A Home Office Is More Important Than Ever!

Houses | November 27, 2020


I moved into my first condo in 2005.

570 square feet, one bedroom, one bathroom.

Living room, no dining room setup (I was a bachelor – I ate at my IKEA coffee table every night for five years), and no home office.

No desk to be found.  I didn’t even own a printer for the first couple of years.

In fact, this was so long ago, I didn’t even realize I could get my “work emails” at home.  So for the first year, I’d reply to emails on my Blackberry rather than from my laptop.  Boy, did I feel stupid when I accidentally opened my Outlook one day, and it started to receive incoming emails!

This was early on in my real estate career, so I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t have a heck of a lot to do, work-wise, after 6pm on weekdays back then.  But as 2007 came along, and I started Toronto Realty Blog, I found myself working every night at the computer for hours on end.

Where did I work?

From the breakfast bar, usually.  Sometimes on the coffee table.  And in the warmer months, I was out on my terrace every single night, working from a cheap, tempered-glass, Home Depot dining table.

When I finally did buy a printer/scanner, it sat on the floor.  For about three years, it remained exactly where I placed it when I took it out of the box.

It wasn’t until I went to sell the condo in 2010 that I brought in an actual desk, and that was just for staging purposes.  Through five years in that condo, I never sat there once.

When I moved with my now-wife, then-girlfriend into our condo on George Street that fall, I made a “home office” out of the small, useless den area.

For those who weren’t reading TRB years ago, I filmed part of my comical series, “What if the whole world worked the same way as the Toronto real estate industry?” in my home office.  Only one scene actually features my actual home office desk…

There were two problems with that home office, however:

1) The internet connection was poor, and even though I was sitting directly next to the printer, it was tough to print from there.
2) I didn’t like the desk, chair, and overall setup.

So even though I put together a full home office for myself, I ended up sitting at the dining room table every night for seven years, doing my work.

My “home office” was my dining table.  And we never dined at the table, since we ate at the coffee table every night.  Old habits die hard, I suppose.

Now here we are in 2020, having gone through a pandemic and noticing how the working world has changed dramatically, with so many people working from home, and I wonder: how has this changed the way we sell real estate?

Well, for starters, the top stagers are insisting on showing a home office space in each and every property.

House or condo, large or small, you simply have to show a home office space.  You simply have to assume that the buyer, or in the case of couples – one of the two buyers, will be working from home.  And whether it’s subconsciously or otherwise, buyers out there are looking for that home office space.

Here’s an example from a 680 square foot condo that we just listed and sold:

home office

Very small, very simple, and the angle from which this photo was taken – showing the scotch, home office, living room, dining area, and clear view through the window, is exactly what we wanted to convey to the buyer.

Never before have I seen so many listings showing home offices, although not all of them are done properly.

I went through MLS today looking for pictures, so let’s have some fun, shall we?

When staging a home office in a house, there are some really important do’s and dont’s.

You don’t want to take away a functional room to show home office.

You don’t want to stage a silly space in the house as a home office, just to say you have one.

You do want the desk, chair, and overall setup to look realistic.

You don’t want the setup to look too cluttered.

You do want the home office to look comfortable and attractive.

You don’t want the home office to look too large.

You do want the home office to blend seamlessly with the rest of the space.

Overall, there’s just a general “feel” to it, and this is highly subjective, so I’m sure some of you will disagree with my thoughts as we go through these photos…

Here’s a fantastic looking home office:

home office

However, I disagree with the setup.

This is a living room in a very typical, standard, 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom semi-detached house.  You expect to see two couches and a TV in that front room, then a dining room, then the kitchen.  By staging the living room as a home office, you effectively show buyers that you have no living room…

This looks nice in a photo:

home office

But this is a bedroom.

Again, you’re taking away a functional room to show a desk, and in this case, it’s not really even a “home office” as much as a beauty-table.  But it was marketed as a “home office” in the listing, so it’s all kinds of wrong…

Here’s a gorgeous photo:

home office

Renovated, sleek, glass-panels instead of railings, hardwood floor, and even a cool rug under the desk.

But is it too large?

Is this space just too big to have an “office?”

Let’s see the basement from another angle:

home office

A stager might suggest that you could actually stage this area with both some kids’ toys and a home office setup, but overall, I think it works.  The space is divided between “TV/Rec” and the home office, and it’s going to hit the mark for this demographic.

Here’s yet another bedroom staged as a home office:

home office

Again, I like to show actual beds in bedrooms.  You might think that it’s obvious to a buyer – that you can put a bed in this room.  But by showing only a desk, many buyers assume the room is small.  The stager or owner could have placed a bed where the desk is, and a smaller desk where the dresser is.

It’s easy.

These guys did it effectively:

home office

These guys tried it too, although that desk is really small – almost more like a bedroom vanity than home office, but at least they tried:

home office

Then, we go back to rooms with just a desk…

hoem office

…sigh!

How about this next one?

Y’all know what I’m going to say about this…

home office

….just silly.

Nobody, and I mean nobody is going to put a desk in that space and actually work there.

This is where the old linen closets were in original layouts, and many people have opened up the space.

But is somebody going to call this their office?

home office

No way.

Although, somebody did call that space their office in this next photo:

home office

You can tell that’s not staging.

That’s legit.  That person actually works in their second-floor hallway:

But is it too cluttered for a “staged house?”

I’m nitpicking, I know.

Here’s another example which I think bridges the gap between the silly, small space in the first photo, and the cluttered mess in the second:

But does anybody actually work in these former linen-closets?

Oh, wait, we answered that with the second photo…

Now, what about basements?

Staging an office area in a basement is a lot easier, as you can put them just about anywhere:

That works.  No question about it.

This one too, in a really tight space:

In this next house, you can see the back room, behind the couch, which would make the perfect home office area:

Except, in my opinion, they didn’t do it very well:

Two desks, two shelves, and none of it looks functional.

That silly stool in front of the back desk isn’t something a person working from home would use.

The small wooden desk with the wooden chair, and the mirror – what is this?

If you’re going to stage a home office, make it realistic and functional.

This basement is begging for a home office setup:

What more can you place against that wall?

Again, we see the same styles coming into play: the animal-skin rug, glass table, and it’s always Apple, right?

Here’s a “nothing” room in the basement, but they made it look like the perfect home office:

That’s a great job.

This space would be empty and useless in most unstaged homes, or maybe filled with boxes or junk.

That is a great job of staging and showing a feature of a house that buyers covet.

Here’s an interesting look, also in a lower-level:

I’ve always felt that the couch open to anything but a television is misleading, ie. to a kitchen, as we saw in Wednesday’s blog.

Here we see the couch open to the desk, and it shoots well in a photo, but in reality, that room would never be set up as such by the owner.

Okay, let’s head upstairs again!

This next one is a classic “modern” look to a home office:

The animal-skin rug, plus the comfy chair, and a sleek glass table with mesh-back chair, looking out the floor-to-ceiling window.

Beautiful!

Again, I don’t like using a bedroom as an office, but this is a 3-storey townhouse, with four beds, so you have the space.

And then they added this close-up:

I like it.  Very sleek!

Here’s another 4-bedroom townhouse with one of the bedrooms staged as an office:

It’s very sparse.  The one sad fake plant isn’t enough.  They need books on the shelves and more accessories throughout.  Putting a desk in a room, with a rug, just isn’t enough.

But let me make this important distinction: I have no problem with staging one bedroom in a 4-bedroom townhouse as a stand-alone home office, but I do have a problem with staging one bedroom in a 3-bedroom semi-detached as a stand-alone home office.

Makes sense?

A good stager and a good listing agent will adapt as the market changes, and when it comes to one of the largest fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic, notably the work-from-home movement, stagers have made a concerted effort to show home office spaces wherever possible.

You may not have noticed before, but something tells me that the next time you’re perusing listings on MLS, your eye will drift toward that desk in the background…

Have a great weekend, everybody!

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14 Comments

  1. M

    at 9:06 am

    David, this may be a silly question, but do people stage a property twice? Once to make great listing photos, and then make minor but noticeable changes after to have the layout more functional for viewings?

  2. Francesca

    at 9:41 am

    We just sold our house last night and we had our fourth smallest bedroom set up as a home office/music room. It was listed as a bedroom in the listing not an office. I think it depends largely on how many bedrooms and how large the house is. We used this room all along as an office but brought our guitars upstairs from the living room to show that this room could have multiple purposes.

  3. Appraiser

    at 4:00 pm

    Work from home is real. It may not be everybody and it may not be every day, but it sure looks like it’s here to stay.

    Apparently desks and chairs were in short supply recently at the big box stores. Home renovations, finished basements as well as outdoor landscaping projects, decks, pools also going bonkers.

    1. Chris

      at 4:22 pm

      It certainly seems to be here to stay:

      “In a wake-up call to major employers and their landlords, a global survey of 10,000 office workers has found 85 per cent would prefer to work remotely two or three days a week in the future.

      The CBRE survey was conducted from June to August and took in 32 companies in 18 countries including Australia.

      More than 90 per cent of employees and managers reported they perceive working from home as “about the same” or “more productive” than working from the office.”

      https://www.afr.com/property/commercial/remote-working-here-to-stay-cbre-survey-20200923-p55ycd

  4. Chris

    at 4:24 pm

    Per the Bank of Canada, as of September, 8.2% of mortgages were still in deferral, though this is down from a peak of 15.7%.

    Of homeowners with a mortgage, 27.34% deferred as a precaution and 4.71% deferred to pay other debts. However, 42.96% deferred because they could not pay due to COVID related reduction in income, while another 18.64% deferred because they could not pay for reasons unrelated to COVID.

    Certainly seems to blow a hole in the narrative that most of those deferring were simply doing so because they wanted to, not needed to.

    https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2020/11/monitoring-payment-deferrals-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

    1. Appraiser

      at 1:31 pm

      Update on mortgage deferrals from Bank of Canada:
      https://www.ratespy.com/tangerines-10-year-fixed-rate-smashes-record-112316904

      Despite worries that deferring borrowers would default in high numbers, the Bank says “arrears rates of expired deferrals [0.20%] are below rates that prevailed before the COVID‑19 pandemic [0.50%].” And “over 99%—of households with expired deferrals on any kind of debt have resumed repayment.”
      Although, Bank of Canada Deputy Governor Toni Gravelle cautioned that, “We may not have a full picture of how many homeowners have fallen behind on those payments until the end of the year or early 2021.”

      1. Chris

        at 1:42 pm

        Directly from the BoC’s report, which I linked to above and which RateSpy is referencing:

        “As of September 2020, most borrowers with expired deferrals have resumed payments.

        Many payment deferrals have ended as of September 2020. This is most notable for credit card deferrals, while, in contrast, roughly half of mortgage deferrals are still active”

        And as RateSpy correctly surmises:

        “That said, as much as officials seem to downplay it, the two-thirds who needed deferrals to avoid insolvency is still a heck of a lot of people—over 600,000 households by our math.”

        What happens with the remaining 8.2% of mortgages in deferral as they end? And what portion of those remaining deferrals are by borrowers who required them to avoid insolvency?

        1. Appraiser

          at 8:48 am

          Another fear peg?

          Too bad they never come to fruition.

          But no matter, there’s always more fear to peddle.

          1. Chris

            at 10:15 am

            “The S&P 500 gained 0.3% to end the day at 3,638.35, notching a record closing high. The Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.9% to 12,205.85 and also closed at an all-time high.

            Earlier in the week, the Dow jumped to an all-time high, breaking above 30,000 for the first time and hit an all-time high.“

            https://www.cnbc.com/2020/11/27/stock-market-futures-open-to-close-news.html

            Bull trap is right around the corner though, as you warned about, I’m sure.

            Keep pegging yourself.

  5. J G

    at 7:37 pm

    Just checked on HouseSigma, November number for 416 condo will not be pretty.

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