By Riki Markowitz

Real estate home staging is not a new concept. Since at least the mid-20th century, it has always been part of an agent’s role to suggest ways to make a home more appealing to buyers, by removing clutter, at the very least, all the way up to an exterior power wash to costly renovations like new kitchen countertops. After the most recent housing bubble, real estate associations are taking the staging industry much more seriously and quantifying the benefits of selling a home as is versus hiring a staging professional. 

In 2015 the National Association of REALTORS (NAR) released a report about home staging in which nearly 2,500 REALTOR members were surveyed. NAR set out to see if a cosmetic makeover results in higher home sale prices. The bottom line? It does.

According to the report, about half of buyers’ agents say clients are affected positively by home staging. NAR concluded that “it is easier [for buyers] to visualize the property as a future home.” Survey takers agreed that buyers will overlook certain property faults and will even pay more for a house that is staged to their liking.

Buyer psychology

There are a few factors that can make home staging tricky. First, it’s impossible to predict a style that will be pleasing to the largest number of qualified home shoppers. Second, many sellers have an emotional attachment to their homes and can have substantial difficulty seeing their property as just another commodity. 

Brian David Morris, owner of Brian David Design, says that people are often selling their home for reasons that are upsetting – a divorce, job loss, or any number of other unforeseeable life events. “I have a degree in psychology and it’s more helpful than you can imagine,” says Morris. “It helps for me to meet people where they are emotionally.” This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s not in an agent’s best interest to take it upon him or herself to move around a client’s furniture or even personally suggest upgrading kitchen countertops. Amy George, of Impact Interiors, has been a professional real estate stager since 2009. In 2015, her company worked on 160 properties. She is known in the industry for her calm demeanor and specializes in helping emotional sellers understand the reason behind a suggestion like a countertop upgrade. “But just to be clear,” says George, “the REALTOR is truly our client. We come in as a third party – a neutral party.”

Pro Staging Tips

Always be a professional. There are a lot of hobby stagers out there and while these individuals may offer a good deal on their services and have a knack for modernizing a room, they are actually cutting corners in some very critical ways. “We’re moving a lot of things around,” says George. “Whether we’re in a home that’s selling for under $500k or a luxury home, if we break a vase, guess what? I have to be insured.” 

It’s the business of a seasoned professional to understand buyer psychology. “Buyers don’t make rational decisions, they make emotional decisions and they justify their decisions with rationale,” says Morris. “We have about 10 or 15 seconds to get their emotions in our favor.”

Have “curb appeal.” That moment when a potential buyer arrives at a home is what NAR calls “curb appeal,” or the “drive-up impression.” While it may be common sense to weed the garden and keep a manicured lawn, the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) also suggests eliminating those little annoyances that can get under a person’s skin, like maintaining bushes so they’re not scraping people as they approach the front door, replace outdoor light bulbs and be sure to eliminate corner cobwebs and the spiders that live there. 

Don’t interfere with your stager. One thing the stagers we spoke with could not emphasize enough was how emotional this process is for sellers. Noleen Bester, owner of the award-winning staging company, NB Designs, explains that it’s only natural that a seller believes she knows what is best for marketing her home. In actuality, professional stagers are not styling a home based simply on the location of the fireplace and how the sun hits the north wall. Morris considers several factors, from the neighborhood to the part of town the house is in. He is always anticipating what type of person is more likely to buy that particular property. For instance, he would not stage a downtown loft for a young family, just like he wouldn’t stage the single home with four-bedrooms, two-car-garage and big yard for a bachelor. 

One way to weed out those who approach staging from a one-size-fits-all perspective is by doing a little background reconnaissance. “Check out a stager’s portfolio and make sure the photos are authentic because anyone can copy an image online and claim it as their own,” says Morris.  But also ask a lot of questions, including something as seemingly trivial as why the stager chose to move a piece of furniture. “When your home is priced by square footage and there’s a huge armoire in the living room, that’s potentially thousands of dollars you’re covering up,” explains George. 

Bottom line

According to RESA, professionally staged properties spend 73 percent less time on the market and can capture 1 percent to 5 percent more than asking price – and in some cases up to 20 percent more. With those results, for the paltry 4 percent of agents who claim that home staging has “no impact” on buyers, is it worth it to risk having a home on the market more days and also leaving additional dollars on the table? Absolutely not, say a large number of REALTORS. Today, more than a third of seller agents believe all homes should have a professional stager.   RL