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Real Estate Staging: An Investor's Guide

Staged homes tend to attract more interest and sell faster than unstaged homes. Find out the right way to stage homes.

Apr 17, 2021 by Laura Agadoni
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Real estate staging makes sense. Statistics from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) -- from decades ago to recent years -- show there's often a reduction in days on market between a staged and unstaged home and sometimes a higher selling price as well.

I recently tested the theory. Here's what happened with two identical townhomes for sale, just a few doors apart:

One listing featured real estate photos taken on a rainy, late winter's afternoon. The home's exterior pictures looked drab and dreary, the interior wasn't staged, and all the photos featured gray walls and either unfurnished or sparsely furnished rooms. This listing presented an uninviting home with bad curb appeal.

An identical home a few doors down featured real estate photos taken on a bright spring morning with flowers just starting to bloom, creating a cheerful facade. The interior was bright from the sun shining through the windows, and each room was professionally staged to show the home's potential. This listing presented an inviting home with good curb appeal.

The result: The unstaged home was taken off the market after months of languishing with little interest and no sale. The staged home sold quickly for just over the asking price.

This is a good example of what staging can do -- the homes were identical and on the same street; the only major difference was one was staged and the other wasn't. Staging can work, especially if you want to sell your home fast, but investors need to know how to go about it.

How much to budget

How much to spend on staging depends on your target market and whether it's a buyer's or seller's market. You'd likely spend the most on staging in a high-income neighborhood during a buyer's market (when there are more homes for sale than buyers).

You'd spend the least on staging in a lower-income area during a seller's market (when there are more buyers than homes for sale) -- probably $0 in this latter case. In the former case, you'd spend, on average when using a professional home staging service, around $300 to $600 for a staging consultation and about $2,000 to $2,400 a month to stage a 2,000-square-foot home.

If you want to stage but don't want to spend the money on a professional stager, you'll probably do fine staging with furniture from a furniture rental company or by using furniture you might keep on hand, in storage perhaps, for this purpose -- a good idea if you plan to flip houses regularly.

In a seller's market, where you don't need to do much to sell a home, you can still make the home look nice without spending much money at all, by decluttering, opening window treatments to let in light, and maybe putting out flowers or other homey touches.

Virtual staging: another option

Another way to save money is to use virtual home staging. This involves using photo-editing software to change photos of vacant rooms or badly furnished rooms and making them appear to be professionally staged. This works when potential buyers view the listing online, but when they come in person, they won't see a staged home; the home won't really be staged as it is with traditional staging. The cost is much less for virtual staging, about $100 per room.

How much to spend

A good rule of thumb for deciding how much to spend would be to determine what you think the staging will get you -- a shorter time on the market, a higher price, or both -- and how much that means to your bottom line. Carrying costs (property taxes, insurance, utilities, etc.) can be expensive, so you'd want to sell as quickly as possible. A real estate agent can help you determine how much staging to consider.

Design recommendations

Stagers typically hang artwork and carefully place a few knickknacks in key areas, just enough for a pleasing effect but never a cluttered look. Think less is more. It's also a good idea to put out brand-new towels and to display fresh fruit and flowers. Basic furniture pieces should suffice, such as a couch, coffee table, and chair for the living room and a bed, dresser, and nightstands for the master bedroom. No need to go overboard on furniture -- it's heavy and difficult to move.

Nothing personal should be in the house, such as family photos, sports memorabilia, religious decor, or political items. The goal is to get a potential buyer to imagine the home as their home, so it's best to stay neutral. A fresh coat of interior paint is usually in order, as well.

Some remaining points

You can stage every room in the home, but that's often unnecessary. You might not get the best bang for your buck by staging every room. A good staging tip is to stage rooms people spend the most time in, such as the kitchen, living room, master bedroom, and master bathroom. If you have an unusual or small space, consider showing a use for it, such as a home office desk and chair placed in an alcove. If there's a foyer or entrance area, it's a good idea to stage that, too, since you want to make a good first impression. Secondary bedrooms aren't as important to stage.

The Millionacres bottom line

Homes are more likely to sell quickly and for top dollar if they look move-in ready than if they look like they've seen better days.

Although staging works, here's one caveat: In a strong seller's market, sellers can often sell homes "as-is" at record speed, often for top dollar.

If you're selling during a hot seller's market, you probably don't need to work quite as hard on staging as you would in a balanced or buyer's market. Even so, markets change, so real estate investors should know the ins and outs of real estate staging. If you're unsure whether you should stage or how much to stage, you might wish to seek advice from a Realtor.

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