Is Professional Home Staging Worth The Cost?

Home staging has become a "must do" for sellers. Some 77% of buyer's agents said home staging makes it easier for prospective buyers to visualize the property as a future home. Staged homes sell faster and for more money than those that are unstaged, according to industry analysis. 

What is Staging?  

Good staging is “a form of visual merchandising that draws on some of the fundamentals of interior design,” according to Gordon Roberts, a broker with Sotheby’s International Realty“The object of staging is to flatter the property but not be too obvious about it, like being dressed without drawing particular attention to what you’re wearing.” 

Melinda Massie, the owner of a Fort Worth home-organizing firm, says that good staging lets the buyers imagine themselves in the home; shows off its good features and hides its flaws; turns weird spaces into usable spaces; creates a mood (stagers call it “emotional” staging); and makes the home look significantly better in photos. 

Why Stage?

Staging has only recently come into prominence — 20 years ago nobody worried about staging. As a post on the legal website NOLO.com points out, “Giving your home a good scrubbing and hiding the kitty litter was considered enough before putting out the ‘for sale’ sign. [Now] more and more home sellers in many parts of the U.S. enlist the services of home stagers.” That makes it very likely your property will be competing with homes that have been professionally staged. In addition, the huge popularity of HGTV shows has heightened buyer expectations.

A stager can help with your online listing, too. A staggering number of people – 95% according to a National Association of Realtors (NAR) report  – use the Internet during their home search. That means that your home had better show really well online. Staging and photos by a professional can help you do that -- and keep your home off Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs.

Consider the return on investment. As Sid Pinkerton, a New York City-based stager, points out: If you found a financial planner who could give you a return on investment (ROI) of 5%, 10% or sometimes as much as 20%, “wouldn’t you think they were a genius? Well, that’s what a good stager can do.” 

How Will Staging Affect Time on Market? 

The Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) has a staging savings calculator that lets you figure out how much time and money (mortgage payments, carrying costs, etc.) to save if you stage your home before listing it. Its “Consumers Guide to Real Estate Staging” reports that homes that had not been staged before listing sat on the market an average 143 days. Once these homes were staged, they sold in 40 days. Homes that were staged pre-listing averaged 23 days on the market. You can expect differences from state to state – in California homes sold five times faster, in Oregon seven times faster – but ”faster” is the key word here. 

How Will Staging Affect the Selling Price?

According to the NAR report, 58% of sellers’ realtors believe that buyers offer more money for staged homes (29% think they offer 1% to 5% more; 21% put the increase at 6% to 10%; 3% put it as high as 20%). Only 14% of the realtors didn't feel staging had any impact on a home's selling price. Home Staging Resource, an organization that offers training and resources to stagers, is even more bullish on staging (as you’d expect): Its website states that in a survey of 3,500 staged homes, 46% sold for 10% more than they would have unstaged. 

Ari Harkov, a broker for Halstead Property, cites another potential result of good staging: If you use your own furniture and the staging makes it look really good, sometimes the buyer will ask to buy the furniture, too.

How Much Will it Cost?

This is one of those “it depends” situations. It’s not possible to put an exact price tag on staging since there are so many variables: the state and city where the property is located; whether it’s a vacant property or one that’s being lived in (vacant properties really do need to have some furniture added because, as realtor Sissy Lappin says, “Seeing a vacant house is like looking at yourself in the mirror naked – you see every flaw!” );  whether you want a stager to do a walk-through and write a report; whether you want a whole house do-over using your own furniture or some supplied by the stager; or whether you want all rooms done or just the living room and the kitchen. 

Some stagers charge by the hour, others have a set fee. Be sure to be clear about all terms of any contract you sign such as initial fee, timing and additional costs including furniture rentals.  

In the last few years a new category of staging – virtual staging in which furniture and accessories are photoshopped into rooms – has appeared.  It’s worth considering for online photos and is not as expensive as actual staging. But full disclosure is absolutely necessary. Harkov says that there should be two photos – one real, one photoshopped – on the site. He adds that there is data to show that virtually staged photos on a website bump up the viewing numbers and may convince someone that the property is worth a look. 

What About DIY Staging?

Consider the design skills, time and energy that staging will require and be realistic about whether you could undertake the task yourself. One stager quoted in a Brick Underground blog didn’t mince words: “Most homes I see that are not professionally staged look like Pottery Barn meets grandma’s hand-me-downs.” If you think you’re up for the challenge, check out the tips in How To Stage Your Home For A Quick Sale and Stage Your Home Like a Pro For Free.

How to Find a Stager?

Unlike some professions, there is no official licensing entity and no licensing exam for staging. Just about anyone can call themselves a stager, so the best way to find a good one is to get referrals from a seller you know who has used and found success with a particular stager or from your broker.  A good broker will have connections to good stagers.  

The Bottom Line

The cost of staging by a professional – someone who has a great track record in the biz, sound design sense and who comes well-recommended – can mean money in the bank for you. If staging helps you sell your home sooner (keeps it from being out there so long that people start wondering what’s wrong with it); if it saves you a month or more of carrying expenses;  if it creates the kind of buzz that brings in offers above your asking price then your money is well spent. As Krisztina Bell, a stager in Atlanta, says, “It costs more not to stage – the average cost of a complete staging is usually much less than your first price reduction.”

For more selling tips, see Dos And Don'ts Of Selling A House and Selling Your House? Avoid These Mistakes.