Staging a Sale - An Interview With Janelle Stone

Tim: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining me today. Today we're going to talk about one of the most important aspects of having a successful estate sale, and that is staging the home. Joining me today is Janelle Stone from Janelle Stone Estate Services in Dallas, Texas. Janelle and her team have definitely mastered the art of making a house look picture perfect. We were lucky enough to have Janelle and her son speak at our conference and I'm really excited to get some of her insight on how to stage a home. Janelle, thanks so much.

Janelle: You're so welcome. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

Tim: So before we get into the good stuff, just give us a little background on how you got started in the estate sale business.

Janelle: Well, I totally got started by accident. I have a fashion merchandising degree from Baylor. I got it in 1980 and moved to Houston shortly after my husband got out of law school and went back to get an interior design degree. And I was one hour short of getting the degree and I did my first estate sale with my next door neighbor who was in her eighties and thought, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, you know, it's something I didn't even need a degree for. I could have done it in third grade because I use Sharpies and scissors and glue and tape, but it did prepare me--that interior design experience prepared me. Just for, you know, knowing what to do. And I, you know, I never did it. I always say I'm an interior designer for the dead because they can't argue with me. But you know, it did give me the basics. My next door neighbor was in her eighties and she couldn't do the heavy lifting. So I started doing it for her because I was, you know, 24 years old and she kept me busy. And I thought I just want to do this and moved back to Dallas in the mid-eighties. And a friend of mine in the trust department of a bank, and she said, "you do estate sales, don't you?" I said, "of course I do." No idea what I was doing, you know, I was in some little apartment, but learned lessons quick. After the, I think it was the second sale I did, you know the family lost a big diamond ring. Well I found that diamond ring in the big toe of a sock. And it was true.

Tim: Good deal. So that kind of answered my next question about your design background. Before that, did it just come natural as far as being able to make a house look good?

Janelle: You know what, it did. The girls in my crew will laugh at me and say “oh my gosh, she’s having a vision.” I can sort of walk into a house and see where things should go. The first thing I do is go on a walk-through and see what they have and what they’re keeping and see what they’re taking. I always tell them that everything they’re going to take with them has to be gone, and then I start thinking with the things I have left. First of all, where’s the checkout table going to be because that’s the most important thing since that’s where you take your cash. I always keep a cop at mine and that’s where the cop is going to stand. It’s sort of like landscaping for a home. You put the trees and bushes in, then you put the flowers then get the big pieces placed and you do them in a thoughtful manner. You want it to fit the scale. You want it to look as much like a designer show house as you can with the stuff people have left then you make it look like it all goes together.

Tim: One of the more touchy aspects of it is that you’re going in to a home that’s been lived in for 30, 40 or 50 years. How do you approach a client that may be hesitant to have the items moved around? What are some of the expectations that you try to set up front with them?

Janelle: You know, I’ve gotten to the point of they hired me and my company because of the staging and they know exactly what we do on my website. I have previous sales listed and I always tell them to go and see what I do. You can see how I do it. The rooms didn’t start like that at all. You just want to make it thoughtful. You don’t want to walk into the back of a sofa if you can help it. You want to open it up. Open up the whole room and I really don’t have that problem. In a true estate, a true death, the family ends up thanking me and saying that the house has never looked better. It’s like doing a pop-up store. In a couple of weeks, you’re disassembling it and moving onto the next one, but you make it look beautiful. You add pops of color and silly things like that. You’ll love this one. It was a really traditional sale and we needed some color and I was going to McDonalds to get a Coke and there was a painting in the trash with a lot of color so I picked it up. I put it there on the mantle and it sort of changed the whole mood from traditional to “this person must have had a fun side.” I think we even threw some red fingernail polish on it or something. We had a girl that came in the first hour that said she saw the painting online and it spoke to her and she wanted it. Silly things like that you know. The florist vases that everyone throws away…if you go fill them with water and cut some plants off the bush in the front yard just for the photos and then do it again, they want the vases but they’ll want the plants in them.

Tim: When you first walk into a home, you don’t have very many expectations set right out of the gate. Once you’ve done the consultation and all of that, start from the beginning. What are some of the first things that you do? Do you starting having the visions for what you want the space to look like right away?

Janelle: Right out of the gate, I do. I’m the type that will stay up and worry about it the night before the sale. I'll think “I want this…” and I have my movers. I always have guys there to help me move the furniture where I want so we don’t hurt the floors. You want a focal point in every room. You want the good stuff at the front and then it trickles down to the kitchen, the garage then the really bad stuff. You still want every room to look great. Yes, I worry about that. I do sort of have a vision of how I want it to look but of course they take stuff, they add stuff and your vision might go away and you may have to rearrange the whole thing but it’s basically how the customers are going to see it. You have a shelf behind you and that is the perfect shelf because like displaying jewelry, earrings and pretty vases, you want people to see it. Do things like price it on the side because that’s how people are going to see it. If they have to look down at an item, price it on the bottom because that’s how they’re going to look at it. But yes I set up all the furniture and then do the fine stuff, then do the pillows.

Tim: One of the things we take notice of on our site are the houses that are staged well and you definitely have the reputation of being the master of that. What do you think some of the pitfalls people run into are? What are some of the common mistakes people are making that are easy to fix that could make a big difference?

Janelle: I think one of the things, and it took me a long time to learn this, I was doing it like everyone else for years and I worked with one girl that wasn’t in the business very long and she told me that I was leaving a lot of money on the table and was doing it wrong. She said no, no, no. For example, I use black table cloths instead of white. To me, black just shows better. I buy the equipment that I need. You know, buy it once, buy it right and you’ll always have it. I have literally thousands of plate stands because to me, plates and silver are valuable real estate. Put the biggest plate in front and fan it out from there, it totally works. Also, everyone loves a good sparkle. Take the time to polish your silver and you’ll sell it if it’s done correctly. You can make it look beautiful. I try not to stick a piece of tape on it, instead I will put a description of the item to make it look more important. I use heavy duty 3x5 cards because they don’t bend up at the edges. It’s the little stuff. I use the bigger tags when I can. I just think of it as part of staging. Make sure to use the right type of tape that won’t take the finish off the furniture. I’ve learned that the hard way. I never put a dot on anything leather because it will leave a dot. Just do everything thoughtfully. You want to make the family proud because all of the neighbors and everyone they know are going to come into the home and you just want them to be proud and want them to come in and say “oh, this family lives such a nice life” rather than “I can’t believe they live like this.” Don’t throw things in the floor and price it in bulk.

Tim: Sure. Now you kind of touched on like the plate stands and tablecloths. Are you bringing in mostly your own displays? Are you kind of relying on what they have in the home?

Janelle: I always bring in mine. I actually am scared I'm going to get my car robbed all the time. I bought Bosch toolboxes. So everybody thinks I carry tons of tools around it's really, you know, it's plate stands and tags and cards and dots and all that, but they snapped together. But it’s really the plate stands, tags and cards and all of that. They snap together, they stack and they roll and it’s just all organized. I bring in everything for the jewelry too. I have one antique English pine showcase that I bought probably 15 years ago, but everyone knows that showcase. They know the best stuff is going to be in there. I had it lighted and everyone knows that’s where the treasures are going to be. I will do an overview of the room so when people text or go through EstateSales.NET and they’re looking for something, I’ll ask them what room it was in. Then I will go in and take specific pictures of that item and people will stand in line for two hours to get that item. It’s all about marketing too. Its great pictures and marketing as much as it is staging. It’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. You want to set it up like Nieman Marcus rather than WalMart.

Tim: Absolutely. There could be a house that’s full of great items, but there are always three or four showstoppers. What are you doing to highlight the most expensive items in the home?

Janelle: Well, you use all the social media like Facebook, Instagram and all that. I just had a really large collection of really really expensive jewelry from an estate and every single day I put a picture on Instagram or Facebook and said if you’re interested, message me. It’s almost all gone. It’s the largest collection I’ll ever have and it’s gone because of social media. Like, if you have an oriental rug, show it in the setting then show the pattern. Underneath the picture on EstateSales.NET, put the size and use keywords like Oushak or Oriental and people will look, they’ll Google it then they’ll find you all. There is a buyer in Cleveland that buys tons of my old rugs and they really look. EstateSales.NET has probably been the single most important piece of the puzzle because everyone uses you and I just appreciate it so much because it’s made a difference in my business.

Tim: You don’t have to totally redo everything that you’re doing. You can take simple steps to elevate your staging to make it go from WalMart to Neiman Marcus. I love the way you put that. We definitely enjoy seeing your sales come through. Everyone talks about how well you stage your homes and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to link up with you and go over some things. So again, this is Janelle Stone from Janelle Stone Estate Services in Dallas, Texas. Go check out her website and see what they’re doing. If you have any questions, send them in and we’ll be glad to help you out as much as we can. Janelle, it’s always a great pleasure to speak with you and I hope you guys are doing well.

Janelle: Thanks. Hope everybody's stay safe, COVID free and has a great holiday.

Tim: Absolutely. You guys too. Thank you so much.

Janelle: Thank you.