Cathy Hobbs. Photo by Nigel Barker

Cathy Hobbs is not one to be easily dissuaded. While studying for her degree in business at the University of Southern California, Hobbs decided to take up journalism as a second major. Television news seemed interesting, she thought. A week into class a professor pulled her into the hallway, looked her in the eye and told her, “you’ll never make it in the industry.” The next day she dropped the class — and the major—  but she never gave up. Hobbs wrote for the student newspaper and later got a major opportunity at a journalism fair. 

“Everyone was waiting in line for really big television stations. And there was a guy sitting at a small table where there was no line, he worked at a little station in Bakersfield, California,” Hobbs says. “I sat down and talked to him and he offered me a job that day as a senior in college. This was a really big break — I was given a massive head start by that news director who took a chance on me.”

She went on to work in Columbia, South Carolina; Nashville, Tennessee; Washington, D.C. and finally New York City: the most competitive and hardest-to-enter news market. Despite that professor telling her she would never make it news, she won five Emmy awards over the years. But she also felt a sense of uncertainty in the industry. 

“I got to New York when I was 28. It’s the number one market, and I said, ‘where do we go from here?’ In at least three instances coming up as a reporter, I replaced someone who was fired, Hobbs says. “I said if this ever happens to me, I’m going to have a plan B.”

She decided to pursue a longtime passion of hers: design. She attended FIT while continuing to work as a journalist. She covered fires and shootings at night while earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree over the course of seven years. 

A room staged by Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes. Photo by Scott G. Morris/SGM Photography

She graduated into a new era of New York City development. She was a “pioneer,” part of the first wave of people to move to the recently rezoned and newly developed Williamsburg waterfront. It was during this time that she connected with people in the real estate industry and first heard the term “staging,” the act of presenting a property so that it’s ready to sell. 

“One thing I struggled with in design school is that I can’t draw,” Hobbs says. “And here was an aspect of design that didn’t involve drawing — I was all over it. My first staging job was a small building in Brooklyn where they were selling eight condos and I was hired to stage the model apartment, and it was just wonderful. I really enjoy the mix of design and marketing, which really ties into my TV skills, because TV skills are about understanding visuals and putting a good story together. When I do staging I’m also telling a story of lifestyle and what it would be like to live in the property.” 

Hobbs went on to open the NYC-based Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes. She’s also the author of a forthcoming book that compiles her “design recipes,” which she describes as “kind of like a great meal — you can take it as is or make it your own.” 

A room staged by Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes. Photo by Scott G. Morris/SGM Photography

The following has been slightly edited for clarity. 

TEH: Why is home staging such a crucial step of selling a property? 

Hobbs: I think one of the things that people don’t realize is how important presentation staging is when it comes to selling your home. For most people, purchasing real estate is an emotional transaction, they buy from a gut feeling. This is home. I can picture myself here. And they tend to get that through what we call a series of positive reinforcements that are typically achieved through staging. They can picture themselves entertaining in the living room, their children playing in the backyard. And when they walk into a lived-in, worn property, they have a different emotional reaction, which is one of worry, work and money. How much is it going to cost to repair or repaint this home? This bathroom is really a mess. I liken the prep of a home to selling one’s car. Would you sell your car as is? I would wash it, detail it and if I had a broken headline I would repair that. So you might spend $2,000 preparing your car for sale, but you’ll sell your single biggest asset as it?

TEH: If you’re on a budget and can’t afford a full stage, what should you prioritize? What can you skip?

Hobbs: If you don’t hire a professional, the three top things that I would suggest is neutralize, depersonalize and paint. Neutralize means get rid of custom colors and thematic rooms. It helps the potential buyer see it as their home and not your home. Depersonalize does the same thing. Get rid of family photos, mementos, plaques and diplomas. Painting is very affordable and it’s something you can do yourself and it will go a long way to presenting the room and home as fresh and new. Beyond that would be minor repairs and a light upgrade to the bathroom, like replacing the faucet, toilet, cabinet or showerhead.  People purchase homes based on bathrooms and kitchens. 

A professional stager will ask you to do all those same things before they come. When you are looking to hire a personal stager, I would recommend you go to the Real Estate Stagers Association. RESA has a directory of professional stagers so you know what you’re getting. Many stagers have their own inventory. So they come in with their inventory and stage the home creating that sellable look. If you’re on a budget I would ask the stager to quote what we call a partial staging, which is the staging of the social areas and master bedroom.

TEH: Are there any common misconceptions about the staging process?

Hobbs: Yes, that it’s interior design. It’s not collaborative the way interior design is. Interior design is for living, staging is for selling. We aren’t gathering information about the client’s personal taste and wishes.  That’s not what staging is. I never meet the majority of my clients. Staging is actually a visual marketing tool that is in the toolbox of the real estate agent to market a home. If I’m an agent, the two biggest things I know are that I need to stage the property and photograph it. 

A home staged by Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes. Photo by Scott G. Morris/SGM Photography

TEH: Let’s talk trends. What’s in, what’s out? 

Hobbs: I think brass is here to stay, while chrome and nickel are out. Wallpaper remains popular, but I feel that sometimes it’s overdone. I think what’s kind of outdated is really tight cushions — people are more into relaxed style of living. It’s the way people dress now and we are seeing it translate from fashion to home and what’s in are more relaxed fabrics, cleanable fabrics, a more relaxed lifestyle. Growing up, we had a room in the house called the no-touch room. It had a white sofa and white carpet and my parents used it maybe once every five years. People don’t live like that anymore. Also out are guest rooms that are shrines to guests who come once or twice a year. People want to use their whole home. 

TEH: What’s next for you professionally? 

Hobbs: We are opening an 18,000-square-foot carbon-neutral warehouse in the Hudson Valley later this year. We’re launching a short-term-rental and vacation home division, doing everything from consultations to design to furnishing. We will also be offering shoppable mood boards for a flat fee, where we are giving people that recipe for design so they can do it on their own.

TEH: Last question. I really admire the later-in-life career shift. Any advice? 

Hobbs: I can’t tell you how many friends actually call me and ask me for advice, and they all ask how I did it. It didn’t happen overnight. I did what I call seed planting. I started planting seeds when I still had a job and I started to watch them grow and they started to sprout while I was a reporter. I was in school for seven years. I started my business in 2004. I wasn’t an overnight success. If you never start, you’ll never finish. If you want to pursue a passion, plant the seed and watch it grow. 

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