Experts share basics on what helps sell houses fast — and at a price that satisfies
BY CARON GOLDEN
OCT. 23, 2021 6 AM PT
La Jolla Realtor Michelle Silverman can easily tick off the various homes she’s sold for which she got more and higher offers because of effective staging.
“There was one home that hadn’t been staged and was listed at $1.149 million. It was old. It was tired looking,” she said. “I took the listing and had it staged. We got 12 offers on it and ended up selling it for just a little over $1.15 million. So, maybe it was just a little higher, but the buyer said they were only going to get $900,000 for the house.”
According to a 2020 survey of 13,000 staged homes by the Real Estate Staging Association, 85 percent of staged homes sold for 5 to 23 percent over list price. And, it noted, staged homes sell faster, averaging just 23 days on the market. By comparison, the typical U.S. home spent 43 days on the market last month , according to a report from Realtor.com.
As for return on investment, the staging association survey showed that with an average investment of 1 percent, approximately 75 percent of sellers saw a return on investment of 5 to 15 percent over asking price.
And this was before the market got as heated as it is now.
So, you might ask, if we’re in a seller’s market, why bother staging a home? Why not save the expense?
Silverman’s response was quick.
“Because even in a seller’s market, buyers are not visionary.”
Alex Ryden, who is the founder and CEO of Guest House, a home staging company with offices in San Diego, acknowledged that while it certainly is a seller’s market, staging is still needed to maximize the sales price.
“It’s actually the cheapest way, the most impactful way based on the price to maximize the sale price of the largest asset you’ll ever own,” he said. “We’re seeing homes that we stage go above asking (price) dozens of times a month. On a $2 million house, that’s a couple of college tuitions right there. You could just lob it on the market and sell it and walk away, but you’ll never really know unless you invest the time and a little bit of money into making it truly stand out, both in how it’s presenting online all the way to in person and having people walk through and say, ‘I need this house.’ Staging is just another tool, another arrow in the quiver to help make sure that it not only sells fast but sells for more than you would have imagined.”
Home staging is said (by the OG of stagers herself) to have begun in 1972 by Barb Schwarz, a Seattle real estate agent. She told The New York Times in 2016 that, based on her previous theater career, she coined the word “stage” to describe her strategy of fixing up houses for sale. Now, the National Association of Realtors, in its 2021 Profile of Home Staging, found that 31 percent of sellers’ agents said they staged all sellers’ homes prior to listing them.
Staging comes in a few flavors. There’s staging an empty house, staging a home in which the owner is still living, and there’s virtual staging — which has been a strategy used for new developments or empty spaces that just need online photos with a computer-generated interior, Ryden explained.
Josie Leisz, founder of San Diego Staging, described their approach to staging vacant homes.
“When there’s nothing in the property, we come in and set everything up — all the furniture, artwork, accessories — and give it a homey feeling. We make it look like people live there so that buyers can get an idea of how they could set it up. They can envision themselves living in the home, which really helps because buyers tend to buy on emotion.”
Leisz then explained how they approach staging a home being lived in.
“They have some furniture, but maybe we’re taking some pieces out and replacing them with better pieces, and then adding some accessories and artwork that can make the room show better than what they’ve got,” she said.
Sellers agents will usually have a conversation with the homeowner about what needs to happen to help sell the house quickly and for the optimum price. That includes basic decluttering of personal items — from photos and tchotchkes to pantry items — for at least a few reasons. You don’t want strangers touring your home to get too much information about you and your life. You don’t want your belongings damaged. And you don’t want your stuff to distract them from the house itself.
“You want a home to feel like a hotel,” said Silverman. “Because when you declutter it and take the personal belongings out, then that new buyer can see themselves in the house.”
There may also be a need to do some painting and repairs, even cleaning windows — something stagers do not do. Usually, a real estate agent can recommend tradespeople they’ve worked with. Then comes staging. Stagers tend to focus on a limited group of rooms — the living room, kitchen, dining room, primary bedroom and primary bathroom. But depending on the need and what the homeowner wants to invest, it could include other rooms, and even outdoor furnishings.
Many real estate agents have at least one stager they call on, or sometimes more, based on the type of house being sold. Staging companies tend to have their own warehouses filled with inventory, and depending on whether it’s a multimillion-dollar estate or a smaller, more accessible family home, that determines what kind of stager will provide the most appropriate vision for the property.
Of course, this is assuming the real estate agent actually does the hiring. But Carol Kaplan, owner and CEO of Everything Creative Designs, a staging company in San Diego, is now finding that a lot of homeowners are now doing their own research, finding their own staging companies.
“We get a lot of the homeowners calling us now,” she said. “I think people are now becoming aware that staging’s important and if they want to get the maximum amount for their homes, they need to stage because of the competition out there.”
While some real estate agents build staging into their marketing plan, Kaplan said that the agents are not picking up the bill most of the time now.
“It’s definitely the homeowner that’s picking up the bill,” she said. “The Realtor may pay a portion of it and then get it back at escrow, but I would say that 99 percent of the time, it’s the homeowner that’s paying for it.”
That “it,” that bill, varies, as do the services.
Everything Creative Designs works a lot in the luxury market, so its staging of furniture, accessories and artwork can be upwards of tens of thousands of dollars for very high-end properties, but the team also works on far less pricey properties for far smaller fees. The company will charge an upfront price for 60 days, and then after that, it’s 20 percent of the initial cost per month. The price is based on a formula that factors in how many pieces of furniture are going in, how many accessories are needed — and the cost of every item is then determined based on the quality of the furnishings.
“So, let’s say we stage a house for $3,000 for 60 days. It would be $600 a month after 60 days,” Kaplan explained.
“We marry the furniture to the architecture of the house, so that when you walk in, it’s cohesive, that it all flows. That not each room is just whatever we’ve got in the warehouse. There’s a lot of time spent on the design and the application and the logistics of it,” she added. “And if somebody wants to buy the furniture they see, absolutely, they can buy it.”
San Diego Staging focuses on furnishing the basic rooms but can include an extra office or patio set or some other need in its pricing proposal to offer different options depending on budget. Leisz said that their fee tends to range from $1,000 to $2,000 for two months.
“And we do payments through escrow a lot of times, because sometimes the homeowner and agent will split the cost of staging,” said Leisz, “and they each can have it taken out of the proceeds at closing.”
Guest House has a slightly different business model. Yes, they do the basic staging described, but they source furniture from their favorite brands and local makers, said Ryden. They also offer photography and marketing services to the agent or Realtor. And people who visit the staged homes or view them online can buy the furnishings from Guest House — from sofas to cutting boards. For the staging itself, the seller or agent can go to the company website and get a quote that includes staging for one month, two rounds of moodboards, 20 to 30 listing photos, designer plans and installs, and delivery and pickup, as well as a discount on monthly rental fees. Guest House also promotes the property across Instagram, email and partner channels in the area and provides content for the agent to post on their own channels.
Finding a stager
If you’re a homeowner who plans to hire a stager directly, here are some tips from staging experts:
- Make sure the staging company is bonded, licensed and has workers’ compensation, so if anything gets broken or damaged in the house or someone is gets injured while on the job, it’s covered.
- Learn how long the company has been in business.
- Find out what kind of inventory they have. Kaplan said that there are a lot of new staging companies starting out and perhaps they don’t have enough furniture for all the projects they’re taking on. You also want to find out how often they turn over their inventory, how often they replenish it to keep up with the latest trends.
- Find out where they buy their furnishings. San Diego Staging, for instance, buys from a number of wholesale companies, while Guest House buys from name brands like Crate & Barrel, Burrow, and Joybird.
- Ask if the staging company has its own in-house moving team or hires movers.
- Ask if you can visit a home that the company has staged, and if you can visit the warehouse.
- Ask if the staging company will let you be involved in the process if you want.
“I believe that every house should be staged,” Kaplan said. “If your home stands out and your photography stands out on the MLS, there’s no doubt that people are going to want to see that house first before a house that hasn’t been staged.”
Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.