Interior Decorating Seals the Deal

Published: September 5, 2008
New York Times Article

Glen Head

THE story of Sherri and Lou Federico’s home purchase here says a lot about buyer skittishness in today’s climate. Just finding the perfect new home may no longer be enough; some buyers seem to want the house predecorated in the bargain.

The Federicos had no trouble falling in love with the 2,400-square-foot shingle-clad center-hall colonial with a columned front porch on a quiet, leafy street. It was a “very classic house,” but it didn’t “feel overly traditional,” said Ms. Federico, whose goal was to relocate with their 4-year-old son, Jason, from a co-op in Manhattan.

Dormered skylights and a large window over the two-story entry flooded the interior with light, and the master bedroom had a handsome tray ceiling.

“We loved the detail,” Ms. Federico said, mentioning crown moldings and four-inch-wide oak plank floors.

The builder, Vince Perciballi, accepted their offer of $895,000.

It was just before the contract was signed that the Federicos, former corporate executives who own a painting franchise in Nassau County, started to get cold feet.

“Buying a home is an emotional thing,” Ms. Federico said. “How is it going to fit your lifestyle? What is it going to be like to live in?”

“The size of some of the rooms” was their main concern, Ms. Federico said, and whether their “beloved furniture,” including antiques and Mr. Federico’s zebra-striped kidney-shaped desk, would fit in. Besides, they didn’t know what to do with the combination living and dining room. They reignited their home search.

Not wanting to lose a deal, Dee Dee Brix, the selling agent for Daniel Gale Sotheby International Realty’s Glen Head/Old Brookville office, persuaded the builder to offer the Federicos the services of a decorator.

“In a challenging market a broker has to think outside the box and come up with ways to get the property sold,” Ms. Brix said.

She brought in Donna Avedon, owner of Donna Avedon Designs in Locust Valley. Mr. Perciballi paid her $2,000 — $500 per day — to consult with the Federicos.

“Spaces without furniture feel smaller,” she advised.

Instead of staging the home and setting up furniture like props, since “it would have been someone else’s furniture,” Ms. Avedon pored over photographs of the Federicos’ own furnishings, discussing what colors they prefer and how they wanted to use the space.

“She helped us understand things that we couldn’t visualize,” Ms. Federico said. “It was really perfection.”

Reassured, they signed the contract.

And upon moving in last month, their table fit perfectly in the breakfast nook. When their contemporary breakfront is delivered, they plan to follow Ms. Avedon’s suggestion and put it in a corner of the living area.

She helped them pick out window shades and a stone veneer for the floor-to-ceiling fireplace that the builder added in the great room.

A full-size bed fit snugly in Jason’s bedroom; Ms. Avedon suggested that when he gets older, the room can be enlarged to incorporate the guest room next door.

The Federicos aren’t the only bashful buyers on Ms. Avedon’s list. She is also working with the builder of a $6 million 12,000-square-foot “spec” home in Brookville and his “anxious potential home buyer,” trying “to bring a little harmony into the tense situation.” The house in question has been on the market for more than a year.

Having a decorator consult before buying a home “makes people happy and excited about a house,” Ms. Avedon said. “A lot of people don’t trust their own decision-making ability when it comes to decorating, even though they have distinctive tastes.”

But in some new housing developments, buyers are dispensing with their own tastes — distinctive or not — and opting instead for fully decorated models.

Fern Karhu, the co-director of new development for Prudential Douglas Elliman in Syosset, said builders were recognizing the appeal of furnished models. Some buyers, she noted, don’t want to have to bring anything but their toothbrush.

Model homes used to be kept unsold until all the others in a new development had gone. But lately, Ms. Karhu said, “we are actually selling furnished models” early in the process.

At the Horizon at Jericho, a gated and as-yet-uncompleted community of 29 homes starting at $1.259 million and going over $2 million, the two models sold completely furnished. As new homes are constructed, more are being decorated to sell.

David Marom, the builder of the Horizon at Jericho, says that his wife, Annette, is the decorator.

“They want everything the way the house is,” he said of the prospective buyers. “They don’t want to paint. They want the chandeliers, they want the shades,” and in one case, the toys on the floor in the children’s room and the books on the bookshelves.

Mr. Marom said he had charged a premium of about $350,000 for a “done to the nines” Floridian-style house, complete with media equipment, that sold for close to $2 million earlier this year. A second model home sold for about $1.7 million, including $150,000 for the furniture, he said.

James Neisloss, a developer of the Meadows at West Hempstead, an under-construction 53-lot subdivision where houses are selling for $480,000 to the mid-$500,000s, said that “years ago it was very hard to sell a complete model,” but that now décor has become “an exciting sales tool” and buyers are swayed by the attention to detail.

After a split-level model was decorated, it “definitely generated a lot of interest in sales,” he said.

Susan Tamberino, owner of Sam Hall Interiors in Bay Shore, said she was working with builders to develop “story boards” of “before-and-after looks” mounted on easels, along with fabric samples, set up in each room of a new construction.

“People have a hard time visualizing what they can do with a blank, empty home,” Ms. Tamberino said.