Kirsten Kennedy, left, and Tiffani Buckley at Hazel House, their 5,000-square-foot retail store in downtown Vero Beach, which opened in December 2018 and doubles as design studio and showroom for their staging business. MARY ANN KOENIG
Entrepreneurs discover homes are more attractive to buyers when presented with style and elegance
BY MARY ANN KOENIG
Shakespeare may have written that “all the world’s a stage,” but at Hazel House, to stage is the business at hand and it’s done with precision, not simply As You Like It.
Tiffani Buckley and Kirsten Kennedy’s Vero Beach venture reimagines the concept of styling and staging a home for sale, and couples a critical eye with the power to forecast trends and dictate design. “We use neutral palates, a pop of color, and design and style elements that best suit the home’s architecture,” says Kennedy.
Their focus is on high-end, luxury homes mostly priced at $2 million and up.
Their 5,000-square-foot retail store just opened in December 2018. It’s part showroom and part design studio, utilizing accessories, furniture, fabrics and style tools that are displayed with accessibility and inspiration.
“With the retail store, clients can see that this is the look you’ll get if we design your house, or for real estate agents, stage a home,” says Kennedy.
Hazel House utilizes staging as the driver for the other company divisions of design and style, and retail. This three-prong approach has helped expand their business by producing benefits for both buyer and seller.
Move-in ready is a trend encompassing convenience, decorator-style furnishings and immediate livability for a buyer. On the seller’s advantage list, a staged home can bring a better price.
“Before” photo of the living room, still empty space, at 955 Surf Lane in Vero, an oceanfront property staged by Hazel House. Buckley’s sketches indicate the initial design elements. TIFFANI BUCKLEY
After staging is completed in the same room. A slightly modern feel with neutrals and a touch of color, the clean look that is a specialty of Hazel House design. JAMES NORTHEN
A 2016 Maritz Research poll cited in U.S. News and World Reports found 63 percent of buyers will pay more for move-in ready homes. And showcasing a home with elegant interiors and clutter-free rooms makes it easier for a buyer to visualize living there.
For Buckley and Kennedy, the staging business began almost accidentally. They’d been introduced through mutual friends in Atlanta after moving to Vero.
Buckley began buying, styling and flipping homes in Indian River County. Kennedy had just launched a design business. They started exchanging ideas and suggestions on projects, sharing furniture pieces and design elements. “We said, one day we’re going to have to do this as a staging business,” Buckley recalls.
A friend of Kennedy’s couldn’t sell an empty home in Vero’s Riomar section, so she offered to stage it for him. The house went under contract within days.
Enter Matilde Sorensen. The owner/broker of Dale Sorensen Realty in Vero saw that house and hired Kennedy to stage another home. Sorensen had just taken the listing on a large house that had been lingering on the market in John’s Island along the ocean for nearly a year.
Buying and flipping homes became a less viable option for Buckley after the real estate market improved in 2014, so Kennedy asked Buckley to help her stage Sorensen’s John’s Island listing. The staging business was born.
“It was a complete change of look,” says Sorensen, “and the house went under contract in about 30 days.”
Kennedy at work in the shop that began attracting clients even before Hazel House opened. An additional 12,000 square feet of warehouse space helps maintain a fresh inventory for retail and staging. MARY ANN KOENIG PHOTOS
Their business now includes large, newly-built spec projects on the Treasure Coast. An oceanfront estate that they staged on Rocky Point Drive in Vero sold for $6.4 million in 2018. And they’ve just completed staging on another oceanfront home on Surf Lane with modern interiors, on the market for just under $5 million.
The staging business is a complete package and can go beyond interiors. Aiello Landscape helps transform exteriors. And Hazel House maintains a list of contractors on-call and ready to paint, repair and update any aspect of a home.
Although neither Buckley nor Kennedy are technically interior designers, both have a natural design sense. “I think we’re both artistic and have spatial awareness and creative abilities,” says Kennedy.
That talent seemed to come naturally. “I bought my first house when I was 25, fixed it up and sold it,” says Buckley. And Kennedy says design has been her passion since childhood. “I’d be invited to friends’ houses and I’d rearrange their furniture. Or re-do their bookcases.”
Their staging business model is not only smart but crafty. “When we stage a house,” says Kennedy, “the ideal scenario is to sell all the contents.” Normally, they will sell 30 to 45 percent of the furnishings. And occasionally a buyer will like an item so much that they purchase it to be shipped to another home.
Staging an empty home with sophisticated furnishings and accessories, and selling all or most items to the new buyers, pays off in several ways. It means retail sales, they only move the goods once, and they receive a fee for staging the home. Their minimum commitment for staging is three months with a wide price range. It can cost anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $40,000 depending on the size of the house and the number of rooms to be staged.
“Before” shot of the living room at 529 White Pelican Circle in exclusive golf and tennis community of Orchid Island. Realtor Bob Niederpreum of Premiere Estate Properties asked Hazel House to stage this single-family home. TIFFANI BUCKLEY
“After” photo of the living room, showing a new orientation of the furniture, updated artwork, accessories and furnishings which open up the room to create a more sophisticated look. JAMES NORTHEN
They collaborate across all business aspects with Buckley taking most of the staging responsibilities and Kennedy concentrating on style and design.
“There is a lot to staging a house,” says Buckley, “including the ability to warehouse and store furniture and accessories. And keep an inventory that we can pull from easily.” A warehouse behind the retail space, and an additional warehouse and shed, give Hazel House approximately 12,000 square feet of stock to provide availability for any job.
As design partners they have found several ways to utilize all those furnishings. Most of their staged homes are photographed by James Northen, working extensively with Indian River MLS. Those photographs often bring inquiries to buy a specific piece.
“We’ve sold a lot of art that way, off of online views,” says Kennedy. But once a piece has been used in staging, they never return it to the retail floor. And they minimize over-exposure of creative elements.
“We don’t want to be a staging company that uses the same furniture over and over again,” says Buckley. “We try and keep it really fresh with every house we’re doing.” A twice-a-year warehouse sale helps turn over the inventory and introduce new trends and styles.
The new retail shop has been an immediate success. “It just took off, people really responded to it,” says Buckley. Even before opening on designers row in downtown Vero, they had interested clients. The business is going so well that they’re now looking to hire an additional interior designer.
Bob Niederpreum of Premiere Estate Properties recently used Hazel House to re-design the interiors of a listing for the exclusive golf community on Orchid Island — a four-bedroom, six-bath, 5,300-square-foot home on White Pelican Circle, marketed at approximately $2.1 million. “Kennedy and Buckley’s designs provided elegant touches that updated the property,” he says. “It gives my sellers the tools to position their home in a better light to market it.”
Providing the tools for buyers, sellers and agents to create elegant interiors or market a home for sale is the model around which Hazel House is built, and the reason why the business is flourishing.
With the help of staging by Buckley and Kennedy, the property sold for $6,400,000 in 2018. JAMES NORTHEN