How Home Staging Works


The cardinal rule of home staging? Clean, clean, clean. See more real estate images.
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If you're selling a home these days, in most parts of the country, just putting up a for sale sign and hoping for the best probably won't be enough. In a sluggish real-estate market, homeowners sometimes have to take extra steps to make a sale. For sellers trying to make a good impression, home staging has become a popular way to increase a home's selling price and decrease selling time.

Home staging is arranging furniture and decor with the intent to showcase a home for sale. It could cost you nothing -- a simple cleaning and the removal of day-to-day living items can sometimes be all you need. But it can also involve some financial investment -- like painting, improving the landscaping and adding furniture and plants to give potential buyers an idea of what their new home would look like.

However, staging isn't decorating, according to real-estate professionals. It's more like depersonalizing a home so that prospective buyers can imagine themselves in it. This can mean removing family photos, piles of newspapers and the cat's litter box, as well as adding neutral-colored paint and carpet and buying new appliances.

So where do you start? Should you hire someone to stage your home for you, or can you do it yourself? If you want to hire someone, where do you look? If you do it yourself, what do you need to know? Do staged homes actually sell faster and for more money? We'll answer all of those questions as we explore how home staging works.

Hiring a Home Stager

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Home staging isn't a new idea. It started on the West Coast in the 1970s, but the concept has spread across the country. According to the Wall Street Journal Guide to Property, "There are three primary factors home shoppers consider when deciding whether to bite on a property: the location, the condition and the price." Since a homeowner can't change the location and would want to stay firm on the price, that leaves condition as the most important variable. Most homeowners probably wouldn't show their house without at least tidying it up, but staging a home involves other, more subtle, improvements that can make a home more attractive to buyers.

Professional home stagers are known as Accredited Staging Professionals (ASPs). Your real-estate agent could be able to help you stage the home (some agents are also ASPs) or recommend a stager.

One benefit of home stagers is that they often have their own supplies -- like furniture, rugs and art -- which reduces the time and money spent looking for "neutral" items. They also provide objective insight.

If you're already strapped for cash, adding another person to the mix may not be feasible. But when you consider that many sellers end up lowering their price about $5,000 to $10,000 from the initial offering, it could be worth it. Most estimates put the average home-staging fee at around $500 to a few thousand dollars for a home that's priced at less than a million dollars. However, if extensive staging is necessary, like new paint and furniture or expensive landscaping, that price can quickly go up.

You can typically find home-staging professionals through your real-estate agent or on the Internet. Just make sure they can supply credentials and multiple references.

Next, we'll look at what you need to know to stage a home on your own.

DIY Home Staging

You can rent upscale furniture if yours needs an upgrade.
You can rent upscale furniture if yours needs an upgrade.
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If you decide to go it alone, you can still take some tips from the pros. The No. 1 piece of advice for do-it-yourselfers is to ask for honest opinions from family and friends about what needs to be changed. Most homeowners are too personally connected to be objective about their home's contents. But remember: Your home is no longer your home -- it's a product on the market.

Most professional home stagers contend that most people will have to spend little to no money on extra furniture and accessories. There are three major exceptions:

  1. If you're selling a multimillion-dollar property, any obviously inexpensive or outdated furniture will probably need to be replaced. You can typically rent upscale furniture for a few months.
  2. If the appliances are completely out of date, they will drop the value of the house. Many stagers recommend buying stainless steel, but as long as everything looks current and is in good working condition, you'll have more luck selling.
  3. If there is extreme color in your home, buyers will have a tough time imagining themselves living there. Purple carpets, orange countertops, pink walls and tie-dyed furniture could cause a distraction. Most experts recommend investing in neutral paint and floors and replacing unusual furniture with less eye-catching pieces.

Another good investment, according to most home stagers, is renting storage space. There might be enough room in the house for you to stash everything you need to hide, but you'll want to free up that space so buyers can see it. A storage space can be a safer place for valuables and important documents, which you may not want to have easily accessible to potential buyers.

One easy way to check out how much staging and remodeling projects can add to your home is to check out Costvsvalue.com, which calculates how much cost can be recouped from a variety of home projects.

In the next section, we'll review how the home's exterior, or "curb appeal," can be enhanced.

Curb Appeal

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Let's start with the home's exterior -- or "curb appeal," in real-estate speak. Staging professionals say that the outside of the home makes the first impression, so cross the street and consider what you see. The pros offer this advice:

  • Can you see the house? Trim hedges, trees and grass so that your house is "framed" like a photo. Make messy hedges uniform in shape, and add color with flowers.
  • Color is good in flower beds, but not necessarily on the house: Most experts advise a three-color maximum, and many advise using only two paint colors. If you don't have the money to paint, at least pressure-wash the house, shutters and walkways.
  • There are other, sneakier ways to stage the outside of a home. One way to make a dead lawn come to life is to steal a trick from golf courses and spray-paint it. There are nontoxic paints on the market that can cover brown spots in the grass.
  • Another way is to add artificial flowers, shrubs and trees. Most silk arrangements, typically arranged in large planters, won't last long outside in the elements, but many can hold up for a couple months -- long enough for you to sell your home.
  • Make sure the yard is mowed, raked and generally in good shape. Remove toys and pet accessories (and also any sign of pets inside the house). Ask friends or family if they can watch your pet during a showing, so you can get rid of the dog bones and kitty litter. If you have a deck, some stagers suggest buying a new grill to give buyers an idea of where they could be enjoying an evening outside.

Next, we'll head inside to check out how to stage the interior of your home.

Home Staging Tips

Clear appliances off kitchen counters -- you want to sell counter space, not clutter.
Clear appliances off kitchen counters -- you want to sell counter space, not clutter.
Rosanne Olson/Digital Vision/Getty Images

There are easy, affordable ways to spruce up the inside of your home. The general advice is this:

Clean, clean, clean. This is the most important rule of staging a home. And cleaning doesn't just mean vacuuming the carpet and scrubbing the bathroom (although that's important, too). It includes cleaning under the countertops, replacing shower curtains, cleaning the grout between tiles, steam-cleaning the carpets, dusting the crown molding and ceiling fans, washing the windows (inside and out), polishing all fixtures and wiping down all appliances (inside and out). There should be no sign of dirt anywhere, and sometimes homeowners miss spots because they forget that some places even exist -- for instance, windowsills and closet interiors. Using a professional cleaning service might be a wise investment.

Sell the space, not the stuff. You're going to have to clear out your things so buyers don't have to look past your family photos to see your home. To prevent potential buyers from getting distracted, you should remove all memorabilia. Some stagers even recommend removing mirrors so buyers don't get sidetracked by seeing themselves. However, others say that mirrors can make a room appear larger, so it can depend on the home. And clearing the kitchen counters of appliances allows you to sell the counter space instead of the appliances. After all this purging, you could be left with empty walls, so many home stagers will find cheap art outside -- it can be as simple as gathering leaves and enclosing them in simple frames. Most stagers also recommend depersonalizing bathrooms by replacing personal hygiene items with plants or pottery.

You should also arrange furniture so it's easy for potential buyers to navigate a room. Typically, this involves removing furniture (another good reason to rent storage space), but also pay attention to the room as a whole -- if there's too much furniture or decor on one side, it can feel lopsided. And whatever you do use to decorate, group them in objects of three at varying heights to make them pleasing to the eye but not distracting or cluttering.

Let there be light. If a room is clean (and it should be), let the buyers see it. Most pros recommend maximizing natural light by opening curtains and shades -- some even suggest removing all window dressings, as long as there aren't obvious holes and nails in the wall when they're taken down. If weather permits, open windows let in fresh air, an added bonus because it removes your scent, which can further distract buyers. Also, turn on all the lights in the house to make rooms appear brighter and bigger.

In the next section, we'll find out just how much you can gain from home staging.

How much value does home staging add?

The scent of fresh homemade cookies makes a home seem inviting and comforting.
The scent of fresh homemade cookies makes a home seem inviting and comforting.
Nicholas Monu/Photodisc/Getty Images

According to some pros, a staged home can bring in 6 to 20 percent more than the same home without staging [source: Staged Homes]. In a slumping market, however, the goal may be to retain as much of the original price as possible. If you want (or need) to quickly unload your property, you might have to lower the asking price -- but home staging could help you avoid that. Real-estate agents usually recommend lowering the home price about 3 percent after a few months [source: National Association of Realtors]. On a $250,000 home, that's a reduction of $7,500. Most professional home stagers charge less than $5,000. According to StagedHomes.com, 91 percent of homes staged by accredited professionals sell in one month or less. So, if your staged home sells quickly, you could be saving yourself from a price reduction.

According to the National Association of Realtors, national home sales for October 2007 were down 5.1 percent compared to the previous year. If a home is on the market for a year, the homeowner would have to cut the price by an average of 5 percent, so a $250,000 home would be reduced about $12,000.

Most reputable stagers and real-estate agents agree that staging can only help so much, though. If no one is coming to look at the house, it's the fault of the price. But if a lot of people are looking but not making offers, staging can help. The buyers just need an incentive -- and if they see a more attractive house, they can imagine it being worth the price.

Take a look at the links on the next page for more information about home staging.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Barta, Patrick. "How to Decide When to Lower Your Price." The Wall Street Journal Guide to Property. http://www.realestatejournal.com/columnists/housetalk/20031107-barta.html
  • Center Stage Home. http://www.centerstagehome.com
  • "Designed to Sell." http://www.hgtv.com/hgtv/shows_hdts/
  • Doerfler, Sue. "Staging the Sale: A professional makeover can add sparkle to houses that linger on the market." Arizona Republic, Nov. 4, 2006.
  • Hodges, Jane. "Staging: A home makeover in a few hours." Seattle Times, Aug. 26, 2007.
  • National Association of Realtors. http: www.realtor.org
  • Owens, Donna M. "Setting the Stage: In a buyer's market, smart home sellers know the right scenery can make all the difference." Baltimore Sun, Oct. 21, 2007.
  • Remodeling Online. http://www.costvsvalue.com/index.html
  • Schwarz, Barb. "Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell Your House for More Money." 2006.
  • StageHomes.com. http://www.stagedhomes.com
  • Stark, Judy. "Identify the values in remodeling." St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 15, 2007.