MEET YOUR MERCHANT: The art of making a house a home
As a child, Brook Ashley Herman loved to decorate and organize her bedroom. She enjoyed picking out items that matched and complemented one another. In fact, she jokes that her early love of home décor bordered on an obsession.
After graduating from high school, Brook left Nevada County and set out for Southern California, where she earned a teaching credential and master’s degree in education. Armed with new degrees, she eventually moved back to the area and began teaching in several Nevada County schools, including Sierra Montessori Academy and Seven Hills Middle School.
One day, the mother of one of Brook’s students, an interior designer, commented on how beautifully set up her classroom was, and asked Brook if she’d consider working with her part time, as her assistant.
“I took her up on the offer and we worked together for a few years — I learned a lot,” said Brook. “But we also discovered that our tastes were very different.”
In 2014, with the blessing of her part-time employer, Brook opted to set out on her own, and launched her new home staging business, Brook Ashley Designs. While her legal name is Brook Ashley Herman, she decided to go by the name Brook Ashley in the professional realm. Opting for a more flexible schedule due to her son’s health concerns and a desire to follow her passion, Brook decided to change paths and leave her teaching career behind entirely. She’s never looked back.
“I decided to dive into the new business full time,” she said. “It’s been such a wonderful, creative outlet for me and it’s incredible how successful it’s become in such a short time.”
Brook said she has since worked with nearly all Nevada County realtors, who are drawn to her visual concepts, color palette development, space planning, decor coaching, organizing and design consultation. With seven years of home staging experience now under her belt, she has been asked to speak at The 100% Design Show and the The Union’s Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show.
VALUE OF HOME STAGING
“To me, staging is essential to any new home on the market,” said Lore Reynolds-Hamilton of Coldwell Banker Grass Roots Realty. “Brook has staged many homes for me, from full furniture to simple rearranging and decluttering. Staging always helps the photos come alive and I believe gives the home an extra advantage to sell faster.”
Brook says she’s drawn to a simple, clean, feel when she stages, which often includes natural lighting, neutral grays and nature-inspired greens, as well as bright white bedding and towels accented with succulents and little pops of color. She also enjoys featuring local artists’ work when the art complements a home.
On average, she said, 94% of staged homes sell in 29 days or less and most will receive numerous offers with some over the asking price. It’s estimated that only 10% of home buyers can visualize the potential of a home, she added. That means 90% of buyers are not going to be able to look past dirt, clutter and imperfections. According to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, a staged home will sell, on average, at 17% higher price than a home that is not staged. And in controlled tests conducted by the Real Estate Staging Association, selling identical homes, professionally staged versus those not staged, the non-staged houses sold in 102 days, while the staged houses sold in just 45 days. More than 90% of buyers reportedly look at homes they’ve found on the internet, which is why staging in online photographs can give the seller a marked advantage.
GETTING THE RIGHT VIBE
While her design schemes tend to be popular, Brook is quick to emphasize that both the client and realtor must feel they have input as well.
“Staging is a very collaborative effort,” she said. “Communication is key, and everyone needs to feel heard when it comes to staging a house. Sometimes a home is like a blank canvas — completely empty — and other times there are quite a few family items still left in the home. I’m always open to suggestions. They key is that we’re all happy.”
Brook offers three available packages to clients. The first includes a scenario where the home seller keeps their own furniture entirely, but, with Brook’s help, creates a clean, inviting environment. The second option, the “partial stage,” is where a portion of the home remains empty or only some the client’s possessions are used in the staging process and are augmented by Brook’s inventory. The third, the “full stage,” is when Brook pulls out all the stops and redesigns the entire home drawing from her impressive inventory of furniture and accent pieces.
“Brook is a joy to work with — she’s efficient, cheerful, prompt and creative,” said Lee Good of Good & Company Realty in Nevada City. “She can transform a room. I’ve been a realtor since 1974 an I believe the quality of staging is significant. It’s a gift to be able to find the balance between too much and too little, as well as choosing styles that enhance the house to be sold. A good stager makes a house inviting, makes you want to sit down and enjoy the space.”
With more than 70 home-staging jobs now under her belt, Brooks says she’s just getting started. This past weekend was spent staging a $2 million home off Cement Hill in Nevada City, which features the work of artist Ryan McVay.
“I love that every single experience is unique and I work with really great people in the community,” said Brook. “I just love the creative outlet and can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. Walking into a home for the first time is like seeing a blank canvas. By the time I’m done, I feel as though I’ve finished a painting, it becomes a work of art.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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