Stage fright

Torry L. Cardon

Photo By Larry Dalton

It’s hard to imagine a job that requires more tact than Torry L. Cardon ’s chosen profession. She’s a home stager, which means she helps home sellers quickly redecorate their houses so they won’t turn off potential buyers. Cardon, 45, is the owner of TLC Home Staging in Folsom, a business she’s run for about a year-and-a-half. Home stagers are typically called in by real-estate agents to rescue hopelessly decorated houses, “staging” them so that they look livable and inviting to someone other than the current owner. It often means turning a home someone has lovingly personalized into something he or she barely recognizes. The costs aren’t cheap, upwards of a few thousand dollars, but real-estate agents swear by stagers, saying “staged” houses typically sell faster and for more money than houses with that lived-in look.

How did you get involved in this business?

I had been doing it for quite a long time without realizing there was a name for it—helping family and friends get their homes ready to sell, buying and selling my own homes. Then I ran across a Realtor and told her I had this idea for a business and wanted to know what she thought. She said, “Oh, that’s called staging,” and she said there was a real market for it.

What gave you the idea initially?

From going around looking at people’s houses when they were selling them. They would have dirty laundry lying around, dishes in the sink. They didn’t pick up after themselves. It just floored me. I wondered how people could let the public into their homes when they looked like that. A lot of the houses I walked in, I just wanted to run in the other direction. Obviously, when you’re trying to sell a house, you want people to have the opposite reaction. You want them to stay and live there.

How many houses have you staged so far?

Just ballpark, I’d say probably around 70. That’s including consultations, too, where I’ll just go in and verbally instruct people on what to do. I work in the three counties around Sacramento, and I’ve done everything from houses costing a few hundred thousand dollars to ones that cost a million dollars.

But it’s not just getting people to put away their dirty laundry or wash the dishes, is it?

Oh, no. Nine times out of 10, I have to bring in my own inventory. Most people don’t have the large paintings or the large foliage you need. Sometimes they don’t have enough furniture, so we need to bring that in, or move out the furniture they have and replace it.

What’s the biggest problem with the way people decorate their houses?

Clutter! They just have too much stuff. Too many knickknacks, too many pictures, too much of everything in one place. Or they have this old habit that says, “There’s a wall. Let’s hang something on it.” Not every wall needs something on it. Sometimes walls look better with nothing on them. I had one client who was a painter, and he had his paintings covering 90 percent of the walls in his house. It was fine for him living there. But for people to come in, it was just too much. You couldn’t see anything else.

So, how do you tell a painter to hide his paintings or he’ll never sell his house?

My line is: “The way you live in the home and the way you sell it are two different things.” We want people to remember the house, not the things in it. I’ve had to tell people to put away some really wonderful things. I had a gentleman who had an Egyptian mummy in his office, which was beautiful, a work of art. But I told him that when people think back on his house, all they’ll think is, “Oh, the house with the mummy.”

Do they always listen to you?

Most of the time. I did have this one gentleman who had a ceramic parrot collection, and I suggested he might want to put it away for a while. He didn’t want to. He liked his ceramic parrots.

So, what’s wrong with giving your house a personality?

Nothing, except when you’re trying to sell it. When someone’s looking for a house, they see themselves living in the house the way it is. I’d say 95 percent of people look at houses that way. They can’t see through what’s there now or visualize their own furniture in it.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen in someone’s home?

An alligator head. A stuffed alligator head. A real one. I think one of their kids had been overseas and sent it to them. They had it hanging in the kitchen. I told them it was a very unique item but that they would probably scare people out of there.