Do You Believe In Staging?

Business

6 minute read

June 11, 2014

Because many people don’t!

Today’s buyers are incredibly savvy and well-informed, but they’re also cynical, and I’m an expert in cynicism!

Perhaps many buyers see through the $12,000 staging jobs and look at the houses themselves, and perhaps many buyers are just not impressed by the lonely bowl of lemons on the kitchen counter.  We see equally as many fantastic staging jobs as we see poor ones, and they both fail to impress cynical buyers.

I’m a fan of staging, and I think it works.  But let’s examine a few situations where it doesn’t…

GreenApples

Green apples.

Seriously?

This is what represents the concept of “staging?”

Show me a “staged” house without at least one of green apples or lemons, and I’ll tell you, “Damn, that’s not a complete staging job!”

All sarcasm aside, this is part and parcel of the entire job, and I really, truly believe that staging works.  In fact, I pretty much refuse to accept anything to the contrary.

In my mind, there are two major reasons why staging does, in fact, get more money for a property, and I think you’d have a hard time arguing against either.

1) Lack of Imagination

Call it whatever you want.

Say it a bit nicer, and suggest that a house should feature “maximum potential” or “infinite presentation,” but the bottom line is that many buyers don’t have the imagination necessary to see a house to its full potential, unless it’s standing there right in front of them.

Picture a vacant room, and try and think of what you can do with it.

Now picture that room, professionally staged by somebody who plays with couches and rugs all day, every day, and try and tell me that you won’t notice a difference.

I think every buyer wants to suggest that they’re not going to be influenced by somebody’s furniture, especially if that furniture was specifically put there to influence them!  But you can’t possibly suggest that a staged room doesn’t add any value.

A vacant room is one thing, but what about a room that has furniture, but the space isn’t maximized?

Picture a living room with four couches where only one will do.  Or picture a living room with one couch, where the room looks ridiculously empty.

I’ve been in enough houses and condos with buyers who stare at the floor like it’s a math equation, trying to figure out how to apportion the space; where to put the couch and TV, how to add in the dining room table.  I know that despite their best efforts, no buyer can see the space in the same way as if it were professionally staged.

With imagination, comes possibilities.

Wait…..I’ve heard that before.  I think that’s somebody’s slogan…

But it’s true.  If you lay everything out perfectly, buyers will view the property in a whole other light – a better light, and they’ll have no choice but to see the value in the asking price, or as our current market demonstrates – a higher than asking price.

Would any product sell if it weren’t advertised?  Wouldn’t any company, selling a product or service, benefit from showcasing it in the most positive light?

Would McDonald’s sell as many hamburgers as they do if they didn’t photoshop their advertisements like this:

McDonaldsBefore&After

2) Expectations on Price.

“Oh, this property is going to SELL!”

You hear prospective buyers say that a lot, but they never say it while standing in run-down property where the toothless tenants are literally cooking their garbage on the stove.

Just like I believe that there’s a brand value associated with a top real estate brokerage, I also believe that there’s an added value to a staged house.  I truly believe that having a “Bosley” sign on the lawn will put a higher value in the heads of potential buyers than “XYZ Realty” will, I also believe that a staged home will lead buyers to a higher price for the property.

You walk inside, the house is gleaming, and subconsciously or otherwise, you add value to the home because of the staging job.

You know that other people are going to associate a higher value with this house.  Other people will pay top dollar for this house.  And thus, you have no choice but to follow suit, and beat them, or back out and go buy the dilapidated house with newspapers covering the front porch.

This isn’t rocket science, folks.

There’s a reason people pay a 40% mark-up on jewelry from Tiffany’s, isn’t there?  Is it that stupid blue bag they put the jewelry in?  Or is it simply “knowing” that you’re walking around inside Tiffany’s?

When you’re in a staged house, you feel professionalism.  You feel like the listing has been done “right,” and that the price of the house will follow suit.

And if you don’t, believe me when I say that a dozen other folks will.

A staged house demonstrates that the sellers, the listing agent, and the brokerage all know what they’re doing, and that there’s no “deal” to be had here.

I truly believe that buyers act accordingly.

So let’s switch directions here and talk about the exact opposite: when staging doesn’t work.

If a well-staged house can get more money for a property, then can a poorly-staged house get less?

I think it can.

Here is a photo I took recently in a “staged” house.  Tell me what your reaction is when you see this:

MixedFruit

What was your reaction?

Did you laugh?

Admit it – you laughed.

Your reaction could have been shock, or maybe disgust, but I think most of you giggled a bit when you saw this, and how could you not?

It’s almost comical.  You’d almost be tempted to ask, “David you are joking here, right?”

I’m not joking.  This was actually in a vacant house, which had a strange staging job, whereby there was a lonely wicker basket on a shelf, with one lemon, one Macintosh apple, and one Red Delicious.  Oh – and these weren’t real fruits either; they were plastic.

What was the seller thinking?  I guess we’ll never know.

But more importantly, what feelings resonate in the minds of the buyer when they see this?

Personally, I thought this was pathetic.  I thought the entire house was pathetic, and I think the “staging job,” if you could even call it that, had something to do with it.

The house was a reno-and-flip, and it was done poorly.  But the poor job was accentuated by the pathetic and laughable staging, and my clients and I all shook our heads as we walked through the house.

You can put makeup and nice clothing on an ugly person, and I guess he or she will look somewhat more attractive.  But when you put ugly clothes on that person, and punch them in the face a few times, don’t you think they’d look worse?

This “staging job” made a bad house.

Here’s another fantastic photo:

Apples&Candy

Great.

Green apples, and cheap candies that you’d expect to get with your bill at Jack Astor’s……if you’re lucky.

This basement was completely vacant, save for the bowl of apples, and tray of candies, and again – it makes you scratch your head!

I’m a seasoned Realtor, and I was with experienced clients, but the three of us were so mesmerized by these “staging items” that we took our focus off the house itself.  What do you think the rest of the buyer pool did?

This house would have looked better completely vacant, than with a half-assed staging job.

Or, the sellers could have paid a professional to stage the whole house, and I’m sure it would have sold by now, instead of rotting on the market in a red-hot area.

I don’t believe there are any short-cuts when it comes to staging.

Take your car into the dealership, and Toyota, who works on Toyota’s all day long, work on your Toyota!  Or, maybe take it to “Louie” up the street, save a few bucks, and hope he doesn’t screw it up.

The same argument can be made for hiring a full-service, experienced Realtor, but I won’t turn this blog post into a public service announcement.

There’s a reason why a wealthy, successful person doesn’t get their taxes done for $39 at the mall; that person hires a top accountant, and pays a fee that saves him or her countless tax dollars.

We could come up with analogies all day.

I just don’t understand how somebody can put this in a $1,000,000 house for sale, and think it’s “staging:”

DesignMags

This is simply three piles of magazines, on a shelf, in a room with nothing else.

I’m not an expert on “fanning magazines,” but usually they’re presented better than this.  The cookbook in the photo at the very top is turned open to a nice recipe, and it’s propped open on a stand.

This photo just shows what is essentially recycling material.

It’s moderately better than this:

NoSell01

Okay, fine.  That’s a stretch.

But that’s one of the “best” listings I’ve ever seen, and I would put that photo in my top-five all time!

Bottom line – there are two takeaways from this blog:

1) A professional staging job will get you more money for your house.

2) An amateur and pathetic staging job will make your house look laughable in the eyes of a buyer.

Is there a happy medium?  Yes, there is.  It’s called “no staging.”

If you don’t want to shell out money for staging, that’s fine.  But for the love of God – don’t put a bowl of green apples in an empty basement!

And by the way – don’t ever eat those staging apples.  Stagers spray them with Pledge to bring out the shine, and Pledge is poison.

Well, at least you learned something useful today! 🙂

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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24 Comments

  1. FroJo

    at 8:46 am

    Is staging relevant in the current ultra seller’s market?

    1. Kathryn

      at 11:15 pm

      Absolutely! Even in an ultra
      Seller’s market a beautifully staged home will typically sell for more than an in-staged home. There are statistics to back this up.

  2. Geoff

    at 8:55 am

    I have to agree with Forjo’s implied comment – that I don’t think the ROI on staging is anywhere near the pita of going through it, in a heavy sellers market.

    I *do* think decluttering is the #1 thing you can do to get your house ready for sale. When we sold our loft, basically 65% of everything we owned went out to family basements (winter coats, books, dishes, everything.. every drawer or closet or anything was 2/3 empty).

  3. Huuk

    at 9:45 am

    Staging just works.
    Unless you had a designer come in and help buy all your designer furniture in the last 5 years, get a pro stager and see the return it provide.
    Here is a perfect example of a house that is staged specifically for the expected buyer in that neighbourhood – http://www.blogto.com/city/2014/06/house_of_the_week_266_garden_avenue/
    In a condo on Richmond or a mansion in York Mills, it would be a very different style of stage.
    Totally worth the money IMO, even in this ‘ultra’ seller’s market

    1. Paully

      at 7:14 am

      That is a nice looking listing!

    2. Kyle

      at 9:01 am

      Asking $995K, sold for $1.267M. If you ask me i think the staging had something to do with it.

    3. Kathryn

      at 11:16 pm

      Absolutely! Even in an ultra
      Seller’s market a beautifully staged home will typically sell for more than an in-staged home. There are statistics to back this up.

  4. Joe Q.

    at 9:58 am

    Best “staging fail” I have seen was a nice doggie bed randomly pushed up against the wall in a mostly empty finished basement. I pushed it aside to find a gigantic gaping hole in the floor / base of the wall.

  5. GinaTO

    at 10:05 am

    What about over-staging? I sometimes see houses where I feel that they’re trying way too hard, and the staging choices distract from looking at the space itself – anything too hipster-trendy, or out there (giant fake moose antlers, anything way too pretty or unpractical that screams staging, etc.) Sorry I can’t be more precise, but I’m sure you’ve all seen those.

  6. lulu

    at 11:03 am

    I find staging best for first time buyer, and most of the time fool them pretty good, but for savvy investor and step up buyer, they can see through the staging part and find all the flaws and ugly side beneath the staging. a fresh coat of paint always work no matter what!

  7. Kyle

    at 2:05 pm

    In general i think staging works, but obviously how much of a difference it makes, depends on how far away the starting point is from what target buyers are looking for. Probably not much payback to stage an A+ home which is already set-up and furnished the way most target buyers would want it. And lots of buyers don’t know what they want until they see/feel/connect with it. A bowl of fruit and bottles of water aren’t really what i call staging, I consider staging to be when someone rearranges, adds or deletes to appeal to a target demographic. Like staging a room to be a nursery in say a Leslieville home, staging part of a bedroom as a home office in a neighbourhood with lots of professionals, changing the furniture and art to be more clean and modern in say Trinity Bellwoods, more funky in Parkdale, or more traditional in North Toronto.

    Compare the two examples below. They’re both well maintained but very dated homes, which clearly haven’t been renovated since the 70’s or 80’s. The unstaged, one is empty, and just feels like a dated house that needs to be renovated again. The staged one is artfully set up with vintage modern furniture which actually look very stylish with the 70’s decor and feels very warm and inviting.

    Unstaged:
    http://themashcanada.blogspot.ca/2014/04/1-laurier-avenue-cabbagetown.html?q=laurier

    Well-staged:
    http://themashcanada.blogspot.ca/2014/02/97-dewson-street-dufferin-grove.html?q=dufferin+Grove

  8. Cliff

    at 9:29 am

    Staging is very important. A lot of people have trouble with vacant spaces. They have a hard time envisioning furniture. Staging helps them along. Gives them a clearer picture. Especially people with no design skills.

    But if you’re going to stage, do a good job. Nothing worse than half assed staging.

    1. Jill Ackerman

      at 7:36 pm

      Which is exactly why my company is named “Stage Right”, and not “Stage Half-assed”!

  9. crazyegg

    at 11:08 am

    Hi All,

    In general, I don’t think professional staging is needed in this market for the vast majority of homes.

    However, I do believe that all of the smaller sized and oddly shaped condos DO NEED staging. This will help with furniture placement visualization.

    Regards,
    ed,,

  10. ScottyP

    at 12:39 am

    I’m just waiting for Chroscklh to log on and comment on the importance of proper placement of cow or yak.

  11. Nathan

    at 2:06 am

    Just as a tangential point, McDonald’s does indeed photoshop their burger ads, but more importantly they also put a considerable amount of effort into properly … staging … the photos for maximum appeal. The burgers they photograph are actually angled so you can see all the ingredients in a face on shot.
    See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8

  12. Catherine Lewis-Brown

    at 1:02 am

    Great perspectives on staging, and fun to read! I’m an International Master Stager in Toronto and a staging instructor. There are more important points still to be made… Firstly, professional staging is about making the investment (not a cost) in marketing the features of a property – everything we do is with this in mind; secondly, we create expert staging plans for properties that sell a lifestyle to the targeted buyer of that property (not sure of the buyer interested in a basket with a lonely apple, mind you!) and thirdly, we stage to sell properties faster and for money than their competition by executing the perfect plan for that property! And yes, it’s true that there are great and then not so great stagers. Agents and sellers should expect their stager to have professional training, insurance, testimonials and a superior portfolio – the only reason to have substandard staging is that you’ve picked the lowest bid!

  13. Connie

    at 12:11 pm

    You are a wonderful cynical comic! If the realty world doesn’t work out for you, think about doing comedy. 🙂 LOVE love love your examples. So true! And can you believe it, in my area where we’re experiences a huge oil boom, realtors/sellers are STILL not convinced staging works. The market’s slowed down a bit and I’ve seen some properties on the market for several months up to 2 years now…of course the million $ homes are selling even if they’re not staged. But there are plenty of other listing photos where there are personal care items on the bathroom counter along with a tasty dish of cat food…. Maybe they’re trying to propose the bathroom as a multi-purpose room? Hmmmmm….. 😉 P.S. I’ve talked to two of the biggest realty companies in our area about staging. They look at me like I’m talking some unknown foreign tongue! Usually I hear “What’s wrong with animal heads on the walls?” or “Why would be spend money to do THAT!?!?!?” Oh well….eventually our area will move into the 21st century. 😉

    1. Paula

      at 12:34 am

      You crack me up!

  14. Tracey McLeod

    at 10:47 am

    It’s only recently that I’ve witnessed the green apple scenario and it’s polar opposite:

    Couple A renovated their vacant house. They have had an offer of $780,000 and are hoping for over $1 million. Meanwhile, Couple B are about to put their furnished rental holiday home on the market. They are hoping for $720,000. 

    Couple A use our service to partially furnish their renovated home. Couple B decide not to professionally stage their furnished holiday home.

    Couple A have an inspection just as we’re completing the styling which results in an offer of $900,000. – a return of $120,000 above the pre-styling price on day one, if they decide to take the offer.

    Couple B have rejected our recommendations and decide to send the wife in to style. On auction day, they have two bidders and the bidding goes to $670,000. They reject the bid and call us, “I’ve just read a book on home staging and I’m wondering what it would cost to put a bowl of apples on the kitchen bench and set the dining table,” says husband Couple B. “I can give you $650.”

    We give the only possible answer based on what we believe is needed to sell their home, “It will cost what we originally quoted to do what your home needs to sell well.” Husband Couple B hangs up. 

    By this time Couple A are well and truly sipping mocktails. Their home sold in 24 days for $300,000 more than the pre-styling offer.

    Couple B have sacked their original agent as their home lingers for 73 days, finally selling for $19,000 less than their first offer and $69,000 less than their original desired price. 

    All we could think was, “How do you like them apples?”

  15. CL

    at 11:58 pm

    Who should pay for staging? The client/seller or the realtor?

    1. Paula

      at 12:46 am

      Seller, but the the seller pays it back to the realtor when she/he sells the home.
      -to the seller, it should encourage the realtor to sell.
      -to the realtor, it will help the house sell.

  16. Sandy Hayes

    at 1:42 pm

    Very poor taste in stating ‘toothless tenants cooking their garbage’……..not all of us can be as fortunate as you-no matter how hard we work!

  17. Karen

    at 10:58 pm

    Pretty sure that pathetic staging job you speak of was a poor attempt by a realtor. Maybe you should educate them?

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