Home Stagers Help Sell Homes The Buzz


Chances are you've seen home stagers on television. They're the perky, resourceful people who make homes go from drab to fab. They reduce clutter, suggest paint colors, replace furniture and so on. In short, they help people sell their homes, by putting their best (square) foot forward.

Home staging can be a rewarding home-based business. It can be done either part time or full time. However, a home stager's success or failure largely depends on three things: the strength of the local housing market, the home stager's communication skills and his or her ability to form good connections with realtors.

"People have realized this is an amazing marketing tool," says Christine Rae. "If you're selling any product, you want to release it looking its best."

Rae is the president of an international business training academy. She's also co-author of Home Staging for Dummies. She says home staging is all about getting results.

"It's about not sitting on the market with uncertainty for three months," she says. "It's about bringing your house on the market and getting the most interest in the first 10 days when you get the most people through your house.

"We've changed the way real estate is being sold."

Home staging is not a regulated industry, so anyone can call themselves a home stager. Some efforts are being made to offer professional training designations. This protects consumers as well as the image of the profession.

"In terms of actually a career or a business choice, the industry is less than 10 years old," says Rae. "When it's a new service, people are always skeptical, and you have to have pioneers out there who bravely believe there's gold out there."

Even though home staging is a fairly new field, many homeowners are well aware of it.

"You've got 85 TV shows saying, 'This is what you have to do to get your property ready,' whereas 10 years ago [if you said you were a home stager] they'd look at you like you have a second head," says Rae.

Home stager Maria Molek agrees. "Most people are aware of home staging now and the importance of it," she says. "In certain neighborhoods, everyone's doing it. It's a given, whether you hire a stager or do it yourself. There are a lot of shows on TV now on staging and decorating, so people get a lot of tips from that."

Molek has been a home stager for three years. "I worked in human resources for many years, but I'd always had an interest in interior design and decorating," she says.

"I was finding [human resources] to be very draining and not very fulfilling, so I was looking for other options. I'd always wanted to have my own business, so I'd taken some interior design and decorating courses in the evenings."

Four years ago, Molek had a baby. She knew she didn't want to go back to HR after her maternity leave, so she thought about home business opportunities.

"Someone I knew told me that they'd used a home stager to sell their home, and I thought, 'That's something I could do,'" she says.

Molek took a home staging course that she found online and developed a business plan. Now her part-time home staging business allows her to spend time with her kids.

"This offers me a lot of flexibility, so I can schedule when I want to work," she says.

Molek focuses on home staging for condos. Her customers tend to be young professionals.

Like most home stagers, Molek first does a consultation and gives the homeowners a list of recommendations. The consultation normally takes two hours. She examines each room as well as the exterior of the property.

"They can either take that list of recommendations and do it themselves, or they can hire me to do it for them," says Molek.

The average cost of a home staging consultation is $200 to $250, says Molek. After that, most home stagers charge an hourly rate.

Home stagers typically charge between $70 and $200 an hour. Stagers with more experience or better reputations, or those who work in pricier neighborhoods, can charge even higher rates. Some stagers will charge a flat fee based on square footage.

"I enjoy the creative aspect of it," says Molek. "This helps me fulfill that desire to be creative and help people with their problems. A lot of the time, people just don't know where to begin when it comes to selling their home, selecting paint colors, de-cluttering."

Home stagers talk a lot about "de-cluttering." It seems there are a lot of pack rats out there!

"One of the most important things when it comes to staging your home is getting rid of the clutter," says Molek. "They don't know how much stuff to get rid of. It's a fine balance. You don't want to take too much stuff away, because you can get a home that feels kind of cold and empty. You want to create a warm, inviting environment."

Working with Real Estate Agents

Michael Fontana has been doing home staging full time for three-and-a-half years. He calls himself "the Stage Coach." It's a catchy name, especially for someone based in Austin, Texas.

"What got me into it is, I was not happy in the information technology field," says Fontana. "And one day I was watching a show where people were doing an awful job of preparing their homes for sale, and my wife said, 'You can do that.'"

His wife was right. Fontana's home staging business has done well.

"Running your own business definitely has its ups and downs," he says. "For the most part, I do enjoy it because I like having control over the product I produce. The downside is that it's on my shoulders. I have to make sure the business is coming in."

Fontana attributes his business success to the strong relationships he has built with real estate agents. The real estate agents refer staging jobs to him. Fontana says this works better than trying to reach homeowners himself.

"I don't even market to homeowners anymore," he says. "It was so marketing and advertising intensive with such a low return. Now it's just about partnering with real estate agents who understand that it's a value-added service."

Some home stagers are also real estate agents. Having a second income source like this can protect you when the housing market isn't doing well. This is the case for Mary Jo Rushing, who combines home staging with her work as a real estate agent in Boynton Beach, Florida.

"I was a mortgage broker for 25 years, and when the market fell apart I was laid off," she says. "I was very good at decorating and designing. My idea was to combine a home staging and real estate career, to set myself apart. I would love to do home staging full time, but in this area, one out of four homes is in foreclosure or distress."

Rushing is located in south Florida. She says most of Florida is experiencing a real estate slump. In such a market, people don't value home staging very much.

"People are looking at one thing only -- price," she says. "They're looking at the 'sticks and bricks' and not how it's designed (staged)."

As a result, Rushing has been giving free home staging consultations (valued at $300) as a way to get people to list their homes with her. She tells homeowners exactly what they can do to stage their homes themselves.

If you enter the home staging business, keep this in mind: your income could dry up quickly if houses stop selling.

"It's very much dependent on the housing market that they're in because if they're in a distressed housing market it doesn't matter what you do," says Rushing.

"[Home staging] is a hard sell for someone who might be in distress," agrees Fontana. "But if the real estate agent is willing to take it up and make it part of their marketing and say, 'This is what you need to do to compete in the market,' then people are much more agreeable to it."

Qualities of a Home Stager

"I think you have to have great people skills... because you're going into their home with a critical eye and suggesting changes that they might not always take in the right away," says Molek. "So you have to be very careful, very sensitive and very tactful."

It's therefore essential to have excellent communication skills.

"If you're building a business, you can't do without communication skills because you're selling yourself, you're selling a service and you're selling a concept," says Rae.

"You have to have a sense for design," says Rushing. "You have to be extremely organized because a big part of home staging is making homes look neat and clean because that's what sells. And [you also need] a sense of scale. You cannot put dwarf furniture in a big mansion. You have to have a sense of what looks good in a room."

Molek agrees. "You're trying to appeal to the most amount of buyers, so you have to consider what buyers are going to like," she says. "It's not just what I like or what the homeowners like.

"An example would be paint colors," she adds. "A lot of people like a lot of bold colors in their home, but that can scare away a lot of buyers. So that's why it's good to have a lot of neutral colors because that will appeal to the most people."

Many home staging strategies, including choosing the right paint colors, are about convenience for new homeowners.

"A lot of people want a home to be in move-in condition," explains Molek. "They don't want to have to paint or do repairs. If it's painted in a neutral color they can just move in their furniture and it'll work."

Links

International Association of Home Staging Professionals
Plenty of articles, as well as a blog, about home staging

Real Estate Staging Association
A member-governed trade association for home stagers