It’s generally agreed that it takes between 30 and 90 seconds for us to decide if we’re going to make the most expensive purchase of our lives. It all depends on whether the atmosphere is right. But this is something that can vanish overnight once a house is emptied of its belongings, or when there are so many of your belongings there that it’s hard to see where the carpet ends and the walls begin.

One solution to this problem is to make use of house staging. This is a service that uses borrowed furniture and fittings to show off a house to best effect when it’s being rented out or launched onto the market. It’s not a new idea (the industry has matured so much in the USA that companies now offer to move people as well as furniture into empty homes to give them the life they need to find a buyer), but when markets are tricky and houses are sticking, it becomes increasingly appealing.

One of the first British companies to do this for clients was Cullum Design (07866 453831; www.cullum-design.com), set up by Antony and Vicky Roscoe more than 20 years ago. They started by moving their own furniture in to improve the look of a house before its launch on the market.

Today, the company is run by their daughter, Natalie, who oversees projects ranging from large country houses to barn conversions and town houses in London. ‘Clients ask for my help either when they’ve renovated a house without having lived in it or they’ve already bought some-
where else and have moved their furniture out,’ she explains.

For the country-house market, it’s important not to create a show-home finish, she stresses. To avoid this, she uses a wide range of pieces, including antiques. The cost of the service she provides is worked out as a percentage of the value of the objects installed (these can range from simple white Ikea tea cups to oil paintings worth about £30,000) and the length of time that they’re on loan for.

‘Sometimes, people need help to visualise how a space can work,’ explains Miss Roscoe. ‘I once had clients who ended up putting their house on the market because they couldn’t work out how to use the rooms. They asked me to come and furnish the house, but after they saw what I’d done, they realised how it could work and took it off the market.’ Brian Bishop of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Taunton, Somerset (01823 325144) advised his client to bring in some help when selling a large country house that had recently undergone an extensive reno-vation programme. ‘Although viewers knew the house had been staged, it gave a good overall feel to the property and helped secure a buyer.’

In an age where many house searches begin on the internet, photographs of your property are becoming ever more important. Georgina Bowles of John D. Wood & Co (020-7908 1564) explains: ‘If a house is unfurnished, potential buyers will often dismiss it instantly. It’s very hard for people to visualise size without having something to measure the rooms by. I’ve heard of agents lying on the floor in a bedroom to show how big a double bed is.’

She recently supervised the dressing of a five-bedroom town house in Holland Park that came to the market unfurnished. ‘Despite more than 40 viewings, no offers had been made, as people were having trouble seeing how the rooms could be used. We encouraged the owner to have it professionally dressed and there are now several competing offers on the table.’

Once contracts are exchanged, Miss Roscoe will come and remove the items on loan, and the house reverts to its empty state. ‘Once, when I was doing this, I came across the buyer, who had come round to measure up. She explained that she’d dismissed the house initially because it wasn’t furnished. Then, she fell for it once it had been dressed. I think she was starting to scratch her head again once she saw my things leaving.’

Quick-fix tips

Paintwork If you can’t stretch to a new coat of paint, wash the paintwork carefully with a little soap and water

Carpets Call in a professional cleaning service (www.ncca.co.uk) or hire a rug doctor from B&Q (£22.98 for 24 hours)

Windows Cleaning them thoroughly inside and out could let in a third more light

De-clutter Buyers can be distracted by too many belongings, and it makes it hard for them to envisage their own belongings being in the space

Tips from Blossom Staging (www.blossomstaging.com; 07817 250046)

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