Lila Francese

Ohi Home

By Misty Hall

Buying a home is said to be a very emotional, gut-instinct kind of purchase. When you find YOUR home, you somehow just … know.

But what’s right for me could be all wrong for you. So that begs the question: How does a seller make their home attractive to us both, whether we be artists, hunters, vegans, or retirees?

A simple answer is home staging, where experts “neutralize” a space with carefully chosen furniture and decor to give it broad appeal to a wide audience. “We like to think of it as, “what’s going to appeal to the 98 percent, as opposed to the two percent,” says Lila Francese, who along with her husband, Dines, owns the local staging company, Ohi Home.

With well over a decade in the business, Lila and Dines know how to create indoor and outdoor spaces that are beautiful and inviting, spaces that feel warm and lived in — but not too lived in.

The Francese family moved to Ojai from Los Angeles, where they were flipping homes and staging them, to be closer to family and to allow their daughter to attend Oak Grove School. For Lila, a native Minnesotan, this presented an exciting prospect; but for her husband, it also represented a return to the place his family has called home since the 1870s.

Things began slowly for them here. “Home staging has been going on in L.A. for about 30 years, but in Ojai, it’s only been about 12 years,” Francese notes. But momentum is building as Ohi Home’s art-slash-science proves time and again that the investment is more than worth it.

“Normally, houses are on the market for 141 days on average. Staged homes are on the market an average of less than 91 days,” Francese says, citing Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) statistics. “So we know staged homes sell faster, and at a higher price point too.” But the point of hiring a stager isn’t necessarily just to sell a home, Francese points out. “You will sell your house. You can always decrease the price. You stage because you don’t have to do that, you don’t have to leave money on the table … Instead of decreasing the price of your home, stage it!”

Francese is ranked in the top two percent of pros nationwide in RESA. “Staging is based on science, not art. Interior design is art, but this is science.” She goes on to explain the extensive market research conducted by RESA, which has found patterns in what people like through years of focus groups. When Francese cites those patterns, the dots begin to connect, and the science and psychology behind those statistics start to make sense.

For example: buyers like lots of light. They like white, and spring colors. They like refreshed, spa-like bathrooms with accessories like white towels, orchids, and high-end products. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Over the years, Francese’s style has evolved, but she holds true to those fact-based principles from RESA. After three years in the business, Francese had a lightbulb moment: “In Ojai, you’re not only selling a house, you’re selling Ojai.” That realization is what changed her approach to design here.

Instead of using a plain white chair, Francese might use a linen chair and “drape it in a Chumash blanket, with a sign on the wall from Summer Camp and art from the Porch Gallery, a pillow from Fig, and a really great candle from Tipple and Ramble.”

The Franceses feel strongly about buying local and supporting their neighbors’ businesses — and about giving back to the community in general (she sits on the board of directors for Oak Grove School).

“It’s the Ojai way,” she emphasizes. “We’re in it together.”

Supporting local businesses makes civic sense, sure. But there’s another good reason behind it. The items she finds in local shops bring Ojai’s of-the-moment trends into her staged homes. That holds a special kind of appeal for potential buyers who have likely already gotten a feel for those Ojai themes and trends from their past visits to the valley.

This strategy is especially useful with millennial buyers, who crave authenticity in a world full of carefully curated social media accounts. They want to get a real feel for a place through authentic experiences. And they’re willing to pay more for that.

“They want to be here, and that’s a good thing!” Francese says. “You want them to move here and love it, and be it!”

Francese knows she’s done a good job selling Ojai when home buyers ask to purchase her decor. “We own all our own stuff. We don’t rent. That allows buyers to buy whatever we have in the home — you can do that!” Francese says. Some clients end up buying everything in the house, and a few have kept in touch with her over the years to help them keep their interiors feeling fresh and on-trend.

But home staging is not just for the wealthier sect. “We do homes that sell for $300,000, $400,000 all the time,” Francese says. Whether the home is on the low end or a multi-million dollar estate, “(Homeowners) want their home to be the best in that price category.”

More and more, real estate agents and homeowners alike are utilizing Ohi Home to reach that point. In a true “so-Ojai” story, Francese cites Realtor Robin Williams as one of the first to see her potential. Williams sold the Francese family their Ojai home, and began using their services for his other listings. “He was a crucial starting point for us! And such a dear man.”

Connections like those are a huge motivation for Francese. She just loves being able to help sellers and agents get the most for their homes or listings, especially for those whose properties are in that lower price category and for whom a higher sale price can make a significant difference in their lives. “That’s my favorite thing in the world, to have somebody who has lived here for 30 or 40 years, and to make their house look amazing so it can sell (high),” Francese enthuses. “They might be relying on that for their retirement, or their children’s college education … and to have a price war, three people fighting over the house, to get $50,000 over asking price. That makes me so happy, like, that’s why they hired us! They’re going to reap that. This (house) was a major investment, that’s what that house was for them, and they got more than they thought they could. That just makes me so, so happy.”

Ohi Home’s top home staging tips:

Declutter! Less is usually more.

Depersonalize the home as much as possible by removing all personal photos and accessories.

Remove anything religious or polarizing.

Utilize neutral colors and lots of light.

Curb appeal is huge, so trim the trees, add mulch, and in general make things look tidy. “People know within 30 seconds of pulling up to a house if they’re interested or not,” says Francese. “If it looks terrible outside, they’re not going to go inside.”

Consider adding a fresh coat of paint to the front door, and add a brand-new welcome mat.

Learn more:; Office: (805) 633-9190; Cell: (805) 861-0961