Staging, Part II: Hiring a Professional Stager

Pro stagers help you make homes look inviting for showings.

May 1, 2002

A difficult listing, such as a home that's vacant or in a high price range, might drive you to seek professional help... from a professional stager that is.

"It is difficult to show a vacant home well," says Mareya Burton with World Stage Design, a California company. "People walk in and they are looking for a place to hang hats. If the home is empty, and it echoes, it gives a negative vibe. Showing a room to its best potential is done with well placed and appointed furnishings."

Burton works with builders and salespeople to move property more quickly. "We go into homes for resale or spec homes and do anything from helping the homeowner with clutter to completely refurnishing the home."

Staging can be helpful in minimizing faults and maximizing desirable elements. "For a vacant home, sometimes you walk in and think it is smaller than it is," explains Burton. "A resale home can appear dark or cluttered. Highlighting focal points can make a room feel more welcoming."

Professionals stagers such as Burton maintain a large inventory of furnishings and accessories, carry their own insurance, and have access to special resources such as art gallery or antique rentals. Although they employ some elements of interior design, stagers aren't typically licensed interior designers. "An interior design is customized to the needs of the person living in the home. A stager goes in and furnishes as neutrally as possible to appeal to the widest audience," clarifies Burton. "We give ideas for placement and we pick focal points."

A staging job on a $1 million home can run in the thousands of dollars and typically involves a two-month contract, and month-to-month after that, says Burton.

Is staging worth the time and expense? According to California-based salesperson Joy Valentine, it is.

"I've seen many times properties sell for 10 or 15 percent more than they would have because they were staged," says Valentine. "I stage 75 percent of the homes I sell."

To test her theory that staging does result in higher sales prices for homes, Valentine conducted an analysis of 2,772 properties that sold between March 1, 1999 and September 30, 1999 in eight cities, including Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Los Altos to determine what effect, if any, staging had upon the net price, percentage of sales price over list price and the length of time on the market.

She found that the average days on market was 30.89, and the average difference of sales price over list price was 1.6 percent in all samples, including staged and unstaged homes.

Staged homes (120 properties) stayed on the market for only 13.9 days and sold at 6.32 percent over list price.

Although her survey was conducted at the height of the California sellers' market, Valentine feels that the conclusions are significant for salespeople, interior designers, prospective sellers, and buyers.

"California is on the cutting edge of the staging phenomenon," says Valentine, who contacted colleagues across the country with her results. With the exception of a few areas, such as Dallas, she says, staging hasn't caught on in other states.

Although some may sneer that staging exploits the buyer, it presents the buyer with real value. Knowing what size and types of furniture complement a room can be helpful in visualizing living in the home.

"Sellers and salespeople are missing the bet," says Valentine. "If the staging works, you are presenting the home the way the buyers could have it. Buyers often don't have the vision of what a home could look like and they may pay more for the property when they see what they like. Some people even buy the home the way it is staged. In the very high end properties, I've heard of buyers taking the house and the furniture."

If staging is so effective, why aren't more salespeople using it to sell homes? "The reason it isn't done is that salespeople are intimidated by sellers and afraid to lose the listing if they bear down too hard," explains Valentine.

Often staging is used as a last-ditch effort to sell an overpriced listing. By then it may be too late. "You see salespeople overpricing property out of ignorance or intimidation, or they are "buying the listing," says Valentine. "If the salesperson isn't convinced that staging adds value then they aren't going to communicate it."

"Salespeople have to be secure with their position as experts. It requires a strong personality and confidence to communicate with sellers," says Valentine. "They should think about their own personal feelings about walking into a vacant house, or a house with faded, dated furniture, discolored lampshades, with artwork that is too high on the walls. By contrast, walking into a place that is beautifully balanced delights the eye."

(c) Copyright 2002 Realty Times. Reprinted with permission.

Blanche Evans is a writer/editor and CEO of evansEmedia. Formerly, she was a senior editor with Realty Times, where she was named by REALTOR® Magazine as one of the most influential people in the real estate industry.

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