Staged to Sell: Confessions of a Home Stager

With the popularity of HGTV and DYI shows like “Flip or Flop”, “Property Brothers”, and “Love it or List it”, many more homeowners and REALTORS® are familiar with the term, home staging. Before and after images illustrate how staging creates the wow factor both homebuyers and sellers are seeking. Most clients have never used a stager before, and though they have a sense of what the process accomplishes, they are still reluctant to engage a professional.

We asked home stager Judy Sutherland, founder of Stage3Moves, to share her insights about staging homes throughout the Coachella Valley. Here she answers the top questions both agents and homeowners ask about the process, and its results.

headshotCan home staging actually increase the selling price of a home?

Home staging can indeed increase the selling price of a property, as homeowners are more likely to achieve the full value asking price. Recently, Barbara Corcoran, NY Real Estate mogul and “shark investor” on Sharktank, was the keynote speaker at a RESA, (Real Estate Staging Association) National Conference. She advised that ALL homes need staging, but cautions that staging will not result in a greater sale price if the home is not initially priced correctly. That said, I’ve staged numerous homes or condos where the REALTOR® raised their initial asking price after seeing the home staged. In those cases, the new asking price was achieved.

Home staging typically results in a faster sale, thereby reducing the homeowners carrying costs for mortgage, insurance, and utilities. One thing we know is that staging always costs less than the loss of the first price reduction, so from that viewpoint, staging pays for itself.

What is the staging process and how long does it take?

There are two basic types of staging and a third called a “hybrid.” Vacant Staging, as the name implies is for homes that are completely vacant, either those remodeled by an investor or those vacant because the family has already moved out. Staging these homes is vitally important as most people cannot visualize how furniture will be arranged, if their furniture will fit, and what large open spaces are used for. Vacant staging can take as little time as a few days from the initial viewing to installation and showcasing, depending on furniture delivery schedules.

Occupied Staging is for homes that are furnished. Often people are still living in the homes they are selling. Big, bulky furniture makes a room seem small and hard to navigate. Photographs, collectables, and “stuff” distract buyers from focusing on the home’s features. With occupied homes, I assess all of the furniture, artwork, and accessories in every room to see which pieces will make the best arrangement. Once furniture has been rearranged and accessories displayed, the unused items are prepacked and stored for a later move, donated or sold. Occupied Staging can take as little as several days to a week depending on complexity and what needs to be accomplished.

A “Quick-Stage” can happen in several hours starting with a staging consultation to inform the homeowner what they need to accomplish and then working with them to implement it.

Hybrid Staging” uses as much of the owner’s furnishings as possible and supplements them with some accessory pieces, artwork, or furniture as needed to create an updated look.

Stage3Moves Before&After

Before & After

What are the biggest misconceptions about home staging?

People confuse home staging with interior design. Stagers are not designing for the homeowner; they are creating spaces that are marketable to distinct types of buyers. Many owners think their homes are perfect just the way they are, however it may not appeal to buyers.

Sometimes homeowners like the feel of their newly staged home so much that they question why they are moving. I have been asked by many homeowners for what I call “Staging to Stay” to make homes feel open, updated, de-cluttered, and with better traffic flow.

People get the most benefit from home staging when it occurs before the property is photographed and listed, not after the fact when it hasn’t sold. The first people who view a new property are usually the best prospective buyers. The old adage that “first impressions count” is really true. There have been several cases where I staged a home after it had been on the market for many months. In those cases, it sold quickly, but there had already been price reductions. Staging at the outset may avoid the lower asking price.

Many believe that home staging is expensive, but it can be very affordable. It can cost as little as a just the consultation fee. It will always be less than the first price reduction and usually results in a faster sale, which minimizes carrying costs.

What are your biggest tips for homeowners?

The number one tip for home sellers is to have a one-hour professional staging consultation. It’s well worth the expense and aims to guide the homeowner in accomplishing the staging priorities. For example, de-clutter, pack collections and pictures, and make sure everything is spotless. Donate items ahead of time that are not recommended for staging and that you are not moving (resale shops will gladly pick them up). Store those recliners and other bulky furniture.

What about the exterior?

Curb-appeal is always important. Many prospective buyers drive by a property first before scheduling a viewing to get a feel for the neighborhood and the home. It’s important that the landscaping is well maintained. Sometimes we recommend additional gardening or potted plants to define the entry. Lighting is also vital because many first-time viewers drive-by in the evening. Shrubs, plants, and doorways should be well lit. I recommend updating lighting fixtures.

Make sure the front door is welcoming and the color is in keeping with the palette of the home. Does it need to be replaced or painted? Be careful about choosing door colors that may not appeal to all buyers and seek professional advice if needed.

How about the mail-box? Often the first object I notice in front of a home is a “beat-up” mailbox. This says a lot about how a home is maintained. Add replacing a damaged mailbox to your “to do” list.

In warm weather locations, especially in the desert, where people use their out-door space all year round, it’s very important to stage the yard and pool area. I suggest creating entertainment and seating areas.

Learn about home staging at