By Emily J. Weitz
Liz Kramer and Deirdre Guest have discovered the triple threat of home ownership: interior design, property management, and staging. From re-imagining the décor of a house to making sure the pipes don’t freeze in winter, they take care of their clients’ homes as if they were their own. But when they’re ready to rent or sell, Kramer and Guest also know how to prepare a house to look perfectly impersonal, so anyone could picture themselves settling into the living room couch.
Homework in the Hamptons, which has been around since 2000, is committed to tackling all three of these issues for homeowners.
“When we started out we were ridiculously ambitious,” says Kramer. “And we knew if we had three divisions we could grow faster.”
“We spend an equal amount of time in all three divisions,” Guest adds. “When one division is slow we rely on the others.”
As city transplants who now live on the East End year round, wearing a few different hats was critical to their success.
“When you’re doing interior design, you end up doing everything anyway,” says Guest. “It’s a soup to nuts endeavor. You’re managing operations, putting in the phone lines, overseeing repairs, putting fresh flowers on the table, opening the pool, getting the beach stickers, and stocking the fridge. The last thing people want to do when they come out here is shop at King Kullen or the IGA. So we do all the preparation prior to arrival.”
While both women had careers before this and both had dabbled in interior design, they discovered the need for these services on their own. There were plenty of interior designers, but marrying the process with the property management that followed was novel.
“There was a big void where this was concerned,” says Guest.
Adds Kramer, “When I moved out here I didn’t know anybody. It was a lot to set up a house and do renovations. I remember thinking I wanted someone to do that for me someday.”
Guest says, “It’s kind of overwhelming: you don’t know which landscaping company to choose or anything. We have a roster of service people who come when we call. You don’t have to wait.”
Many people who come out here don’t know the trials and tribulations of homeownership. Leaking roofs and wild animals are issues that may not come up for renters in the city, but here they’ve got to deal with them themselves.
“We once walked into a house and the ceiling was dripping,” recalls Guest. “The bathtub had filled up and leaked through the ceiling. We caught it before it caused hundreds of thousands dollars in damage… We pride ourselves on taking care of things before they happen. Checking a crack and taking care of it before it falls down. We save people money and headaches.”
Staging is a concept that started on the West Coast, and was virtually unknown when Guest and Kramer started introducing it to real estate brokers 12 years ago.
“The advantage is huge,” says Guest. “People walk in to these McMansions. There are so many rooms they don’t know which one is used for what. Is this the family room? Parlor? Great room? We define it. It lets them see that they could live there.”
“We would try to explain to the real estate brokers,” says Kramer, “giving them figures and excerpts from articles in San Francisco and London. It was a difficult idea to sell to a seller.”
Adds Guest, “Most of the time when people are selling their houses they want to make money, not spend it.”
But since then, times have changed. From the real estate boom to the recession that followed, house staging has continued to grow.
“The worst year for everyone was out best year ever,” says Kramer. She acknowledges that perhaps, as it gets harder to sell a house, people are willing to put a little more effort into the process. In addition, people have gotten more involved in the process.
“Since the crash, people are much more careful, discerning, and competitive.”
All of that helps business.
Whether they’re staging a house or doing interior decorating, Guest and Kramer go for a beachy, clean feel.
“We go for minimal, without being cold,” says Guest. “We love that clean, calm, neutral palette. It’s soothing and comfortable to live in. It’s so gorgeous out here on the East End — you don’t want to go too crazy in your house.”
Kramer adds, “Plus, you want it to wear well with kids and dogs and that beach feel. You don’t want it to feel too precious.”
They find a lot of crossover in their business.
“We have a lot of people who do property management and design together,” says Guest. “We already know the house; we set up their cable system. We got their sofa for them. We’ve done everything. And often when we do a staging project, we’re then referred as designers.”
The triple threat has worked for them at a time when the overall real estate business has been tumultuous.
“We marvel at the fact that we are two women who came and started this business and have survived ten years in a resort town during a recession,” says Guest. “We think it’s smart that we did the three businesses because when one was slow we had another to count on.”