Home Staging 101

By Jill M. Banks
Happily Better After Room Redesign & Home Staging
 
Home staging 101 for home selling.

Once just used to market high-end vacant homes, the practice of home staging has proven to be a successful selling tool for all types of properties. Yet, the majority of homes are listed unstaged, and sit on the market for months without attracting offers from prospective buyers. When combined with competitive pricing, staged homes tend to sell quickly, so why do many homeowners forego staging their homes for sale? Because despite its coverage in the media, most sellers do not really understand what it involves or how it can benefit them. Here’s a rundown of staging basics, and its effect on how buyers respond to a home.
 
What is Home (or Real Estate) Staging?

Simply put, staging is preparing and showcasing a property for sale. It is a sophisticated practice that makes a home more marketable by using knowledge of real estate, home renovations, and creative design to attract a buyer. Unlike decorating, the goal of staging is to make a home appeal to the popular tastes of buyers, not the seller. It typically involves the following activities:
  • De-Cluttering: Removing or storing excess furniture, accessories, and everyday items to make the home look spacious.
  • De-Personalizing: Removing distinct signs of the seller’s decorating preferences and lifestyle so buyers can imagine themselves living there.
  • Updating: Making sure that a home’s colors and finishes reflect current popular tastes, and are not immediately associated with a specific decade.
  • Neutralizing: Ensuring that the colors, materials, and finishes in the home can easily adapt to different decorating styles.
  • Styling: Arranging furniture to emphasize focal points and architectural details, improve traffic flow, support each room’s purpose, and maximize spaciousness; and adding or positioning decorative accents and lighting to make rooms look and feel inviting.
  • Cleaning: Making sure all surfaces are free of dirt, stains, and dust; reflective surfaces sparkle; and the home looks bright and smells fresh throughout.
While staging occupied and vacant homes is equally effective, they require opposite approaches. The staging of occupied homes involves editing the seller’s furnishings and décor choices so potential buyers can imagine themselves living there. Vacant home staging adds furniture and accessories to make the home feel less sterile, and help buyers get a better feel for the sizes of each room and how much furniture they can hold.
Staging is not just for a home’s interior;the principles described above are also applied to the exterior of a home to create "curb appeal"--a neat and inviting appearance from the street. It may involve trimming trees and shrubbery, freshening planting beds, adding potted flowers, power washing, painting, or adding new accessories, like a mailbox or house numbers.
 
How Does Staging Benefit Sellers?

"Why should I spend money on a home I’m trying to sell?" is a question many sellers ask about staging. Once a home is on the market, it essentially becomes a product that needs to be properly priced, packaged, and promoted to attract buyers. Staging ensures that a home is "packaged" to appeal to buyers, which gives sellers the following advantages:
  • Competitively priced professionally staged properties sell faster. Even in a slow real estate market, staged homes consistently attract offers more quickly than those that have not been staged. Staging saves sellers money in the long run by decreasing the number of days the home is on the market, in turn reducing carrying costs and the need for price reductions. According to a survey by the Real Estate Staging Association in 2011, competitively priced homes that were staged before listing—regardless if they were occupied or vacant--sold roughly 4 times faster than comparable unstaged properties. Even properties that went on the market unstaged and were staged after not attracting offers for 90 days or more sold in an average of 42 days after staging.
  • Photos of staged listings look better than photos of vacant or unstaged listings. Over 85% of buyers begin their home searches online, and listings that include photos of clean, bright, staged homes capture attention more often than listings of vacant or unstaged homes. Also, buyers’ agents are more inclined to request showings of staged homes for their clients.
  • Professionally staged homes are regarded as "well-maintained," and stand out in prospective buyers' minds. Homes that have updated colors, finishes, and amenities are viewed as a better value because they are "move-in ready" and the buyer will not have to spend additional money on repairs or renovations right away.
  • Professional staging helps preserve a home’s value at appraisal. Staging identifies and addresses basic maintenance, repair, and cosmetic issues, which can include replacing outdated fixtures or appliances with energy-efficient ones—improving, or at least protecting, the overall value of the home.
  • Professional staging bridges the age gap between buyers and sellers.  The average first-time buyer is 31 years old, and the average seller is 53 years old, and they have different preferences and values when it comes to homes. Staging takes these different perspectives into account, and addresses the lifestyle differences between generations.
Types of Staging Services Available

When it comes to preparing a home for sale, much of the basic work can be completed by the seller, but hiring a professional adds a level of polish that most homeowners cannot achieve on their own. Professional stagers have specialized training, experience, and knowledge about what design features help a home sell. Even when sellers decide to do the work themselves, advice from a professional stager can help sellers make strategic choices about which updates to make, so they will get a better return on their home improvement investment. The specific services professional stagers offer varies, but generally fall into the following categories:
  • Professional Advice: Most staging projects start with a consultation or assessment, where a stager visits the home to do a walk-through, noting any issues that should be addressed to prepare the home for sale. These recommendations will focus on the colors, finishes, fixtures, and furnishings in every room of the home. For some homeowners, the advice alone is sufficient for them to do the staging on their own, or they may request a detailed do-it-yourself (DIY) plan to guide them. This option gives sellers the most control over staging costs, because they are doing the work themselves, with their choice of products, at their own pace.
  • Virtual Staging: This service creates realistic rendered images from photographs of a vacant home that show buyers what the rooms would look like if they were professionally staged. In some cases, virtual staging can be used on occupied homes, showing the rooms with different wall colors or less clutter. Unlike traditional staging, however, virtual staging does not make any actual changes to the home itself, so at showings, buyers will see the home in its unstaged state, and the maintenance and repairs commonly addressed during physical staging may not be done.
  • Targeted Staging: When the staging budget is limited, but a professionally staged look is desired, targeted or "impact" staging is an option.The service focuses on specific rooms, involves a few hours of styling, or involves renting packages of accessories for a predetermined staging period. These services are often charged as a flat fee, so costs are predictable for sellers.
  • Full-Service Staging: This comprehensive service provides the "biggest bang for the buck," and addresses all areas of the home. It is often recommended for homes where the colors, fixtures, furnishings, and accessories are very taste-specific or outdated, and need to be substantially refined or replaced to appeal to today’s buyers. For vacant homes, full-service staging often involves renting furniture and accessories to create a model home look, which gives buyers a better sense of decorating possibilities, suggests room uses, and provides a point of reference regarding room size and scale.  
The cost of professional staging is dependent on several factors: the size and condition of the home, the level of service desired, the seller’s budget, whether rental furniture and accessories are needed, and if any third-party contracting work (painting, electrical, carpentry, etc.) is required. After an initial assessment, a stager will provide a quote for their services, based on their observations and recommendations. A directory of local professional stagers can be found on the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) website at www.realestatestagingassociation.com.
 
Whether using a DIY approach or enlisting the help of a professional to help a home look its best, staging is a good investment that will attract more buyer and agent attention online, in print, and in person, and presents a home as a good value that is in move-in-ready condition. Even if a home has been on the market for a while but has not received much attention from buyers, staging is an effective way to maximize its appeal, and should be considered as a part of every home seller’s marketing strategy. 

Jill M. Banks is the owner of Happily Better After Room Redesign & Home Staging (www.happilybetterafter.com), an award-winning firm specializing in home staging, room makeover, and professional organizing services. Since 2009, she has helped clients throughout southern NJ reveal the fabulous potential in their homes and offices, whether they plan to sell or stay. Her expert advice has been featured in Burlington County Woman and Camden County Woman magazines, "The Joyful Organizer" podcast, MSN Real Estate, AOL Real Estate, BHG.com, and several decorating blogs and websites. She is one of the expert panelists for eLocal’s Home Expert Network, and writes on interior decorating topics for Examiner.com