The couple took the place off the market that December, and at Ms. Kahn’s behest, sent for the home stager Nahila Chianale, the owner of NCC Luxe in New York.
To Ms. Chianale, the home’s décor was too eclectic, “like Victoriana meets ’80s meets Ikea,” she said.
She instructed the couple to empty the apartment, except for one small bench that she deemed attractive. Then, for about $26,000, she had the kitchen cabinets, shelving, doors and door frames painted white, and moved in an entire home’s worth of contemporary furniture, including shapely clear acrylic dining chairs and a white pedestal table, an Italian linen sofa and a chrome-and-glass coffee table placed atop a cowhide rug.
When Ms. Kahn relisted the staged property last April for $1.495 million, “the place was mobbed,” at the first open house, Ms. Sarro said.
A bidding war ensued, and the apartment soon went into contract for $1.8 million, before closing in July.
“I can’t believe how it worked out,” Ms. Sarro said. “I still shake my head.”
The practice of home staging has long elicited strong reactions. Agents and professional stagers point to examples like the Sarro-Waite apartment, and say staging can usually help a home sell faster, and for a higher price, offering a larger return on the investment.
Mr. Salvatore carries a chair to the Park Avenue apartment being staged. CreditJennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
Homeowners, reluctant to spend the money or admit that their decorating choices might not be catnip to buyers, are often loath to pay strangers to impose their tastes on their premises.
But as staging has evolved over the past decade, many real estate professionals say it has become more important — and more sophisticated — than ever.
“It always makes a difference, and is essential in this market,” said Richard Balzano, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman Real Estate who frequently refers his clients to stagers and even pays for the preliminary consultations.
In the past, many stagers focused on decluttering and implementing minor tweaks in furnished homes. Or they appointed vacant apartments with basic rental furniture to prove that rooms were large enough for regular sofas and queen-size mattresses.
Today, they are increasingly tackling all-out transformations that aim to present compelling contemporary design, while projecting a complete aspirational package.
“It’s not just about solving a problem now, but much more about presenting a lifestyle to prospective buyers,” said Jane Saidenberg, the design director of Studio D, a staging company with offices in New York and San Francisco. “People want it to look like a shelter magazine, or like something they’ve seen on TV. It’s more elevated than it has been in the past.”
“The bar has definitely been raised. The glamour apartment is really what sells,” Mr. Balzano said. “People will walk out if it looks ugly, or they think it’s dark, claustrophobic or has other warts they don’t want to deal with.”
The reason, said Frederick Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, is simple: “In New York, in recent years, there have been so many opportunities in newly constructed buildings where you don’t have to do anything, that buyers have lost both the appetite and ability to see through years of debris.”
Robby Browne, an associate broker at Corcoran Group Real Estate, shares this opinion. “Things have changed, in terms of people’s expectations — they expect apartments to be bright and fresh,” he said. “That’s a result of all the new developments coming on the market, where they have beautiful sales offices and staged apartments where everything is done.”
That’s why Mr. Browne recommended a complete home staging for a co-op his team is selling at 170 East 78th Street. This was even though Architectural Digest magazine had featured the place in 2011, describing “an ethereal dining room modeled on a czarist winter garden” and one of the two bedrooms as “such a perfect Empire bijou, with striped silk on the walls, an exotic nude over the mantel, and a steel campaign bed, that you half expect to meet Napoleon’s ghost.”
Ghosts, even Napoleonic ones, don’t play all that well in today’s market.
“Ten years ago, I would have never suggested it,” Mr. Browne said. But in the age of the television series “Million Dollar Listing” and online real estate porn, more buyers expect up-to-the-minute style.