Above: photo courtesy of housewhisperers.com
Wouldn’t it be great if you could confidently show clients houses for sale that actually look like families live there day after day? Maybe something like this…
Agent: “Here’s the family room. Don’t mind the shredded furniture and stained carpeting. They have three cats and a dog.”
Client: “No problem! We love animals!”
Agent: “And all those colored-pen pictures on the walls in the living room…they encourage their kids to be creative.”
Client: “They’re wonderful! Our little Susie loves to draw, too!”
Agent: “This is the son’s bedroom. Forgive the mountain of clothes, shoes, food wrappers and soda cans on the floor. And that odor will dissipate over time. He doesn’t open windows.”
Client: “It’s just like my Joey’s room!”
Agent: “The puddle here in the bathroom should dry up with a little bathtub caulking.”
Client: “My husband’s been promising to fix the bathroom showerhead for months now, so I get it! This house is perfect! We’ll take it!”
Alas, reality intrudes in real life, and almost all prospective buyers want to see houses in as near-perfect condition as possible. Plug and play, as they say.
So how best to showcase properties, to reverse the lived-in look, to make new eyes pop when they walk through the front door? Staging is the answer. Here, Alexander Chingas, a 20-year REALTOR® with the Bross Chingas Bross Team at Coldwell Banker Realty in Westport, Connecticut, and stager Susan Tracy, of Susan Tracy’s House Whisperers, headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, provide their expertise.
Who should employ staging when putting their home on the market?
Alexander Chingas: Most everyone selling their property can benefit from some type of staging or preparation. The exception is if the highest and best use of the property is for someone to come in and do a significant rehab or renovation, or if it’s a property where there will be a new house. But most everyone can benefit from taking stock. There are all kinds of statistics that say that the buyers arrive at some type of conclusion on whether they’re interested in near seconds of arriving, so it pays off to put some effort in.
What’s the mindset behind staging?
AC: To allow the house to really shine and be what the buyers are focused on so that they’re not being distracted by the personality that the homeowner has added to it, and they’re not pulled away from the job of evaluating whether or not it’s a place where they could live. The other thing that is important is that buyers are busy, working hard and spread thin. They place a lot of value on properties where they’ll have to do minimal to little work, and they’ll pay a premium for something that feels well-prepared for them to enjoy. Staging is a great return on investment for the home seller because there are a few things they can do at minimal cost to achieve a very good ROI.
Do you always hire a stager?
AC: No. Sometimes it’s just a matter of moving things around or painting. But when we do need their service, it can be very valuable because they know how to tie it all together, and some of them can manage a project and take the responsibility off the homeowner’s shoulders. I’m a big fan of working with a stager who really understands the particular niche market that a house fits into, and is plugged into the local market.
Are there many staging businesses?
AC: Yes, absolutely. A professional knows what buyers want to feel when they come into a home. They know how to transform that mood to reality, so it’s a very robust industry.
Where do they get all their furnishings?
AC: The best stagers have their own inventory. They have warehouses with things they’ve collected that work well for the aesthetic of their market. Small-business stagers will rent items from bigger stagers or furniture rental places. Sometimes staging does not involve bringing in new things; it’s working with what the homeowner already has, reassigning pieces to different areas in the house, and setting up different rooms. The staging industry now offers accreditation and designations you can earn, as well as all kinds of professional credentials, so it’s really become a profession.
What percent of houses are staged?
AC: Probably 75% get some type of preparation work to bring them to market, from a very small type of project to doing a refresh of an entire house.
Are homeowners always aware of the staging options when you meet with them?
AC: Reality TV shows about the real estate market have helped bring it to the forefront, so some people have a familiarity because they’re seeing all the shows on HGTV (Home & Garden Television) and the like. And we as a real estate industry are doing more to highlight the opportunity for clients to make some considered improvements in their properties and achieve a better result in the end, whether it’s a higher sale price, a shorter marketing time or both. So, all of that is making staging more a part of the consciousness of homesellers
What rooms need staging most?
AC: Even if the house is presenting really well, a good stager can still suggest things. For example, in today’s remote work environment, it’s very important to show at least one and usually two places in a house that can be used as a home office. So if there’s a room that lends itself to a home office, we like to highlight that. If there’s a second space, maybe it was a sitting room off a primary bedroom suite or an area in the lower level, we’re showing how that can be turned into where people can work from home.
Do stagers reconfigure rooms?
AC: Sometimes homeowners have personalized their house and made it very, very specific to their needs—and it might not make sense to the buyer as to how they would use it. So a room that a homeowner might not have a big use for, like a dining room, might have been assigned a more personal use, and we have to evaluate whether it should go back to its intended purpose.
Do clients ask if they can purchase furniture and other items from a staged house?
AC: Due to the supply chain issues that we’ve experienced of late, many buyers have wondered if the home stager will sell the furniture they’ve brought into a property. They may know it’s going to take several months to get their own pieces, and it’s important for them to comfortably enjoy the house right away. The stager’s furniture is already there, so they want to either rent it or buy it. It’s been especially popular with new construction homes, when a buyer is looking for no stress or difficulty. If they arrive and see the house beautifully presented, with a magazine-perfect appearance, they feel like they could just enjoy it as is. Very often the stagers will sell their furniture or rent it for a period of time. Their challenge is that those same supply chain issues that are leading the buyer to ask are making it harder for them to replenish their inventory as well. And if they’ve committed to use the collections of furnishings elsewhere, that also makes it hard.
Does the seller sign a contract with a stager?
AC: Most often there’s a written agreement because the homeowners like to know what the scope of work will be that’s included in the project. Usually there’s an arrangement that any furnishings that get brought in will remain for a certain number of months. If they have to remain longer, there’s a renewal rate that kicks in
How many houses can a stager do at once?
AC: The bigger ones can have 20 houses at one time that have some of their things in them. But they also do consulting and rearranging of properties without bringing things of their own in.
What else is new in staging?
AC: Some brokers now offer programs like ours, RealVitalize, where we front costs of upgrades and homeowners repay at closing with no interest and no fees. Plus, we can recommend people who can do all the things like roofers, masons, etc. Professionals are all licensed, insured and vetted. We source all the tradespeople so that they are available to finish projects, which takes the hassle out of doing it on an individual basis. Companies know that making an upfront investment creates happier clients. Houses sell for more money and faster, so it’s a very nice component to our business.
AC: Is there ever hesitancy from homeowners to stage?
There are always some that push back and don’t want to do anything to get their houses ready for the market, but people usually understand the benefits. If sellers pretend they’re buyers and look at other houses for sale, they usually appreciate walking into something that’s been thoughtfully prepared.
Susan Tracy sold houses for 20 years until the recession of 2008. Then she switched gears to become a stager, starting a business, Susan Tracy’s House Whisperers, that’s become one of the most successful in Connecticut.
How and why did you decide to become a house stager?
Susan Tracy: I’ve lived in 18 houses and always loved decorating them. I was into staging before there was staging. When you put beautiful furnishings into a house and people walk in, they understand having a relationship with the house. When me and my team go into a seller’s house, we’re able to fix the problems they don’t see through furnishings, lighting, painting and house whispering.
Why is staging so important?
ST: People looking to buy want to walk into a house and think how they would live there, how they would use it. Staging really enhances every element. When it’s a seller’s advantage, people say houses are already flying off the market without staging. Well, staging helps them fly off the market at a much higher price.
What’s the most important part of the house to stage?
ST: You always want to do the whole first floor, as you don’t want it to look like the people ran out of money. From there, stage any other room that’s unusual or unique. Reconfiguring rooms is also important. Like the home office desk should face the door because people like to see who’s coming in.
How long does it take to stage a house?
ST: We are a well-oiled design machine. We can design it in a day and roll it all out in a day and a half. We’re like a production team doing a commercial in a day.
What’s the cost to stage?
ST: $10,000 to $25,000 for a large house, and a little less for a smaller one. I know they will get between $50,000 and $200,000 more from the sale. You leave a lot of money on the table if you don’t quality-stage.
Do buyers often want to purchase staged furnishings?
ST: Some do buy, but the reality is that 90% ask about it until they find out how expensive it is, then they don’t buy. And they often call to say they were sorry they didn’t. It’s not just about buying furniture. We’ve put together the vision for the home. We’re stylists.