How 'Staging' a House Can Pay Off for Sellers
Authored: Penny Doherty
Publisher: The Wall Street Journal
Mary Summers believes she could have sold her two-story colonial
in Severna Park, Md., for $10,000 to $20,000 more if she and her
husband had merchandised or "staged" it properly. Her
four-bedroom house, originally listed at $470,000 in December, sold
for $450,000 in February.
Unfortunately, brokers from the Summers's real-estate agency were
only learning the sales technique of staging a home as it was closing
at the lower price. By the time her agency had learned how to provide
this gentle art of temporarily redecorating a house to facilitate
a buyer's purchase the sale was complete. But Mrs. Summers, who
enjoys decorating and remodeling, decided to let a group of local
agents enrolled in staging class practice on her house after-the-fact.
"It was the wildest experience I've ever had. They went all
over the house, they even went in closets and updated the house
with things I'd bought for the new place," she says. Using
her existing furniture, the group changed the look of several first-floor
rooms. They expanded the dining table in her French-provincial dining
room, made creative use of holiday linens, and moved an old trestle-style
sewing table from an upstairs room into the dining room. In the
living room, they switched pictures and mirrors on the wall with
art from other rooms of the house and also traded accessories, such
as lamps, from other rooms. "They found props all over the
house," she said. "They gave it a whole new feel."
Realtors forever have advised sellers on techniques -- picking up
clutter, hiding dirty dishes in the dishwasher, brewing an aromatic
tea -- to make prospective buyers feel comfortable. But effectively
preparing a house to show at its best goes well beyond such obvious
Indeed, these days, realtors themselves are learning the principles
of staging or establishing referral relationships with staging professionals
to help homes sell both faster and for more money.
West Coast Realtor Barb Schwarz is credited with inventing staging
in 1972. Ms. Schwarz, who divides her time between Seattle and the
Bay Area, says she has trained 500,000 realtors and interior decorators
on concepts such as the "three Cs" (cleanliness, clutter
reduction and color) to give homes more appeal.
A student of theater who began working in real estate, Ms. Schwarz
realized that, rather than decorating to showcase their own belongings,
homeowners needed help to show off their home's architectural features.
"Buyers are the audience," she says. "I couldn't
get sellers to do what I wanted them to do to their houses to make
them sell." Sellers who took her advice sold their homes faster
and for more money.
Marketing a Product
Ms. Schwarz says there are at least three price levels at which
a staging professional can stage a home, ranging from simply rearranging
furniture to emptying a house out and filling it with rented furniture.
Some gestures require only a few minor purchases -- a few ficus
trees, new linens -- while sellers with bigger budgets might do
minor landscaping, repainting, or re-wallpapering.
Since 1972, Ms. Schwarz has staged and sold 1,600 homes and won't
handle a listing without using the approach. But most real-estate
agents don't conduct the staging itself, she says. Instead, they
provide homeowners with tips or referrals to stagers who charge
between $30 and $150 an hour. Some realtors pay part of the staging
fee, while others let the seller handle it.
Staging speeds up sales in a sluggish market, and, Ms. Schwarz
says, can bump up prices 2% to 10% in a moderate market. The biggest
advantage occurs with luxury homes or in a market with bidding wars
over properties, where effective staging can boost prices by 20%
Ms. Schwarz applied her technique to a Minnesota luxury home, listed
at $1.4 million, that had been on the market for nine months. The
house was cluttered, full of baby toys and needed new carpeting,
some landscaping, and new accessories. The family invested $25,000
-- more than she normally recommends -- to make the changes. But
the owners sold their house for $1,925,000 -- an increase of more
The bulk of Ms. Schwarz's students are real-estate agents, but she
says that interior decorators and entrepreneurs increasingly are
among the 2,500 who have earned their Accredited Staging Professional
(A.S.P.) credentials, a five-year-old designation that means they've
completed a two-day classroom course and hands-on practice staging
a real home. Staging has even gone international: In Hungary, where
houses sit on the market from six to nine months, staging has helped
cut sale time to three months.
"Staging gets the buyer focused on architectural features,
not the owner's belongings," says Joanne Frances, a former
interior designer and organizer who became a staging instructor
four years ago in Baltimore. "The way you live in your house
and the way you [arrange your belongings to] sell it are different.
You can't have cat dishes lying around, dirty towels in the hamper,
and dishes out on the counter."
A dirty house "instantaneously gets a reputation among agents,"
she notes. Many agents avoid confronting a customer about the condition
of their house by referring them to staging professionals. In Maryland
suburbs, many agents are paying the $200-to-$600 cost associated
with a one- or two-day staging, "worth it when the alternative
is lowering the price in 30 days," says Ms. Frances.
Looking Through a Buyer's Eyes
Jan Beury is one of her students. A 29-year real-estate agent in
the Annapolis suburb of Crofton, Md., Ms. Beury has staged many
homes for clients. "People can't see through the things they're
attached to in their house," she says, noting that she frequently
encounters messy homes with worn carpeting, pet smells and bent
blinds. Fixing such problems means the home "will sell faster,
even within a day or two," she says. Ms. Beury includes staging
in her fee and does much of the work herself; she works with only
three listings at a time.
Crofton, a waterfront town where townhouses sell for $100,000 to
$350,000, and houses go for $300,000 to $500,000, is popular with
commuters and families, and most have good decorating sense. "But
there are also people who desperately need me," she adds. "There
are several listings that I wouldn't have taken if the owners didn't
let me stage."
Among them: A small townhouse that had been on the market for a
month at $100,000 with another broker. The townhouse had a smelly
dog, no decorating scheme, and so much clutter that the carpet was
invisible. After she took over the listing, Ms. Beury rented a storage
unit and removed furniture and clutter. Then she rearranged the
remaining furniture so the property looked more spacious. She also
made changes to the wall décor and angled the furniture to
better showcase the windows and let in more light. Between those
gestures, a cleaning, and some air freshening, the couple sold their
home within a week -- at $110,000, or 10% more than their original
Bobbi Hauser, who has staged homes in the suburbs north of Chicago
for 10 years, learned about staging when she had a resort bungalow
to sell. A painter who had begun studying interior design, she decided
to make some changes to the property. "I was worried I wouldn't
get enough for it," she says. After the staging, she hiked
the list price by $15,000 and found a buyer.
She earned her real-estate license in 1997, but also stages for
$100 an hour with rental furniture and props she keeps in her interior-design
store. Most jobs take three hours because, she says, most people
have what they need in their homes already but don't know it.
Ms. Schwarz envisions realtors eventually will pay for staging,
particularly when they're competing to land a listing. She notes
that three-fourths of her own staging projects take less than one
day to complete.