Working with sellers and buyers
Elizabeth Polansky loves her work. She and her all-women team get to create, recreate, and reshape Maine homes that are for sale in a real estate market that continues to be red hot, up and down the coast.
Elizabeth, 59, of Portland is the owner of The Styled Home in Westbrook, the largest Real Estate staging company in northern New England. Realtors often turn to her when they need to sell their clients’ homes, whether those homes are a $150,000 condo in Old Orchard Beach or a multi-million-dollar, seaside home in Kennebunkport. She treats each project and client with equal respect.
Elizabeth began her new career in the home décor field in 2000 when her daughter was in kindergarten. She started working for small home furniture and design shop when she decided to go out on her own.
She started her first business, named Before and After, with a friend. They offered affordable interior decorating services to busy professionals who neither had the time or knowhow to decorate their home. In 2002 Elizabeth partnered with another woman as her business expanded. From 2002 to 2015, the business would become The Styled Home. In 2004 staging was added to their list of services, being the very first to bring staging the Portland, Maine.
As the concept of staging became more popular, they began to invest in inventory. By 2012 the need to acquire warehouse space was quite evident. They took a leap of faith and leased a 2000 square-foot facility in Portland and never looked back. Within a year they had outgrown that space and had to move to into a 3000 square-foot facility.
In 2014, their first part-time employee—a woman who still works for her—was hired to assist with their increasing number of projects. In 2015 her business partner of 13 years decided to make a career change, and Elizabeth bought her out and took over the company. “In 2016 we were on fire! I hired four additional team members and had to invest in so much inventory to accommodate staging 100 vacant homes that I was bursting at the seams.” In 2017, the company moved to new 6,000 square-foot warehouse facility in Westbrook.
In 2018, Maria Locke, the owner of Upscale Furniture and Consignment, joined her team after closing their store. Realizing the client demand for this service, Elizabeth decided to open a retail division, The Styled Home by UpScale. Here they sell retired staging furniture, new furniture, and very selective consignment furniture.
The Styled Home and The Styled Home by UpScale are housed in her 10,000 square-foot warehouse complex in Westbrook. “During my busiest time, I’ll have upwards of 25 to 30 homes staged at any given time,” Elizabeth said. It can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000 in inventory to stage one home. One thing she doesn’t do is minimal staging, placing a few pieces in a room and calling it staged. Her business has been built on the product she delivers to her clients. Now with her retail division, if a buyer likes the furniture they see in the home want to purchase, “I will sell them one piece, or I will sell it all.” “Last year, I sold a half a dozen properties furnished.” These sales are win/win: the buyers get a professionally designed home, and she is able to keep turning her inventory.
Elizabeth stages homes from Bar Harbor to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She also stages homes on Maine’s islands and as far north as Bethel. She explained that in today’s real estate market, sales are driven by the online photo presentation a Realtor posts of their listings. If those photos don’t capture the buyer, that home will not sell or the Realtor will choose to take drastic price reductions. When a property doesn’t sell, the problem is usually cosmetic. “It’s all about the product that is being marketed,” Elizabeth observes. “When you are selling your home, you have to create a viable marketable item that people want to buy and emotionally connect with.”
Her number one recommendation to home sellers is painting: “Painting is the magic bullet.” It can transform a home that looks tired and dated into a home that looks and feels updated, clean, and move-in ready.
When asked about colors, Elizabeth states, “Yellow is the kiss of death in today’s real estate market.” She says that buyers prefer soft neutral tones, fifty shades of gray! Not strong earth tones of the ʼ80s, ʼ90s, and early 2000s. Neutral tones “are more soothing visually,” she explains. “They tend to draw your eye to the architectural features of a home as well as drawing your eye outside, as opposed to having a bold color that is hard to get past.”
Elizabeth is attracted to cream and light-colored upholstery when she chooses furniture for her staging inventory. She said colors like navy, coral, teals, and soft blues are her accent colors. From these colors her team builds the overall vision and design of the staging project.
Her team, which consists of nine women (except for her movers) have all been trained by Elizabeth. They make the magic happen after Elizabeth secures the project and selects the furniture. “It’s an unbelievable and time-intensive process.”
From start to finish it takes her team upwards of 8- to 12 hours and two days per project. It begins with a team walkthrough of the home, followed by selecting and tagging all the furniture, then the team goes to work selecting every accessory, pillow, lamp, piece of wall art, and bedding, and then packing every item. The movers arrive the next morning and the truck is loaded, unloaded, and the staging begins. “We are walking out the door and ready for the photographer to come in and do the photo shoot,” Elizabeth said.
She also provides the service of owner-occupied staging. She and her team work with the owners’ furnishings to visually balance each room in preparation of it to be photographed for Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The owner will often comment how much better they like a given room or their entire home after her team works their magic. “It’s so gratifying when the homeowner comes back to their home and says, ‘I’ve always hated this room. Why didn’t we call you five years ago?’”
The current COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges for Elizabeth and The Styled Home. She was forced to furlough her team this spring during the stay-at-home order. She did keep busy by offering Facetime video consultations with clients to instruct them on how they should prepare their homes prior to listing. Slowly, but surely, her business has returned to its accustomed level, as Maine has begun to reopen.
Throughout the pandemic, the demand for Maine homes, up and down the coast, has never diminished. Elizabeth said some homes were going under contract via just Internet sales with photos and videos because buyers were not traveling to Maine to see the listings in person. This phenomenon of buying “sight unseen” most often happens when a buyer has to move to Maine for a job.
Reflecting on current changes in the time of the coronavirus epidemic, Elizabeth said, “For me, one of the hardest things that I struggle with is not being able to shake a person’s hand when I meet them.” But meeting challenges head on is one of her greatest strengths. Her drive and ambition to build The Styled Home have enabled her to seize opportunities to grow her business in good times and bad into what it is today.
Elizabeth grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and has lived in several states as her former husband relocated for his job. She’s lived in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Columbus, Ohio. Eventually, her former husband’s job took his family to Maine in 1998, “I have been here ever since, Maine is my home.”
Her first career was in the fine jewelry business at 16, she recalled. Eventually, Elizabeth managed fine jewelry stores for Zale Corp. “My experience with design and merchandising actually started in that industry.”
Her daughter, Jessica, 25, just graduated from the University of Southern Maine with a bachelor’s degree Economics with a double minor in Food studies and Holistic and Integrative health. She is eager to begin her career here in Maine.
As retail sales began to open up during COVID-19, she decided to give back to the community. For a period of time she offered a 10 percent discount off a client’s purchase, then donated those total dollars in her client’s name to the Good Shepherd Food Bank. “So many people are struggling to feed their families, I just have to do something to help,” she said.
Elizabeth makes no secret of the fact that her company is the center of her universe. “My business is my passion. Once work isn’t fun anymore, that is the time I’ll decide to sell and retire.”
“My job is so gratifying. I get to make homes beautiful every day of the week,” Elizabeth said. “When I’m working in my office and I hear my team laughing and talking while they’re working on a project in the warehouse, it’s music to my ears. I feel so incredibly blessed and just smile.”