A home staged by Noleen Bester’s NB Designs.
A home staged by Noleen Bester’s NB Designs.

Sell your home faster

Professional stagers can enhance a property’s appeal, which could mean more bids sooner, and possibly even a higher sale price.

Whar would make you happy when selling your home? Probably two things: getting a good price and doing the deal quickly. One way to further these goals, particularly with a high-end property, is to hire a stager.

“Many real estate agents regularly work with stagers to prepare homes for sale,” says Michelle Minch of Moving Mountains Design Home Staging in Pasadena, California. “That ensures that your home will sell as quickly as possible and for the highest possible price.”

With ultra-high-priced homes, “stagers are used 99 percent of the time unless the property has recently been redecorated,” says Lea Governale, manager and associate broker with Weichert Properties in New York City. She suggests working with your real estate agent to find stagers who have a good track record in your area. It’s also smart to look for ones who are Accredited Staging Professionals and members of the American Society of Interior Design as well as the Real Estate Staging Association or International Association of Home Staging Professionals.

Why might staging help? “The way we live in our homes is not the way one sells a home,” says Orlando Reyes of Dec My Home Staging & Redesign in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Interior design trends are important, too, but the crux of the matter is this: what people love about their homes is personal to them. Unfortunately, it can be hard to quickly find buyers who share your tastes. “Quickly” is key, because a house sitting on the market without bids leads potential buyers to suspect there’s something wrong with it, which creates a vicious cycle by discouraging people from making offers. 

The stager’s job is to make the home appealing to as large an audience as possible. This means neutral colors, fashionable furniture and lighting, and “depersonalized” space, according to Corrie Taylor of Set2Sell in Saucon Valley, Pennsylvania. Depersonalizing space “means removing family photos, collections [dolls, tea cups, and so on], excess furniture, and general clutter,” she explains. “The goal is to have buyers looking at the home, not at the owners’ possessions.”

Shell Brodnax, CEO of the Real Estate Staging Association, says, “High-end homes do really well with staging. Luxury homes do amazingly well. Having a lot of money has nothing to do with having taste. Purple and gold done right might look good in a bedroom, but purple and gold won’t sell the house. The bedroom needs to be more neutral. Anything that is uber-personal—that’s what needs to be changed when staging.”

Space is also critical. Furniture bought for comfort can overwhelm even a large room. “Imagine a bedroom with a bed big enough for a professional basketball player,” Brodnax says. “Depending on the size of the room, that bed might not work. The stager has to figure out how to make the room look better to potential buyers, who probably aren’t as tall.”

Adds Noleen Bester, of NB Designs in Austin, Texas: “People expect the house and property to be perfect, inside and out. Viewers should feel comfortable. During open houses, we put out fresh flowers and rearrange furniture to make the rooms appear roomier.” However, stagers need to be careful not to make the home look “too stagey,” which can turn buyers off. “Staging needs to be understated in higher-value homes,” Bester says.

Statistics about the effectiveness of staging are scarce. So, the Real Estate Staging Association asked its members for information about the sales history of 1,081 vacant and occupied staged and unstaged homes. RESA has an obvious bias, but for what it’s worth, the results suggest that staging can speed up a sale, though it may or may not increase the price.

The study did not report how long homes that were never staged stayed on the market because RESA’s members provided data only on homes they had actually staged, explains Brodnax. (She also points out that some unstaged homes linger on the market for years; including them would significantly skew the data in favor of staging, but the comparison would not be realistic.) Still, the study did find that homes that were staged before going on the market sold on average in just 23 days. The other homes in the study remained on the market for an average of 184 days before being staged, after which another 41 days passed before they received their first offers. 

Therefore, these homes spent a total of 225 days on the market on average—about 10 times longer than homes that were staged at the outset. RESA’s statistics show that a home that is staged after having been on the market requires on average only 18 more days to get its first offer than a house that was staged earlier.

So why would any seller not opt for staging? “Some people use the excuse that they don’t want to invest the money,” Brodnax says. “So, instead of paying, for example, $5,000 upfront for staging, they would rather reduce the sales price of their home by $20,000 after several unsuccessful months on the market, because they don’t consider this ‘real’ money.”

While staging certainly costs real money, the amount varies widely, depending on the area of the country and other factors. “We base our price for staging on the size of the home, the number of rooms to be staged—we don’t always stage every room—and the listing price,” says Minch. “These factors tell me how much furniture, artwork, and accessories I’ll need and how fancy I need to get. Obviously, higher-end homes require more expensive furnishings, so the price will increase.”

As a rule, you can figure on paying about 0.5 to 1 percent of the listing price to stage the key areas of a home. That’s not pocket change, but it could feel like a bargain if it results in a speedy sale or produces a higher sale price.     

When Staging Isn’t Enough

IF YOUR HOME LACKS AMENITIES that buyers will expect in a property like yours, given its location and value, you may need to make improvements. The cost, like that of staging, may be justified because it results in a quicker deal and/or a higher sale price.

“The top-flight new condominium buildings in ‘Billionaire’s Row’ [a section of 57th Street in Manhattan] are amenity-driven,” says Lea Governale, manager and associate broker with Weichert Properties in New York City. Features such as wine storage, private spas, elaborate gyms, screening rooms, and deeded parking are usually a given.”

In other parts of the country, buyers might expect different amenities. Outdoor living areas of Florida homes, for example, often need to be screened and those with waterfronts may benefit from private boat docks, says Orlando Reyes of Dec My Home Staging & Redesign in Fort Lauderdale. In the Hill Country in West Texas, swimming pools are a given, along with “great entertainment areas outside and inside,” with separate areas for adults and children, explains Noleen Bester of NB Designs in Austin. She also mentions as popular amenities a home gym and a smart-home automation system. 

One way to know what buyers expect is to find out what’s being offered in other homes in your neighborhood. You can do that by attending open houses for both older and newer properties. “Sellers of older homes need to understand that they are competing with new construction in their area,” explains Corrie Taylor of Pennsylvania-based Set2Sell. 

Picture-Perfect Properties

BEFORE STAGERS CAME ON THE SCENE, most homeowners depended on advice from their Realtors, friends, and family and their own common sense on how to prepare their properties for sale. In fact, although staging began in the 1970s and the International Association of Home Staging Professionals was established in 1999, the concept was virtually unknown in much of the U.S. until about 10 years ago. What has changed?

“The internet has revolutionized the way consumers purchase homes,” says Orlando Reyes of Florida-based Dec My Home Staging & Redesign. “Everyone shops online now,” echoes Corrie Taylor of Pennsylvania’s Set2Sell. “So what your Realtor puts on the internet about your home is extremely important.”

Excellent photos and video are critical for online marketing, so use a photographer or videographer who has experience in this area and ask to see work samples. This is not the time for smartphone photos taken by your offspring. 

Note, too, that photos and video can be only as good as the subject. Even the best photographs can’t help a cluttered, outdated, or quirky interior.