For most of us, a home is the largest purchase we will ever make.
And when it comes to big purchases, retailers have long understood that buyers need to be able to visualize their lives improving via the thing they’re about to buy. That’s why clothing stores have fitting rooms, why car dealers offer test drives and why smart sellers stage their homes.
You see, staging is much more than making sure your home puts its best foot forward. Professional home stagers understand that their work turns a seller’s home into a blank canvas onto which potential buyers can project whole new lives for themselves:
- Clear counter spaces? “Just imagine what we can cook in here,” a buyer might tell his partner.
- Tidy garage? “I can finally upgrade to an SUV,” another buyer might think.
- A big, open backyard? “We could definitely raise a family here,” one couple might agree.
This is what staging does for a home on the market. As a result, buyers of staged homes are more willing to overlook any negatives, get closer to your asking price and close quickly.
Sounds like magic, right? Not quite. It takes a lot of work to stage a home that closes for top dollar. That’s why we reached out to several industry professionals to get their take on what a seller needs to do when they put their home on the market.
Navigate to a specific heading using these links, or simply scroll down for the entire piece:
- Why Staging Your Home to Sell Quickly Can Save You Big Money
- How Much Does It Cost to Stage a Home?
- What to Expect When You Hire a Home Stager
- Preparations: First Steps When Staging Your Home for Sale
- Home Staging Tips: A Room-by-Room Guide to Maximizing Your Home’s Value
- Why You Should Hire a Professional Rather Than Trying This Yourself
Why Staging Your Home to Sell Quickly Can Save You Big Money
Staged homes tend to sell more quickly and for more money, and the National Association of Realtors has the math to back it up. According to a recent survey of realtors, staged homes spent 81 percent less time on the market than un-staged homes.
This is critical for home sellers to understand because a home costs money every month it is on the market. As Darrow Kirkpatrick at Can I Retire Yet? points out, a good rule of thumb (and one that landlords use) is to figure a house’s monthly costs will equal 1 percent of its total value. This figure includes things like taxes, utilities, mortgage payments and property insurance.
These are called carrying costs, and the average monthly carrying costs for a $200,000 home in America are about $2,000, give or take. So, every month that $200,000 home sits on the market it will cost its owners $2,000 — or you can think of it as an automatic monthly 1 percent reduction from the home’s selling price.
Staging a Home is Really Just Smart Marketing
Staging does more than help move your home quickly, however. It can also get more money out of your home. Buyers will pay more for a home they love. And a good home stager knows how to connect the right property with the right buyer.
“It’s not about creating a home for your personal taste or everyday comforts,” the team at Thumbtack Journal writes. “You won’t see any toothpaste or hampers in the homes.” Understanding this is the key to making someone fall in love with your home, which is how you get it to sell.
Often, for more than you had hoped.
In that National Association of Realtor (NAR) report, 52 percent of realtors said home staging had a measurable positive effect on the home’s selling price — in most cases an increase of between 1 and 5 percent. So, take the $200,000 home again. In the right hands, that becomes a $210,000 home, and it sells quickly rather than leaking money from month to month.
How does a home stager pull that off? In many cases, by simply making a home look move-in ready. “Many of today’s buyers are looking for specific homes that won’t necessarily require a ton of work before moving in, because honestly, who has the time to gut and renovate?” home stager Tori Toth writes at U.S News & World Report. “Hence, buyers want move-in ready spaces they can enjoy instantaneously.”
That’s just another way of expressing one of the oldest lessons in business: If you can save people time, someone will gladly pay you.
Should You Stage Your Home?
While many if not most homes will benefit from a stager’s handiwork, some properties are not good candidates for home staging. The variables to consider are your home’s market and your home’s condition.
- The market: Some parts of the country are enjoying a roaring seller’s market right now, and homeowners report having unsolicited buyers and real estate agents ringing their doorbells just to see whether their homes are for sale. If you find yourself selling in such a hot market, your home might not need any additional help moving.
- The condition: If you have a property that’s in “fixer-upper” condition, you’re unlikely to see a return on home staging, Paul Esajian writes at FortuneBuilders. “A high quality video with sound and music will be much more effective than trying to stage a property that may need work. … A stager will not replace the appliances or countertop. There is only so much that staging can do, so you shouldn’t expect miracles.”
How Much Does It Cost to Stage a Home?
Home staging costs vary depending on the scope of the project. Some home sellers may only stage one or two rooms for an afternoon showing, while others might stage a whole house for weeks at a time because they aren’t currently living in it.
The NAR report offers a figure we can use as a starting point. It says the median cost of staging a home is $675, though it’s not clear from the report how much that median figure is skewed. Still, that number feels much too low for the amount of work involved in home staging.
We reached out to Debbie Boggs at BY Design, a company that stages homes around Austin and San Antonio, for a little clarity. First, it’s worth noting that most professional home stagers will charge money for an initial consultation, she says, which will be between $200 and $500.
In that initial consultation, a home stager will come to your home, spend time assessing your home room by room, and provide a proposal that’s based on
- whether this will be a vacant or occupied home,
- how many rooms need to be staged,
- how much work will go into each room,
- and the duration of the staging.
An occupied home hosting an open house might call for an afternoon-long staging project, which might only cost a few hundred dollars. A vacant home, however, might remain staged for days, weeks or months, and home stagers can charge monthly fees of a few thousand dollars for such services.
Numbers to Remember
Let’s talk hard numbers so you can put together a realistic budget.
Ari Harkov, a broker for Halstead Property in New York, tells Investopedia that the cost of a full staging will work out to about 1 percent of the home’s selling price. (All these 1 percent rules of thumb are handy numbers to keep in mind.)
Upstate New York-based professional home stager Neil Bindelglass offers exact dollar figures:
- $3,000–5,000 for a full staging in an occupied home
- $5,000–7,000 for a full staging in a vacant home
Understanding This Cost as an Investment
This is certainly a lot of money to put up when you’re in the middle of selling something, but this is usually money well spent. Consider how expensive not staging your home can be:
- You’re paying carrying costs for every month your home is on the market.
- You’re going to start feeling pressure to offer a discount on your original asking price.
Bindelglass touches on that second point in his article. He says most homeowners get nervous after a month and reduce their asking price by 10 percent. “So on a $200,000 home, the first price reduction is $20,000,” he writes. “If the home had been professionally staged for [$5,000] and sold within its first month on the market, the homeowner would have been $15,000 in the black.”
What to Expect When You Hire a Home Stager
At first blush, the work of a home stager looks a lot like the work of an interior designer. The difference is interior designers try to appeal to homeowners. Stagers try to appeal to home buyers.
“The stager is not focused on creating a home that suits your personal taste and need for everyday comforts, but instead on making your home appeal to a broad range of tastes,” Ilona Bray, J.D., writes at NOLO.com. “Livable or not — probably not, after you’ve hidden the toaster, toothpaste, and laundry hamper — the idea is for the stager’s work to help people fall in love with your place and want to buy it.”
Don’t take it personally, but part of staging a home involves covering up all the little personal touches you’ve added to your home over the years. That’s because buyers don’t want to see where you live; they want to imagine where they could live.
And a good home stager can bring the objective perspective your home needs to make that connection with potential buyers.
That process breaks down into four components:
- An initial consultation: This is so you both get an idea of what work is needed to stage your home. You and your home stager will try to strike the right balance between these needs and your own budget.
- A plan of action: Within the parameters you set out initially, your home stager will design a plan for highlighting what makes your home attractive to a variety of people.
- Getting your home ready for staging: Your home stager can help coordinate bigger tasks such as making repairs. Otherwise, this part of the process will fall largely on you. You will be giving your home a deep clean, decluttering, doing some work to the yard and whatever else is necessary to make your home as presentable as possible. More on this process in a moment.
- Making necessary changes, bringing in new furniture and making any other finishing touches necessary: This is the point at which the staged rooms of your house will get a makeover that will let them connect with the imaginations of potential buyers. More on this process in a moment, too.
The Initial Consultation
Kate Touhill at Seattle Staged To Sell & Design tells us that her team understands the emotional difficulty homeowners face when staging a home — especially if it’s a home you raised a family in or the home of a loved one — so they initially begin by trying to understand the “spirit” of the home.
“When we begin a staging project, we first visit the home to do an initial walk-through,” Touhill says. “This allows us to see the spaces and their scale, get a feel for the neighborhood, and to hear what the homeowners or agents envision for the home.”
Capturing that spirit, the thing that made you love your home in the first place, and then translating it to the imagination of a potential buyer is where the magic of home staging happens. This first consultation helps your stager wrap his or her mind around what needs to be done to make that magic happen.
From there, your home stager will lay out a roadmap for the rest of the project. We spoke with Yvonne Laanstra at Staging Calgary to get an idea for how she does this. Her process, outlined below, applies specifically to staging vacant properties, which is what she says most people have in mind when they need to hire a home stager:
- First, her team will get a feel for the home’s size and style so they can tell homeowners how much of the home needs to be staged “to make that first great impression.”
- This consultation might also include advice on what needs to be painted, what needs to be cleaned, and what needs a full-on renovation to get ready for staging.
- Her team then takes photographs and various measurements to know, for example, how small a piece of furniture must be to fit through the door (the devil is always in the details, right?).
- At that point, they can give the homeowner a quote.
- Once confirmed, she says they book movers first and staging assistance second. It’s during this period that her team visits the furniture warehouse to select every piece needed for the job — including artwork and other accessories.
When Should You Hire a Home Stager?
Think in terms of weeks rather than days.
Laanstra says it takes two days just to source the furniture, artwork and accessories, then get those things packed and ready to deliver to the home. Bear in mind that renovation works and deep cleans before that furniture arrives take time, as well, whether you plan to do those yourself or hire someone to do that work.
“The logistics are often the harder element in the planning of staging,” she tells us. “To keep it all running smoothly, we like to at least have a week’s notice to plan it properly, but if time is of the essence it can be done a bit faster, keeping style and quality in mind. With an empty calendar of all parties, two days minimum, but we prefer at least a week from visit to the house to staging a property.”
Boggs at BY Design points out, too, that spring and summer are their busy seasons, and it’s not uncommon for them to be booked two weeks out. If a stager is booked two weeks out and needs a week’s notice to pull everything together, then consider reaching out at least three to four weeks before you even need your home staged.
Of course, a home stager will be willing to work with you if your timelines are shorter than that, but realize that you might be sacrificing some of the value that staging provides by rushing it.
Preparations: First Steps When Staging Your Home for Sale
After that initial consultation, you will have an idea of what preparations you need to make — and how big your window of opportunity is for getting everything done.
Those preparations will vary from project to project, but the home stagers we reached out to gave us a few tips that tend to apply to most of the homes they stage.
Declutter and Depersonalize
The team at Home Ingredients Staging in Vancouver recommends taking this opportunity to declutter your home. Anything that can be discarded should be. Anything with personal significance to you — family photographs, religious artifacts — should be put in storage.
If you are already in the process of moving into a new home, take this opportunity to expedite that process. “Clients need to begin the packing process and mentally move into their new home,” says Sara Affonso at Styling Spaces Home Staging & Re-Design in Gallatin, Tennessee, near Nashville. “All clutter, personal photos, personal objects should be packed away ready to assume their position in their new home.”
Break Out the Gloves and Cleaning Supplies
The Home Ingredients team says a full spring clean is called for at this point, and the staged rooms will probably need a fresh coat of neutral paint. During this process, make any minor repairs you can.
“Cleaning your home is a very important step in home staging,” says Jennifer McDougald at Legacy Home Staging in Pearland, Texas. “I’m not referring to your regular household cleaning, which of course should still be done, I’m referring to deep cleaning your home and cleaning parts of your home that you have possibly not cleaned in a very long time (if ever). Purchase some Clorox wipes and put the family to work cleaning all door knobs, baseboards, light switch covers, interior and exterior doors, door trim, etc.”
Actually, McDougald was kind enough to give us a checklist of everything that needs attention during this deep clean:
- Remove vent covers on your heating and air-conditioning system and give those a good clean. Replace your A/C filters, too.
- Dust every light fixture and ceiling fan.
- Clean exterior lights and remove any dead bugs that might be in there.
- Sweep your front porch and shake out the welcome mat. “Make sure your porch makes a good first impression of what’s to expect behind the front door,” she says.
- Replace all burned-out light bulbs, and make sure to have extras of each handy in case a bulb burns out right before a scheduled tour.
- Clean out your fireplace.
- Shampoo your carpets, but only after you’ve decluttered and made repairs.
Give Every Room a Clear Purpose
Most houses have utility rooms, or bedrooms that kinda sorta double as an office sometimes. While junk-drawering entire rooms is something many of us are guilty of, it’s best to hide that habit when potential buyers are looking at your home.
Instead, potential buyers need to be able to imagine what they can do with each room. Spare rooms can become guest bedrooms or home offices, but not both. Make it clear what each room is.
This includes your closets and any other storage spaces you have. Make it clear to potential buyers that your home has the space necessary to store all of their stuff. “If you are living in the space, organize all areas, clear out closet floors and remove unused hangers so that the closets feel larger,” the Home Ingredients team says. “The idea is to demonstrate that there is ample storage available to the potential buyers.”
Don’t Forget Curb Appeal
“We open a lot of doors when showing homes and can tell you that buyers spend several minutes standing at your front door while their agent is opening the lock box,” says Holly Sirois, one half Two Girls and a Key team, a pair of Atlanta realtors who use their blog to answer many of the questions their clients have.
“A smart seller will use that time to their advantage by creating a warm and welcoming first impression. Buyers do notice, and what they feel in those few minutes sets the tone for the rest of the showing.”
They have a few excellent tips to keep in mind so your home will make a good first impression:
- Edge and mow the lawn. Fertilize it, as well, and reseed any spots where the grass looks thin.
- Refresh any pine straw or mulch.
- Put some seasonal flowers in any flower beds and flower pots.
- Pressure wash the driveway and sidewalk.
- Give your mailbox a fresh coat of paint.
- Give your front door a new coat of paint, too, or re-stain it. Be sure to replace any worn hardware, as well.
Finally, if you have children remove any of their toys from the yard. “This is part and parcel with the depersonalize methodology,” says Clive Braude at Pallucci Furniture. “The key is to remove any precursor of the home’s current activities.”
Important: Get This All Done Before Staging
Finally, make sure all of these preparations are finished before your stager arrives with new furniture, artwork and accessories. “Home staging is still quite the project, and even though we make it look easy, there are elements that need to be in place,” Laanstra says.
“Sellers can be surprised to know [that] the house needs to be clean prior to us coming or [that no other workers or contractors] can be in the house with us, as we are bringing in beautiful pieces that cannot be covered in dust.”
This means your home must be 100 percent ready when the stager arrives. You cannot have someone replacing a backsplash during the staging process, nor can you have someone come in to do additional work after the staging takes place.
Home Staging Tips: A Room-by-Room Guide to Maximizing Your Home’s Value
It’s easy to get lost in all the details of staging (or even selling) a home. Decluttering, neutral coats of paint, maximizing your available storage space: Remember that all of this is designed to make you more money when you sell.
So, while there are endless ways to make a property more appealing to a buyer, the law of diminishing returns kicks in at some point. “You should only spend as much on home staging as needed to achieve the desired effect,” the Home Buying Institute reminds readers.
“The desired effect, of course, is to sell the home quickly and for a good price. In a seller’s market, you won’t have to do as much work to sell your home. In a buyer’s market, you’ll have to do more work. The key is finding the right balance.”
To that end, let’s take a look at what professional home stagers commonly do to the big rooms in their clients’ homes. This will give you an idea of what could be in store for you.
How to Stage a Kitchen
Most people’s kitchens get cluttered quickly. We have microwaves and coffee makers and all sorts of appliances strewn about our countertops.
And these are the first things that must get stowed away, Judy at the I’m Bored, Let’s Go blog writes. She sold her California condo in 2015 at a price comfortably above what she had originally priced thanks to some smart staging.
“Pack up your countertop appliances,” Judy writes. “Countertop appliances eat up counter space. Not a good thing, especially if you have limited counter space. Even if you have a lot of counter space like I do, the last thing you need is a counter full of toasters (or toaster ovens), blenders, microwaves, baskets full of papers, etc.”
Once the countertops are cleared and the room opens up a bit, you’ll want to organize any cupboards or other storage spaces, and make sure the kitchen is well-lit. Again, this is all about helping potential buyers imagine themselves cooking family meals, Thanksgiving dinners and Super Bowl snacks in your kitchen.
How to Stage a Dining Room
Simplicity is the key to staging a dining room. You’ll want to create a single focus point and leave plenty of room to create a nice sense of traffic flow.
Courtney Unangst at Austin Simple Staging has a couple of additional tips that will help your dining room pop (and save you money in the process):
- If your dining room is actually a small kitchen nook, “place a tall and sophisticated plant in the center,” she says. That’s how you create that focal point. “It is amazing what a simple arrangement can do for a space.”
- Don’t pack up nice glassware or tableware. You can use these when staging. “Wine glasses and neutral plates can be used to set the dining table to suggest entertaining. Non-personalized artwork and glass vases can be used all throughout the home and can really cut down on the cost of home staging.”
How to Stage a Bathroom
Of all the rooms you would want to depersonalize, the bathroom is priority No. 1. Remove toothpaste, clothes hampers and even any layers of caulking you’ve had to apply to your shower over the years.
From that point, bathrooms are pretty easy to stage. If you like to hang decorative towels, you already have an idea of what a partially staged bathroom looks like. Just continue along that line of thought, Elizabeth Weintraub writes at The Balance.
Her tips include:
- Hanging a clean white robe on the back of the door, or from the shower.
- Placing a neat stack of folded towels on a bamboo tray, and including some unwrapped bars of unscented soap, just as a hotel would.
- Placing a new rug beside the bath or shower.
- Layering clean towels decoratively on the towel rack.
- Using natural elements such as a handful of flower petals to give the room a pop of color. Do this sparingly, though. All you want is a light artistic flourish.
How to Stage a Living Room
Buyers tend to scrutinize living rooms pretty heavily, so it will be worth it to spend some time getting the staging here right.
Two things are important to keep in mind: The appearance of ample space and a neutral aesthetic. If the couch, for example, feels too big for the room, your stager will probably swap it out for something smaller. That way, buyers feel there is space to move about the living room.
Laura McHolm, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based NorthStar Moving Company, has a couple of additional tips to put a well-staged living room over the top:
- Take as much as you can off of the shelves and surface areas. “If you have 10 things on a shelf, make it three so people can visualize their things there. Pack or donate the remaining items.”
- Fresh flowers, seasonal decor and little luxuries are a nice touch for when potential buyers come through. “On open house day, place cheese and crackers out, or if it’s a TV room put out popcorn. Match the food to the room.” As with the bathroom, think about what an upscale hotel would do.
How to Stage a Bedroom
As with many other rooms you’re staging, bedrooms best connect with potential buyers when they are simple, are gender-neutral and indicate ample storage space.
Jennifer Carroll at the blog Celebrating Everyday Life has a wildly popular post detailing how she helped stage her parents’ bedroom when they sold their home. (It sold within 24 hours of listing, too.)
Here are her tips for staging a bedroom:
- Don’t fill the space. “Consider taking some furniture out of the room if necessary so that it feels roomy,” she writes. “You may even want to temporarily store your king-sized bed and replace it with a queen-sized air mattress.”
- Make the room feel soothing. “Bedrooms are havens that we all want to retreat to at the end of a busy day. Use soothing, serene colors so potential buyers feel like they are entering a ‘retreat,’ almost spa-like room.”
- Go with neutral decor and bed linens. “You want as few negative distractions as possible and dated fabrics are a quick turn-off to everyone.”
Why You Should Hire a Professional Rather Than Trying This Yourself
In theory, you have the resources you need to stage your home yourself. You could do all of the repairs, tidying up and cosmetic work a stager will ask you to do, then rent neutral furniture to stage a couple of rooms for your open house.
But this can miss the point of staging your home in the first place. You’re not paying a home stager for their logistics and coordination skills. You’re paying for a professional, objective eye that can see the real value in your home.
“Let’s be honest: You’re too attached to your home to see it clearly,” interior designer Karen Egly-Thompson says. “Homeowners have too many memories and attachments to belongings that can cloud seeing the whole picture.
“A home stager is a pair of fresh eyes with no emotional ties to the house or its contents. He or she is in a position to suggest packing up Grandma’s afghan or shifting a beloved painting from the hallway to the fireplace mantel.”
Whether you decide to use a professional home stager or try tackling home staging on your own, storage will likely be something you want to consider. Extra Space Storage has locations across the country to help you store your belongings during the staging process.
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