I've been on several listing appointments in the last few weeks and at some point in the meeting, the prospective Sellers invariably want an answer as to the cost of staging and whether it's worth it or not (Yes, it is.) followed by, "Will you pay for it?" (No I won't. Good staging directly equates to a better result and more money in your pocket.) This discussion typically happens before we negotiate the sales commission; a topic that's worth a frank discussion as well, but one I'll save for another column and another day . . . suffice it to say that I believe Realtors earn their keep!
Whether it's the fees associated with paying an experienced Broker, or the costs of preparation - BOTH are smart investments that can add up to BIG returns for the Sellers and why I'm going to firmly encourage you to spend the dollars required to make your home truly stand out. Given that nearly ALL Buyers begin their search on the INTERNET, the presentation of your home via photographs and video has never been more important!
"But it's expensive to fully stage a home."
"Yes, it is, but it's worth it."
For the sake of argument, let's agree that staging a home for sale is no small investment; costing anywhere from $7,000 on the low end, to $25,000+ on the high end, depending on the size of your property. (I'm betting it's considerably more in SF, LA and NYC.) However, dollar for dollar, GOOD staging brings the largest return TO THE SELLERS. Note the operative word here is "GOOD" - not all staging is created equal - some staging jobs don't just fall short, they're truly unfortunate: plastic plants, cheap rugs, furniture that's out of scale, and bland art. Remember, we are creating a narrative for your home; it should be fresh, it should be crisp, it should be "on trend." and it should radiate quality, comfort, and joy! In short, first impressions really DO matter.
Which is why I'm incredibly picky about the stagers I recommend. Not that I haven't acquiesced to the Sellers more than once when they've insisted on buying their own staging or were keen on using a cheaper company they found online . . . but always, ALWAYS, with regret. Cutting corners translates poorly.
Bringing a house to market is a production, and talented Stagers not only continue to upgrade their inventory, they also understand the "tricks of the trade." Proper placement of mirrors used to enlarge rooms or invite outdoor spaces inside, transitional furniture that speaks to the "Pinterest" generation, lighting that brightens and creates warmth, and accessories that compliment rather than clutter. Is a staged house realistic? No, and that's the point; no computers, no chords, no mail on the countertop, no dishes in the sink. It's a fantasy, but one that works and I would adamantly argue, is entirely necessary (only if top-dollar is the goal)!
Under the heading of "You Get What You Pay For," this is never more true than with staging and may I kindly submit that in spite of the fact that you will likely have already spent a good deal on paint, carpet, lighting, and gardening, the staging of your home isn't the place to cut the budget. In fact, it's the exclamation point on the entire process and where the magic is actually created.
Last year, I had clients who insisted their lovely (but uninspiring) home needed NO staging, NO signage, and NO Sunday Opens. Against my better judgement and foregoing my years of experience, I let them run the show. Was I surprised when we didn't sell the house only to watch the next Agent successfully put the property into contract - AFTER doing everything I'd suggested? (No, I wasn't.) Was I kicking myself? (Yes, I was.) To make matters worse, the Buyers had originally come through during my tenure, but only bought the house once "the fantasy" had been created. In this case, staging wasn't just an option, it actually made the difference.
Had I let the Seller down by not insisting that they either defer to my advice or walk away? (Yes, I had.)
"But my house is really special. It doesn't need staging."
I'm sure it is, but the point is, it's already your house, of course you love it, BUT we're not selling the house to you!
According to the National Association of Realtors, first impressions happen within 7-10 seconds upon arrival! AND when it comes to staging, 90% of Buyers will more likely attach emotionally to a staged home vs. an unstaged home, 40% of Buyers will more likely request a showing, and 77% of Buyers can more easily visualize the home as their own when your things aren't in it.
More fun facts: Only 1 in 10 people can visualize living in an unstaged home, more than 90% of all Buyers begin their search on the INTERNET, and finally, staging costs return 586% on the dollar. (Wow!) Here in the East Bay, I'm guessing the difference can easily be as much as $100,000 - $200,000. (Still think staging is too expensive? I thought not.)
So now that you've got the facts, let's get back to haggling over the commission you're struggling to accept and I'll tell you why and how GOOD Realtors earn every cent (The operative word here is "GOOD!") starting with helping you earn more on the sale of your home by overseeing and coordinating good staging.
How can I help you?
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 12 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.