Making It

SPICED TO SELL: Lyric Turner's business, Red House Staging & Interiors, spruces up houses.
SPICED TO SELL: Lyric Turner's business, Red House Staging & Interiors, spruces up houses. (Keith Barraclough)

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By Katherine Shaver
Sunday, March 30, 2008

For many airline passengers, flipping through magazines simply passes the time. For Lyric Turner, it led to a new career.

While flying to Ohio in 2005, Lyric says, she read a Southwest Airlines magazine article about "staging," the business of sprucing up homes to help them sell faster and for more money. She had just quit a "corporate drone" job with a software development government contracting firm to become a Realtor, but she craved more creativity.

Two hours into a staging class, she had found her calling. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do -- this is me,' " she recalls.

Her timing, launching her business just as the hot housing market had begun to cool and sellers had to work harder, proved profitable. Today, Red House Staging & Interiors, based in Lyric's home in Washington's Shaw neighborhood, furnishes and decorates five to nine vacant homes per month. She also conducts up to eight consultations monthly for sellers who want to make their occupied homes show better.

Lyric, 31, says she's making less than in her government contracting job, but, "I'm a million times happier."

In 1999, after studying Spanish and Third World development in college, she came to Washington to work on hunger issues. She met her future husband, Ben, 31, at the nonprofit Bread for the World but says she left because she needed a higher salary to pay bills and her student loans.

She then worked in procurement for five years. She says she came to loathe her previous job so much that she'd wake up with a sore jaw from grinding her teeth in her sleep. She left the government contracting company in 2005 to join a friend's real estate firm and, six months later, switched to staging full time.

To make vacant homes look warmer, Lyric brings in artwork, rugs, bedding and dishes that she bought for about $40,000. She also uses a furniture rental company. When sellers want to stay put, she advises them to strip away all clutter. Bedrooms often need some luxurious linens to look more inviting, she says, and a pretty bowl of bright lemons and limes on a kitchen counter catches buyers' eyes:

"You make the property shine through rather than someone's individual style. You want people to walk in and be able to see themselves and their stuff there."

She made about $50,000 in gross income last year, she says. For occupied homes, she charges $250 for a two-hour consultation. With furniture rental costs and her fees, a vacant three-bedroom home usually costs $5,000 to $6,000 to stage for two months minimum.

"It's not cheap," she says, "but if you have to reduce the price, it's usually for a lot more than $5,000 or $6,000."

Clients such as Washington Realtor Lance Horsley say it pays off. He estimates that homeowners who use Red House Staging sell their homes 25 percent faster than those who don't. He says they almost always recoup their staging costs.

"When she finishes with a space, it's 'ooh la la,' " Horsley, a Long & Foster agent, says of Lyric. "There's a 'wow' factor. She just transposes spaces."

Are you succeeding with a new and unusual career, invention, business or creative endeavor? E-mail shaverk@washpost.com.


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