Today’s real estate scene is still very much a buyer’s market, so if you’re looking to sell, you’re going to need all the help you can get. And just like that, on cue, enter Staged Right, a home staging and design company started by two suburban moms from West Windsor.

The concept of home staging is still relatively new in this area, but it’s something that’s been hot in other areas of the country, especially the West Coast, for two decades. And if you’re a fan of HGTV, you know that home decorating, design, and staging shows currently rule the roost.

“Whether it’s a job interview or selling your house, you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” says Tracey Merrill. “Staging your home means showcasing it to its fullest and best potential to make it stand out from the rest on the market. It helps maximize investments and increase profitability.”

“For most people, their home is their largest investment, and since the real estate market has taken such a huge hit in recent years it’s especially important to put your home in the best possible light,” says Rachel Pincus, the other half of Staged Right. “Real estate agents love a home that’s been staged because they know the home is going to look exactly how they want, with no unpleasant surprises.”

Tracey and Rachel’s business partnership sprang out of a friendship that began eight years ago when Tracey’s son, Luke, and Rachel’s daughter, Nicole, started kindergarten together at Maurice Hawk School. Tracey was developing a reputation in town as the “organizing” lady.

She had an eye and talent for helping people clear the clutter in their homes and create calm out of chaos. Meanwhile, Rachel was fast becoming known as the “color” lady because she had a flair for helping people choose the best paint colors to dress up their homes and make them stylish and comfortable. She had been running Staged Right out of her home, but back then, all her work was in New York’s Westchester County because the concept of home staging there was popular in a way that had not yet caught on locally. Each woman was aware of the other’s talents and passions. After years of talking about going into business together, this year, they finally made the leap.

“We figured four eyes are better than two,” laughs Rachel, “and it was time because now, people get it, and the work is coming our way. It’s another layer to creative selling. When people live in their homes, they have a lot of emotions wrapped up in them, and it’s difficult for them to envision what needs to be done. They know something needs to be done, but they don’t know where to start, and that’s where we come in.”

“The kids are older,” says Tracey, “so it was a good time for us to figure out a way to do something together and follow our dreams. At the same time, we are really helping people get to a place where they need to be if they are ready to sell their homes.”

So what exactly does it mean to stage a home? It’s the process of making a home appeal to the greatest common denominator of potential buyers. It includes everything : creating an open floor plan, decluttering, accessorizing, and depersonalizing. All of this can help increase appeal and sale price and decrease time on the market.

“If there are personalized colors, if the carpet is dirty, the floors are worn, or the towels and bedding haven’t been refreshed, to the potential buyer it’s a reflection on how the entire home has been kept and maintained,” explains Rachel. “Something as simple as a worn towel can leave a negative impression with the buyer. They wonder if they can’t buy a five dollar towel, have they taken care of the water heater? And that costs the seller.”

“Life is so hectic for people today, so most of them want a turnkey home. They don’t want a fixer-upper, and they want to see neutral,” says Tracey. “If you invest in some paint, if you buy some new carpet, if you buy fresh towels, you’re not wasting money. The money that you do put in, you’re going to get back tenfold.”

Tracey Merrill lives in West Windsor with her husband, Jim, an acoustical consultant whose work includes concert halls and university libraries.

Their son, Luke, 11, is going into seventh grade at Grover Middle School. Daughter Hayley, 13, is going into ninth grade at High School South. In recent years, Tracey worked as personal assistant for Bob Hillier, the world-renowned architect who owns his own architecture firm in Princeton.

“I picked up so many details and nuances about architecture from him and all about flow and color, so I learned what I loved on the job,” says Tracey. “If you’re lucky, you come back to doing work you’re passionate about. So I’m extremely lucky.”

Rachel’s husband, Steven, works in New York as an IT recruiter. Their daughter, Nicole, 12, is going into seventh grade at Grover and son, Ben, 14, is going into ninth grade at High School South. Rachel majored in finance in college and then worked in sales in New York’s garment district. Life took the family out to live in California. In 2000 she was recruited into the home-staging business by the realtor who sold them their home, who was impressed at the way Rachel had put their house together after their move.

“Sometimes it just helps to have a neutral party, someone who doesn’t have judgment clouded by emotions,” says Rachel. “We’re also extremely aware of what’s going out there. We have our pulse on the market, so we understand what appeals to homebuyers and what might offend. People also have to understand that how you live in your home now and how you market your home for sale are two completely different things. That’s where we can really help.”

“The process of staging is frugal,” adds Tracey. “People confuse it with the process of interior design. Our first objective is to keep the costs down because we know home sellers don’t want to invest a lot of money. It’s about repurposing.

“We can go into a linen closet and find brand-new towels. We’ll use a little money to make huge enhancements for big impact. A big green plant in the corner gives life to a room that may not have had life before. Fresh flowers, relocating furniture, all of this can make the difference in selling your home quickly for the most profit.”

Contact Tracey or Rachel at Staged Right LLC, Home Staging & Design. Tracey Merrill, 609-915-9310 or traceymerrill@verizon.net. Rachel Pincus, 609-610-3633 or rach66@comcast.net.