Home Staging Makes Properties Sell

By Wendy Underwood for Real Estate Magazine

“A home that I’ve had staged sells quicker and 90 per cent of the time, for more money,” says Calgary realtor, Judy Bonnell. “There’s no doubt about it.”

After just four years in the industry, Bonnell has built a solid business on great people skills, hard work and a marketing plan with a difference. Her plan includes all the usual components: signs, open houses, print advertising and flyers, but unlike most Realtors, Bonnell pays for all of her houses to be professionally staged.

Originating in California, home staging transforms the house, inside and out, into the type of place that future buyers want to live in. Just like the display suite in a new development, the home is staged to reflect the lifestyle that potential buyers want to lead. So this is not just a case of painting the walls and replacing the shag carpeting, although that may have to happen, but also hanging artwork, putting champagne glasses on the coffee table, placing inspirational books on the nightstand, and playing a Frank Sinatra CD. It’s a trick that department stores use to make you buy their merchandise, and now Canadian Realtors are using it to sell homes.

After seeing an article on home staging, in President’s Choice Magazine, Bonnell, a Realtor with Royal LePage Foothills Real Estate Services decided to call Karyn Elliott, a local stager featured in the article. She set Elliott to work on her next listing, and it was so successful that Bonnell now has all of her listings staged.

“I started getting all of my listings staged because there’s always an improvement,” she says, “The homes look beautiful and clean as a whistle. Karyn takes good taste and puts it in the right place.”

Bonnell says that having beautiful listings reflects well on her professionally, makes working an open house more pleasant, and when it comes to listing new properties she can offer something that few others do. She also says that her staged homes sell for more money in a hot market, and quicker in a slow market. And in the age of Internet marketing, having a listing photograph well is more important than ever. Bonnell tries to get the home staged before the sign goes on the lawn, so that everyone passing through gets the best impression, especially in that crucial first week of listing. Her biggest problem is that when a home sells so quickly, her sellers feel they should have tried to sell for more.

Elliott first checks a home’s curb appeal, and the area around the front door, which is wherepotential buyers will probably spend a few minutes waiting. Once inside, she measures the first impression, and she starts moving and removing furniture, painting and accessorizing. Making sure the room has character and doesn’t seem too sterile is important, as is depersonalizing the space: taking down family photos, artwork that may offend and any religious paraphernalia.

“It’s crucial that people be able to imagine themselves living in the home, and these things prevent that. They reinforce that it’s someone else’s home.”

Many Realtors will argue that they already tell their clients to do similar things with their home. So why pay an hourly rate to have someone else come in and do what you can do yourself? Bonnell has had this question levelled at her many times. “I’ve been to many home inspections and often joke that I could do a home inspector’s job. But I can’t – they’re trained professionals. Karyn is an interior designer; that’s her job, though I have followed her around for the past couple of years, I can’t do it anywhere as near as well as she can.”

Another advantage is that having a professional home stager tell homeowners what needs to be improved relieves the Realtor of the risk of personally offending their client, ruining the relationship. They’re also more likely to carry out the home stager’s instructions. “If my clients’ home is unkempt,” says Bonnell, “I have to be delicate in telling them that something has to be done. Instead I prepare my clients for Karyn to come in. I tell them that her job is to get their home sold for the best price, and they might hear things they don’t necessarily want to hear.”

Home stagers usually offer two options: they can come in and spend two hours drawing up a list of suggestions that homeowners then complete; they can come in and do everything, or a combination. A consultation with Elliott costs about $200 and she tries to work with items that the sellers already own. “Realtors find that paying me $200 is much more effective than spending the same amount on advertising.” She says, “It’s not uncommon for a home I’ve staged to sell on the first weekend it’s open, for the full asking price, if not more.”

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