Sour Economy Forces End to Staging

By Christine Rae

Christine Rae

Christine Rae

Got your attention, eh? Isn’t it amazing that negative headlines capture our attention more than positive ones?

Well now that I have your attention may I set your mind at rest by saying the necessity for staging your listings has not gone away.  But what has gone away is half-completed staging, surface staging, fluffy staging and vignette staging.

You might say I have a vested interest in saying these things and I do but they are for sure happening. So putting your head in the sand and ignoring these changes may cost you a listing or your customer to lose equity return.  What do I mean?

When things get tough, and times are leaner, many people cutback on marketing, which I think is crazy since marketing is a leading contributor to sales success. Most marketing gurus will tell you to evaluate marketing but stepping it down in tough times sends a message all of its own (just as stepping it up would).

Staging property is a marketing advantage that you cannot afford to forfeit. You don’t know what your competitor is doing, also many home sellers are contacting stagers directly in order to maximize market appeal.  This will be your competition.

Oh, by the way, stagers are good sources for listing referrals! Have you ever thought of that?

What is important for you to know is that the staging industry has grown exponentially. Therefore, there are great stagers, bad stagers and those who muddle along in mediocrity. The really bad news is many of them don’t know how much the industry has changed.

Some things to watch for when hiring a stager for your team:

  • Make sure they have credible credentials and references.
  • Belong to the Real Estate Staging Association.
  • Have at least $2-million in liability insurance or more.
  • Belong to the Stagers Excellence Alliance (a better business program for stagers).
  • Has tools to help you market the service and enhance your service.
  • Understands how market differences, generational differences, trends and global economics play a role in how a property should be staged.

These things are all part of the developments within our industry. The staging world has developed parallel with the real estate industry, which is why at CSP we developed continuing education requirements and specialty designations, just like those available in the real estate industry.

Staging is not going away; it’s growing up, getting better and the industry is getting stronger, and standards are getting higher – not a place for amateurs and all in all this is a good thing for the consumer. Don’t you think?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Christine Rae is the co-author of “Home Staging for Dummies” (Wiley, 2008), founder of Decorating Solutions Inc., and an internationally recognized expert and trainer in the home staging industry. She is the editor of Staging Standard, an industry trade magazine on staging, and co-author of the e-book “Home Staging Business Guide”. In 2005, she launched an international staging certification program —the Canadian Certified Staging Professionals and Certified Staging Professionals in the USA and Australia.

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, writing about home & design trends, technology, and sales and marketing. She manages the magazine's award-winning Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

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  1. Bravo!

    As a realtor I always stage my listings and completely agree with your argument that staging is becoming more and more important.

    There is a reason people love looking at model homes (and why new home builders stage homes) and why HGTV is so popular.

    These days accurate pricing, pictures and internet marketing sell properties.

    Internet marketing is only as good as the pictures, the pictures are only as good as the photography and the content. The content needs to be clean, uncluttered, and neutral. The photographs need to be clear and bright. Thank heavens for Obeo!

    Every time I see dark grainy pictures of bathrooms with toilet seats up, dirty wash cloths hanging over the shower, and a wall full of trophies, and cluttered counter tops I just cringe and feel bad for the sellers who paid the Realtor to help them sell their house.

    To sell a house quickly and for top dollar it has to be the best house in the price range and receive lots of showings… staging is crucial!

    Although your list of qualifications for professional stagers is excellent, I believe a home can be staged beautifully without such qualifications. A homeowner or Realtor would do well to buy a staging book (or watch HGTV more) and even just make small changes. This would be ten-fold better than some of the horrific pictures I see on the MLS.

    Thanks for a great article!

  2. In the past if the house was priced best or staged best it would sell first. Now it has to have both to be a contender.

  3. I have to respond to the last writer who feels that anyone can stage a house – no need for a professional… I wonder what they say to all the FSBO sellers who feel they can do the Realtor’s job… Of course they can muddle through but will they get the best result, the result that brings the most equity to the home seller? No, that requires the talents of a professional, someone who has studied and made it their life’s work to get really good at their specialty – whether it is real estate or real estate staging. Professional stagers bring knowledge to the table way beyond “making small changes” .

    There are people who will always try to get something for nothing and resent paying a professional, then there are others who know that to succeed we should work with the best. I always recommend my clients work with a professional Realtor; I appreciate those who return the professional courtesy. Most really successful Realtors don’t have the time or inclination to stage their client’s homes – they are out marketing them. Staging is hard work and time consuming. Sellers should ask: If your Realtor is spending their time staging your home and those of their other clients, who is marketing your property?

  4. Great article!! Stagers bring so much to the table. The real professionals seems to have contacts/vendors that can handle anything you need. In addition they also have a way to get discounts on just about everything as well. They save the homeowner money. Stagers are not there to SPEND your clients money they are there to help get the property SOLD.

    Professional Stagers have evolved over the last 6 yrs to now be full service stagers, providing everything from the staging, to virtual tours, photos, maintenance etc. The industry is growing up indeed.

    Great article!

  5. OH Jen, buy a book and stage it yourself? I guess there are plenty of books about “selling your own home” too. They can buy a book and sell without a Realtor. These are often the same client though, they don’t see the value and would rather have a part time effort and “save” the commission or save the fee. In the long run they end up with less. The problem is they get a part time result. The bar has been raised and the sellers want results and are willing to pay for them. The sellers are often calling the stager before the Realtor these days. This is no longer a hobby or sideline, it’s a business.

    The stagers of today do so much more than just arrange furniture and put in props. I could buy a book about art or painting and not be able to paint…same analogy.

    The staging industry is (was) full of people who took a class and thought they could do it because they know how to “decorate”. (Praedo Principle 20% doing 80% of the business is true in staging too). Staging is NOT decorating. It’s really not. There is a reason the couch in one room is angled and one is not, that the paint is dark on a wall and not on another, there are reasons that the props are placed where they are and there is a “feeling” that is created and why home builders continue to “stage” their models with professionals relates to all of that. They don’t spend the money just to spend it, they invest it to get results and proper staging gets results.

    I so agree that the MLS photos are often horrific. And, with real estate staging evolving into an INDUSTRY with a trade association like RESA modeled after WCR and NAR, you’ll be seeing the bar raised higher and higher and the consumer demanding and seeking out the professional real estate stager to an even higher degree.

  6. Bob Bekins

    People love skylights. The ones in my homes have never leaked, because they were installed correctly. This is efficient use of light from an enrgy source that costs nothing. As long as they are dual pane they are energy efficient.

    Fireplaces are not. They deliver only eight percent of the therms that the fuel in them generates. Something about a huge hole (AKA chimney) over the firebox seems to be the culprit.

    We have spent centuries developing toilets that work, furnaces that are efficient, life-time durable counter tops like granite, carpets for quiet, comfortable rooms, plywood for insect free, anti-warp surfaces, and vast renewable forests for building our homes. And the people that buy homes know this instinctively. They want granite, big rooms, and luxury even if they cant afford it. Many will wait to buy until they can afford to get what they want.

    A hint – dont install an Insta-hot tap over a corian sink or you will get hairline cracking and the subsequent bacteria that nest therein.

  7. Great read Christine. Having been in this business way before they called it staging, I can attest to how it has changed. It is way beyond a few do-dads and scraggly trees and greens put willy-nilly from someone’s home or garage. I am amazed at what some call staging, from the little do-dads to over-stuffing a home. Remember…we are helping sell SPACE not STUFF.

    It is so true that more and more sellers are contacing stagers themselves, as many realtors are not recommending it to them, to get a quicker sale. I have had two of those just in the past 2 weeks. Sellers are well educated and are begining to realize that professional staging is an investment in their equity.

    It is a great credit to RESA and training companies like CSP that propel our industry to higher and higher levels and higher and higher standards. Our clients deserve no less when we are talking about their biggest investment.

    And just a takeoff on Bob’s comment above about the skylights. I’m sure you could buy a do-it-youurself book on how to install skylights yourself but as he states, “because they were installed PROPERLY, they don’t leak.” Professional stagers as part of the team, know how to stage a home to help sellers keep their equity from leaking as well.

  8. Christine,

    ~I read your article and I think your suggestions are very beneficial.~
    We are in a small market but we have an inventory currently of 2 years. I appreciate your suggestions on obtaining referrals of prior clients, along with your tips.
    As an agent I post my feedback of past clients onto my website.
    This is a very difficulty market and competition is very difficult with so many homes available for buyers to select from, so we as Realtors’ need all the help we can get from outside sources to get homes sold for our customers. I am going to check and see who in Highlands County Fl, who is a member of Home Staging Association and meet with them.
    Thanks again for your suggestions!

  9. I continue to be amazed at the number of Realtors and sellers alike that are foregoing professional staging because of the economy. Of any time that professional staging and competitive housing prices can help sell a home, it’s NOW. One of the principle brokers I work with told his team that buyers are looking for homes that would fit at a Bargain Mart and at a Beauty Pageant! Staging has the same impact on sales that it’s had for years, with professionally staged homes selling 2,3,4 times faster than comparable unstaged homes.

    I have heard of Realtors agreeing to reimburse sellers at closing if they (the sellers) will make the initial investment for professional staging. Does anyone else have any creative ideas to make it easier for consumers to make that investment? No one seems to blink an eye at paying a cleaning service several hundred dollars or a yard service a grand for a clean-up or who knows how much to advertise a property in special publications. Yet professional staging is not recognized (in my geographic area) for its value. Staging is a proven marketing tool, along the lines of the packaging or merchandising that drives the retail industry.

    As Christine emphasizes, cutting your marketing investment just doesn’t make good business sense! Thanks, Christine!

  10. As a professional home stager, a member of both RESA and the Stagers Excellence Alliance, I am also a licensed REALTOR. In my Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota, staging is not the accepted standard. The market is flooded with homes and the competition is fierce. What homes will sell first – those priced for the market and professionally staged. Only 2 out of !0 people can visualize what is not there. The other 8 can only see what is presented to them – do not make them use their imagination.

  11. Yes, I believe Staging is a growing industry. I’m sure once upon a time there were no Realtors. That industry developed too. Thanks to Barb Schwarz and the other industry leaders who have worked to bring this service to the forefront!

  12. Excellent article Christine. I agree that more and more homeowners are turning to home staging to acheive a top dollar sale. As buyers expectations escalate, savvy sellers realize that they need to enlist the services of a pro for an objective assessment of their listing. Moreover many people do not have the furnishings required to appeal to the targeted demographic, never mind the time or ability to strategically place them.

    A key to our success has been not only to merchandise our clients homes beautifully but to contribute additional approaches to marketing. The quality photos, internet exposure and electronic advertising we provide for each property generates activity and increases the possibility of a speedy sale. Professional stagers bring much more than a bowl of fruit to the table!

  13. Thank for the article and this section devoted to home staging. As a Realtor, and as owner of an established home staging company, I have personally seen respect for the home staging industry go down the tubes because of hobby decorators looking to get rich quick and real estate agents looking to hire someone on the cheap.
    Also TV programming tends to depict home staging as a quick, cheap fix that anyone can do.
    With all this in mind, I am surprised that you would endorse an organization which accepts members for a fee with any type of so-called training or with no training at all.

  14. I appreciate all the feedback; sorry for the delay in response as i was in Australia launching a CSP division over there; Joan i appreciate your comment and totally understand. Without bragging too much i pride myself on the development of CSP as an industry leader, have always set standards higher than any other or installed where there were none. Unfortunately this industry started as a cottage industry with a myriad of hobby stagers. Many of those people are resentful of higher standards or worse they dont know about them. When Shell Brodnax took a leap of faith and pioneered a trade organization i did worry about the very thing you mentioned. Everything has to have a starting point though and one thing i am very good at is big picture thinking. I knew this industry had to evolve to mirror the real estate industry – something i have always believed and pursued. I teach people how to start, and or build a profitable successful business and felt by not only belonging but promoting and supporting a trade organisation it would help serve the better good of all. Only by raising awareness to those less travelled, less oriented or knowledgeable can we hope to raise the standards of all. RESA is developing a designation( much like NAR) and there will be an entrance exam for that designation – all good things take time. RESA is an excellent development in an industry which has a long way to go. I hope this helps Joan. I founded my business on a “pay it forward” philosphy and look forward to RESA coming into its own in the most positive of ways.