Channel Your Inner Design Star

Interested in launching a staging career or adding staging services to your real estate marketing plan? Here's how.

September 14, 2011

Learning how to properly arrange furniture and enhance a home’s appeal so it shows in the best light is a growing business in the real estate industry. And more real estate professionals realize such skills are good to have in getting properties sold for top dollar.

Surveys have shown that staging homes can net sellers more money as well as help properties sell faster. Realizing the benefits, some sales associates are looking to add staging to their list of client value-added services, while others are even pursuing a staging career on the side to earn extra income.

It’s Not Fluffing Pillows

Admitting to sellers that their home is “covered in clutter” or that it maybe even “smells like cat urine” isn’t easy. Staging can require some finesse, taking care not to offend. It also requires developing knowledge of how to battle key trouble areas in a home and enhance features to increase the home’s marketability and get it sold, says real estate broker and stager Barb Schwarz, who is credited with coining the term “home staging” inthe 1970sand who has introduced thousands of real estate professionals to it throughthe Accredited Staging Professional courses and designation. Schwarz is also founder of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

Staging can include everything from full staging services for occupied and vacant properties to furniture or accessory rental, color consultation, positioning the property in the best light for photographing, and even consultation done virtually by enhancing photographs to show the possibilities.

Stagers set their own fees, but on average, consultation prices range from $200 to $500. However, a full staging job can reach upwards of $5,000.

Oftentimes those outside of the business are unaware of what’s involved in a staging career — the insurance, contracts, invoicing, marketing, pricing process, and so on — and consider staging just “the decorating business, when we are in fact in the real estate business,” says Christine Rae, president and CEO of the Certified Staging Professionals International Staging Training Academy. In 2005, Rae launched an international staging certification program called the Certified Staging Professionals and the Canadian CSP.

“The work we do affects and impacts the sale of a property and ultimately the equity secured in the sale,” she says.

Want to Get Started? Get Training

Whether you want to embark on a staging career, stage for your clients only, or just learn how to partner up with stagers, you’ll find plenty of training programs to choose from. Staging training programs can range anywhere from $200 to $1,500 or so. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help narrow your selection:

•  What do you want from staging? This can greatly influence what type of training program will serve you best. For example, if you want to launch a staging business, you’ll want to find a program that goes beyond teaching you the fundamentals of staging but also provides guidance on how to run a staging business (such as contracts, pricing, marketing, and so on). If you’re looking to learn how to stage to offer it only to your home sellers, you may want to find a staging program specifically geared to real estate professionals, such as through REALTOR® University, ASP, CSP, or The Power of Staging (which even developed a word for real estate pros who stage — “stagents”). Or if you have no staging ambitions but want to learn how to add a stager to your marketing team and communicate the benefits of staging to clients, you’ll find training programs for that, too (for instance, ASP offers atwo-day designation program for real estate professionals).

•  Do you want a classroom setting with hands-on instruction or online training with virtual instruction? Some programs offer hands-on training in a classroom, while others offer tutorials and video training online. Some programs can be completed in a few hours online while others require several days.

•  What’s the reputation? Research, ask questions, and interview people who have taken the program to find out what they liked or disliked about it, suggests Rae, coauthor of Home Staging for Dummies (Wiley, 2008). Does the curriculum match your interests and was the curriculum developed by someone with vast knowledge about the staging industry or a savvy marketer trying to make an extra buck? “Get educated by people who are in the field and who have high standards, [and] make sure you have after-class support,” Rae suggests.

•  Do you want to earn a staging designation? Some staging programs, such as the Accredited Staging Professionals and Certified Staging Professionals — two of the largest professional staging organizations — offer designations in staging. Such programs also offer ongoing training after you complete the program, including networking opportunities to share leads and referrals, as well as assistance in promoting your business through its staging directories.

Furniture and Accessories Inventory: Do You Really Need It?

Many stagers have an inventory of furniture and accessories that they can bring in to spruce up a property. Do you need a stash from the get-go?

“Don’t buy any until you have a job,” Rae suggests for beginners. “Only invest what you can afford; don’t buy large items unless you plan on getting into the furniture rental business. Each job is different.”

Once you do start building your inventory, be sure to select items that have a consistency in quality, style, and color. For example, Andy Capelluto, author and founder of The Power of Staging, says versatile pieces, such as throw pillows, area rugs, mirrors, and blown-glass vases that can be used for flowers and candles, tend to be good beginner staging inventory items.

However, many beginner stagers just rely on using the home owner’s own furnishings and accessories to stage. Or they may create simple vignettes in empty homes — such as a vase of fresh flowers on a table or white, luxurious towels in a bathroom — that provide special presentation touches throughout a home without having to bring in tons of furniture.

Business Insurance and Contracts: How About All of That Important Stuff?

You’ll need insurance coverage, both commercial general liability and errors and omissions insurance, before you set foot in a client’s home to reduce your liability risk.You’ll also need contract forms to make sure that you and your client are protected. This is where many staging training programs can help in providing you with sample forms, contracts, and legal documents. You can also find guides and resources through the Real Estate Staging Association.

Market Yourself

Regardless if you plan to make staging a part-time gig or only for your clients, showing off your new skills through your marketing can help you gain the edge in landing new business.

Use your Web site to promote your staging services, including before-and-after photo staging samples as well as testimonials from others raving about your good work. Many staging professionals also have a CD of before-and-after photos that they can show clients during initial meetings when bidding for business. (Tip: Take a range of photos of rooms you stage — both before and after — from multiple angles to use in your portfolio.)

More of the public is paying attention to staging, so making it part of your marketing can really set you apart as a real estate professional, experts say.

“The public is driving this in today’s economy because of more television, blogging, and media attention toward staging,” Schwarz says. “Regardless of whether the economy is hot or not, to get your home sold in the quickest amount of time for the most amount of money, more people are realizing it has to be staged for sale.”

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