If you're looking to list your home for sale, one of the most important parts of the process is coming across the right buyer: the person (or people) who will act quickly, offer enough money, and take care of your former home. To do that, you'll want to make your home appear as attractive as possible to draw in potential buyers. That might mean getting the best photos taken, writing the perfect listing, boosting your curb appeal—and even hiring a professional to help stage your property.
Home staging involves bringing in furniture, art, and accessories to make your home look its best and help buyers imagine a future in the home you currently own. Done correctly, home staging can transform a space from outdated and lived-in to new and trendy, and if you stage your home from the start, you have a good chance of selling it quickly—and at a decent price.
"The greatest buzz about a home and the greatest first impression comes when it's first listed," says Tina Stratton, relationship manager at Michigan-based Impact Home Staging Experts.
To take advantage of that buzz, you'll want to set up your home so it shines immediately. Still not sold on home staging? Read on to learn why it's so important—and how to make home staging work for you.
What's the Goal of Home Staging?
The purpose of home staging is to help potential buyers see themselves in the home with contemporary decor that's not personal to the current homeowner, not outdated, and makes the features of the home pop. In many cases, home staging involves first removing personal photos and mementos and clearing out clutter, then bringing in on-trend decor and furniture.
"Buyers will be able to visualize their life in a staged home versus going into somebody's home and the decoration being the seller's," Stratton says. "Now it's just a neutral ground and they can visualize their life in that home. Buyers get excited about it, too, because it's contemporary."
Proper staging won't just help a buyer to visualize their life in the home: It can also help a home appear newer and in better condition.
"Staged homes are also thought of as being more well maintained and more cared for, because we want it to be pristine," Stratton says. "We want it to stand out and look its absolute best."
Patsy Rios Franzi, a real estate agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Universal, typically does a walk-through of a client's property and suggests fixes the client can make themselves for staging. That typically involves removing personal decor and clutter on countertops and tabletops.
"If you want top dollar you have to depersonalize," Rios Franzi says. "Your things might be beautiful, but your stuff isn't staying, and buyers can't always see beyond your things."
Typically, Rios Franzi will have a seller begin packing and storing their items in the garage or basement until the sale is completed. This gets items out of the way and helps a seller get a head start on the moving process.
"The goal is to make it look like a model home," she says. That might mean bringing in faux plants, stacks of books, or certain furniture items for the listing photos.
For homes that need professional help, there are companies such as Stratton's.
Sellers come to Stratton for a variety of reasons. Some go with home staging at the outset to get the best price for their home; others do it later in the game to increase viewings if traffic has been slow. Staging can even help a home that's in need of repairs that the seller doesn't want to tackle, or homes with less-than-ideal structural features.
"Especially in older homes, instead of putting all that money in to do all of these renovations, home staging can shine the best light on the home, and that's definitely a lesser expense than trying to upgrade your kitchen," Stratton says. "We also see a lot of awkward floor plans. Sometimes you need to help prospective buyers visualize the space, because sometimes it's hard. You can't figure out where you would put a sofa, where you put a TV."
How Does the Staging Process Work?
If you work with a professional staging service, a crew will come in to suggest layouts and stage main rooms of the home, including the kitchen, master bedroom, and living room. These days, many sellers opt to stage a spare room as a home office for remote workers as well, Stratton adds.
If the home is vacant, crews will typically bring furniture in for a period of 45 to 90 days, depending on your contract. If the home is still occupied by the owner, you'll have to store your furniture or relocate it to another part of the home, such as the basement, while prop furniture is in use, Stratton says.
Typically, homeowners are not supposed to use prop furniture in order to keep the pieces in good shape for future use. If you're still living in the home, many of those items will be off-limits.
"We don't use an actual bed, for example, we use a box spring," Stratton says.
The furniture will remain on-site for listing photos and viewings and will be removed just before closing, before the new buyer moves in.
For sellers going the DIY route, staging is done for the listing photos. Removing knick-knacks, family photos, evidence of pets, and all those fridge magnets can clean up a space and make it feel open, Rios Franzi says.
In rare cases, Rios Franzi has used virtual staging software to list a home with 3D renderings of each room, but she prefers that the images be authentic for potential buyers when they actually tour the property.
Should You Work with a Home Staging Expert?
If you're wondering whether your home could benefit from a professional staging crew, talk to your real estate agent first. They can tell you whether the home needs help in order to be seen in the best light.
"Listen to your agent. If they are telling you that you need to stage your home, it is in your best interest. They are wanting you to get the most out of selling your home," says Amy Hersch, a real estate agent and interior designer at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Kansas City Homes. "They know the market, and to have a leg up over the other homes in your area, you will want to show off your home in the best possible way."
Agreeing with your agent early on can mean a quick closing at a good price.
"Staging absolutely results in both selling a property faster and at a better price," says Elizabeth Weech, a real estate agent at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate MCR Bahamas. "I have had multiple properties that lingered on the market for six months to a year before sellers agreed to staging. Once staged, those properties often sold or rented soon after."
If you have a home with a strange layout, an older home, or a home that has failed to sell after some time on the market, home staging is a good way to generate buzz about your property and get an offer close to asking price. Just know that, if you go with a professional, it's an investment: You can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars on staging services, but then expect to get offers at asking price.
"At the end of the day, [sellers] will see a return on that investment," Stratton says.
Stratton's experience proves that it pays to go with a professional. Recently, her company quoted a million-dollar listing just $4,000 for a home staging package. The sellers refused, and instead ended up selling their property at $80K below asking price after it sat on the market for almost six months. That wouldn't have happened with the right flair, Stratton says.
How you decide to pay for the service is up to you and your real estate agent. It could be an out-of-pocket cost or one that your real estate firm tackles for you.
"The homeowner can pay, the Realtor can pay, or you can split that cost, and the homeowner can pay up front and then the real estate agent reimburses at closing," Stratton says.
Rios Franzi has typically had her clients pay for professional home staging, but says there's a lot a homeowner can do without the added expense if they choose to begin packing early. Homes with awkward floor plans or vacant homes without furniture can benefit from professional staging, but an occupied home might be easier to stage yourself.
"Even if you throw things in your cabinets," Rios Franzi says. "Nobody will care if your cabinets or your garage is full. But less is more when it comes to home staging."