking for rental apartments in New York City. Firstly, it’s a very sobering process, because things are so small… But when you first walk into a rental building, I think it just feels so sterile in rental… The walls are white, it’s very stark. When I see model apartments that are done well and rental apartments, it’s because they’re finished; put some paint on the wall, it looks like it’s warm and home. Maybe even some wallpaper. Floor-to-ceiling [unintelligible [00:09:12].07] flanking the windows really makes a big difference. It feels flowy, makes you wanna walk over there.

Showing how to use space, that you can actually put a desk chair by the bed, it’s not just a tiny little bedroom. Then people can understand how they can function in the space. “Where is the TV gonna go?” is one of the main things people ask, so you sort of show them by placing it.

Joe Fairless: I’m sure that you might not have come across this as much now, because you’ve got some high profile clients you’ve worked with and you’re well-established, but at the beginning of this, I bet you came across a lot of “Yeah, I can do staging myself” or “Okay, fine, if you wanna stage it then I’ll give you t$10”, and you had to really qualify why they should pay you to stage and how you can make them more money. First off, am I correct in that assessment?

Cheryl Eisen: You are, and even in the luxury spaces it still happens.

Joe Fairless: Okay, so what’s your response to that?

Cheryl Eisen: Well, in the beginning when I first started, I really had to do proof of concept, so I had to start by investing in it myself. I said “Let me stage this” — my first listing, in fact, was a one-bedroom apartment the seller tried to stage himself and tried to sell himself. It was on the market for like a year; it didn’t sell, no offers. So I said “Let me just try this thing; let me list this apartment, but let me totally redo it.” So I totally redid it with IKEA furniture, and paint and accessories, and the first day on the market it sold for full ask, and they wanted everything in it. So I started to build an ROI (return on investment) and I was also planning statistics on return on investment for staging, which proved the concept immediately. So I love to give the statistics, because it’s real hard evidence, but also what I like to do is bring them to one of our listings that’s staged in person, so they understand the emotional reaction one would have when they walk into a home that’s beautifully staged, versus an empty space or even like a badly-staged space, and that’s how I sort of justify why the investment is important.

Joe Fairless: What’s the ROI go-to stat that you use?

Cheryl Eisen: It’s different every year, but I think things sell for 34% more than unstaged homes, and they sit on the market half the time. So the statistics are very strong, and this formula seems to follow the same statistic. You can really do the numbers if you analyze tons of data in your little metro area.

Joe Fairless: And where do you get the data from in order to look at staged versus unstaged selling prices?

Cheryl Eisen: Rebny has a website, and I think there’s a real estate staging association, but also Reby, the Real Estate Board of New York has statistics at the end of each year. If you put it in Excel or analyze the data, you can figure it out.

Joe Fairless: Do you have music?

Cheryl Eisen: Do I have music?

Joe Fairless: Yeah, do you have music in your apartments when you stage them?

Cheryl Eisen: I liked to put in soft jazz for a while, but I found people wanted to hear what was outside, so we have to turn it off. If they’re buyers or renters, they wanna hear how loud it is outside the window – either birds chirping or cars honking – so I think that’s an important selling part, to stop doing that.

Joe Fairless: Okay.

Cheryl Eisen: We do however like to have a candle burn, but a very subtle one, so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to hide anything… But it does put a person in a soothing mood, and that’s been proven too, from psychology things, so we like to do that.

Joe Fairless: Where do you put the candle?

Cheryl Eisen: We put it in the foyer, so the second you open the door you’re hit with a very calming sense.

Joe Fairless: Interesting. Do you think the people wanting to hear the outside noise is specific to New York versus if you’re in Dallas, Texas, you can have some jazz on?

Cheryl Eisen: That must be the case. But then you wanna make sure that it’s the type of music that no one’s going to be irritated by. Some people are irritated by jazz, so you have to do the broad appeal thing anyway. But I think it is specific to New York or any city where there’s a lot of noise outside the windows, in most cases.

I think in a home in the suburbs there might just be crickets, and that’s okay.

Joe Fairless: Based on your experience in staging and just as a professional in general in real estate, what is your best advice ever for real estate investors in terms of staging?

Cheryl Eisen: When you’re looking at a property to invest in, I would say don’t get a property that needs an enormous amount of work. It’s too much to do, it keeps it off the market too long. Find something that with some paint and some beautiful light fixtures and some staging it can go on the market immediately, whether renting or selling.

Find something that has good bones, something that you can fix up yourself if you need to, then put it on the market, instead of something that would take an enormous amount of work and distraction.

Joe Fairless: And I know you’ve said this a couple of times, but I’ve been taking notes, and just so I make sure I have it in my notes… When you go into an apartment to stage, what are the maybe three or four things you absolutely you make sure that you do?

Cheryl Eisen: I have some go-to things – for example, you can never have enough giant mirrors in the staging. You put it across from a window, for example, and suddenly they double the window space; they double the space, in general, and it gives the feeling of more space. And they double the light. These are things that buyers respond to. So giant mirrors, and they don’t have to be expensive; you can get them at Ikea. That’s number one.

Number two is the paint color, because it looks finished. As soon as you walk in, there should be a paint color, like a neutral… Something that’s very subtle, nothing overwhelming. That’s number two.

And number three is light fixtures. They really make a home feel more custom, more unique, and they also create ambient lighting. Those are the three things I always add. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

Joe Fairless: I love it, that’s incredibly helpful. Alright, we’re gonna do a lightning round – are you ready for the Best Ever Lightning Round?

Cheryl Eisen: I’m ready.

Joe Fairless: Okay. First, a quick word from our best ever partners.

Break: [[00:15:27].09] to [[00:16:25].26]

Joe Fairless: Here we go – best ever way to get Kim and Kanye as a client?

Cheryl Eisen: Oh, wow… To get them as a client you just have to know the people that work for them. There will be someone who is known by the people that work for them, it’s all about that.

Joe Fairless: Best ever way to build a business in real estate from the ground up? Let me be more specific – best ever skillset to have in order to be successful in building a real estate business?

Cheryl Eisen: I would say patience, because it doesn’t happen quickly. Somebody who understands ROI, how much it’s gonna take to sell a place, and redo it, or put it back on the market, someone who understands the market and the macroeconomics of a market. That’s helpful. People who are smart can almost be successful in anything they endeavor to do.

Joe Fairless: Best ever book you’ve read?

Cheryl Eisen: I’ve just read The Startup Playbook by David Kidder. It’s just a great book for entrepreneurs in general. It’s a compilation of tons of famous entrepreneurs – Elon Musk, Cheryl Sandberg – and it’s very palatable and digestible because they just give advice on little specific moments, lessons they’ve learned, and I just think it’s really great. It helped me a lot in growing my business.

Joe Fairless: Best ever way you like to give back to the community?

Cheryl Eisen: I love personally mentoring women. I’m letting them see how they can realize their potential. It’s just something I’m personally passionate about. I think this next generation should be breaking the glass ceiling. Still, even now that there’s a record hit, there’s still less than 7% of women CEOs running Fortune500 companies. That numbers should change, in my opinion, and I’m very passionate about that.

Joe Fairless: Best ever way the Best Ever listeners can either get in touch with you or learn more about your company?

Cheryl Eisen: They can visit our website at imgnyc.com. I’m also on Facebook, Cheryl Eisen, I’m on Instagram, Cheryl Eisen, and I respond to people when they reach out. I love to give advice.

Joe Fairless: Great, you’re everywhere, apparently. Cheryl, thank you for being on the show. Thanks for talking about how you’ve built your business in a very specific category, and it started by selling real estate and then seeing “Hey, there’s a lot of competition”, and what’s the book – Blue Ocean Strategy, I believe… You build a business where there’s not a lot of competition; otherwise it’s a red ocean, a lot of blood in the water. This really is an example of a blue ocean strategy.

And the tips that you gave – the three that stood out to me that you summarized at the end… One, you can never have enough giant mirrors. Put them across the window so it doubles the space, doubles the light, doubles everything that they love. Second is the paint color – have a very subtle paint color. And third is the light fixtures, so that it makes the home feel more custom, more unique.

Thank you for being on the show, thanks for sharing your advice. I hope you have a best ever day, and we’ll talk to you soon.

Cheryl Eisen: Thanks, Joe.

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