Selling The $400,000 Story — Home Staging with Meridith Baer

If someone said they could sell your $2m dollar home for $400,000 over-asking, in less than one month, would you even believe them? Meet the woman who can.

Meridith Baer grew up on the grounds of San Quentin prison in San Francisco, where her father was a warden. She attended a one-room schoolhouse and decided to become a writer. “It was the only thing I wanted,” she explained over the phone from her LA office. She studied journalism and moved to New York, finding work as the assistant to James Goode, then Editor at Penthouse.

Meridith Baer

Baer propped up her meager assistant’s pay with parts in TV commercials, and later TV shows or movies, where she first laid hands on the scripts that inspired her to try screenwriting. “I realized: ‘I could do this!’”

Her first screenplay, a bittersweet love story inspired by life at San Quentin, took two years to write but sold for a significant sum. She moved to LA and immersed herself in writing full-time. “They re-wrote it and the movie got made but didn’t do well,” Baer mused. “A few writers really hit the big time, and then there’s the rest of us.” She persevered with writing for several decades until one day her life radically changed.

“I think my success was just that I was willing to go for it!” — Meridith Baer

“I was turning 50 and feeling very dejected,” Baer said. To cap it all, her landlord sold her house and asked Baer to move out. “I had a lot of furniture, and two hundred and fifty potted plants!”

To save on storage costs, she asked a friend if she could move her belongings into his vacant property in Brownwood. The home was being remodeled and had been languishing on the market for a year. “It just hadn’t come to life,” Baer said. Within a week of her moving her furniture and plants into the home, it sold in a bidding war, for half a million dollars over-asking. Word got out and brokers started calling. “Since then, my answer has always been ‘yes.’ I think my success was just that I was willing to go for it,” Baer said.

The living room of a property in Royal Palms, Florida, before and after staging
The conservatory, before and after staging

“When I was writing movies, my favorite part was creating the setting, which is often a big character in the story.” — Meridith Baer

It was the broker community that named the process “staging.” As the business grew, it started to transform the real estate industry, in particular for high-value homes where a slow sale can cost the owner hundreds of thousands in mortgage payments.

With staging, a $50k pre-sale outlay can turn into quick returns of half a million or more. With thousands of sales as proof, Baer’s statistics show staged properties sell 80% faster and for 20% more than those that don’t get staged. “It’s about telling a story,” Baer said. “When I was writing movies, my favorite part was creating the setting, which is often a big character in the story.”

A staged home on Chautauqua Blvd, Palisades, CA

We asked about Baer’s design approach. Many of the homes she stages are modern California ranch homes, breezy, casual beach houses in the Hamptons or high end apartments in New York. “I like a very eclectic look,” Baer said. “I like to start with white sofas which give you permission to change your style frequently. I go through phases with no color, then I might switch to greens, or blues.”

A staged home on Treasure Lane, Naples, Florida

When thinking about furnishing an interior space, Baer insists it should be “simple, incredibly comfortable and almost disappear.” This allows room for decorative flourishes like throws, rugs and artwork, “starting with what you love and want to find a place for.”

The Meridith Baer Home Office in Los Angeles

Today, Meridith Baer Home stages up to 725 properties a month and boasts a star studded clientelle across luxury hot-spots around the US, but the business has grown organically. “When I first started, I hadn’t found a place to live and I was working around the clock giving each home so much attention. I was charging the client less if I could just live there!”

A staged home on Chautauqua Blvd, Palisades, CA

The homes sold so fast she ended up moving almost every month. “I would pick up movers at Home Depot or hire friends. I would hire everyone I bumped into!” Gradually she built up a trusted team, many of whom are still with her, twenty years on. “One of the things I’m most proud of is that nobody backed me,” Baer continued. “I didn’t get a bank loan. I put all the profit back into the business, into inventory or into buying a truck. The growth was organic and gradual.” Almost all of her business has come from the word of mouth referrals of real estate brokers who have the initial relationship with a home seller.

A staged living room, Periwinkle St, Boca Raton, FL

Finally, we asked Baer what advice she’d offer to young designers working to master their craft. “Start paying attention to detail in everything designed, and travel to get ideas,” she said. “You have to understand why you like things and why you don’t. Also, start moving things around in your own home. It has to come from within and it comes over time and through your own experience.”

Originally published at