I think the practice of staging began gaining popularity as smart agents realized the concept was a way to help clients address issues in a house that might affect its marketability. It’s difficult at best (and impolite at worst) to tell someone, ‘Your house is a mess…You have too much stuff…Your furniture is not to scale and your bedding is in tatters…Your house feels cold when empty…That taxidermy you love so dearly has got to go.”
But when the idea “Let’s stage this place” is presented as a sensible business decision, something that makes your home stand out in a competitive market by pragmatically addressing correctable issues, people gain some concrete reasons to clean up their act.
Improving a home’s aesthetics is the most obvious benefit. But it’s not the only big incentive. Many people don’t know, for example, that the IRS treats staging costs as a legitimate, tax-deductible advertising expense for both primary and secondary homes so long as the home stager was hired for the sole purpose of selling the home and the home isn’t taken off the market before it’s sold. Additionally, the National Association of Realtors’ annual surveys of selling agents have consistently shown that staged homes sell far faster, and for a significantly better price. (In 2017, 21 percent of the agents reported buyers’ offers ranging from 8 to 15 percent higher than what comparable homes sold for. Another 29 percent said the benefit was as high as five percent.)
Once a client agrees to accept staging help the solutions are often blessedly simple. I remember a favorite customer of mine who was a real pack rat. I told him flat out that he had to had to pack much of it away because he had so much stuff no one could see the house. He accepted the input and went off to the liquor store on his own, collected a patchwork array of boxes, filled them, listed the contents on the outside of each with a red marker, then stacked them in the basement.
When I went back to check his progress I said, “Well, that’s a start. But I think you missed part of the point.” I suggested he call Uline, the shipping and packaging company, to order uniform boxes with lids. Then I had him go to his computer and create two Microsoft Word documents. The first was a sheet of standardized labels to print out featuring a letter and date (A-2019, B-2019, and so on…) The other document was a master list that he could save on his computer showing what each labeled box from A to Z contained.
After the re-do was done, the two of us stood in his basement admiring his neatly stacked the boxes with clean, consistent labels in the left upper corner. I asked him, “How does that feel?” and he said, “I feel great.” We talked about how even subtly messaging the viewer can mean everything when you’re trying to sell a house, and how, in his case, even a gesture like this tidy stack of boxes can help send a message that this owner is organized, thoughtful, and likely to apply to the same attention to detail to the overall maintenance of the rest of the house. That’s a very good message to send.
To me, the best home staging creates something aspirational. My preference here in the Hamptons (or markets like Palm Beach and New York City) is to start with an empty property. My goal is far more than making a space look like a home – it’s to make someone stop their search and say ‘This home is where I want to live.”