In 2008, when the economy tanked, MBH lost some $1 million in uncollected fees. The damage would have been worse had Brett not developed relationships with groups that were buying and flipping distressed properties. The jobs paid only $6,000 to $7,000—less than Baer’s traditional minimum of $10,000—but the properties moved quickly. As the economy recovered, MBH emerged with a new set of partners, and Baer’s team now stages houses in five other states.
Baer’s own home, bought in 2000, is warm and lived-in. One of Hockney’s Celias hangs near the entryway, and a first-edition SUMO, the giant $15,000 Helmut Newton photography book published by Taschen, is open on a stand; she got it in a trade for work she did for a cash-poor client. Shelves are decorated with books and objets: an iridescent glass vase that belonged to her mother and a grouping of what appear to be antique wooden deities. “I collect figures that are about worship or have been worshipped,” Baer says. “They’re like little symbols of prayer, from different countries and civilizations. They mean freedom of belief to me.”
Baer personally stages about six projects a year, working with one of her staff. “You’ll never see me happier,” she says, “than when I’m moving furniture around.” But she delegates most of the homes to her designers. Fifteen percent of the projects—mostly homes purchased by overseas buyers—are bought fully furnished, Baer estimates. For sellers, she has a few tips: “White paint makes a room look fresh and larger, and white sofas allow you to change the color scheme easily; just change the pillows, throws, rugs and art! People have trouble imagining how they’d live in your home, so spell it out for them. Open a cookbook on the counter or put a carafe of water and a novel by the bed. When showing the property during the day, turn on all the lights to make it look even brighter, and for evening showings, dim the lights to give the room a soft, inviting glow.”
Friends have suggested she cash in—sell the company and retire—but “I can’t wait to get to work each morning,” Baer says. She spends much of her time shopping for furniture and accessories, scouring flea markets and estate sales. On a recent visit to Bali, she filled two 50-foot shipping containers with furniture, fabrics, art and objects. “Having more money isn’t going to make me happy,” she says. “I love what I do.”