Heather Wood, Freelance Writer: articles about interior decorating & redesign, home staging & enhancement, & more
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Setting the stage for a sale

Preparing a home for the market can pay off big time

By Heather Wood
published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Real Estate section
Sunday, December 31, 2006


Most Realtors and homeowners are familiar with the concept of staging a home for sale. But often, when people think of staging, they tend to think of high-dollar vacant homes filled to the brim with designer furniture. In fact, staging is simply the process of preparing a home for sale, vacant or occupied, high-dollar or not. The reality is that most homes on the market today are occupied and could benefit from some TLC before showing.

Like it or not, a home buyer perceives a home purchase as buying something new -- even if the home is 100 years old.

Also referred to as home enhancing, home fluffing, etc., the end result of staging is that the listing stands out from the competition -- and sells for the highest possible price in the shortest possible time.

According to the National Association of Realtors, for every $1,000 sellers put into staging, they get $4,000 back.

The average increase over the listing price is 6.32 percent -- enough to cover the Realtor fees. On a $500,000 house, the added value of staging is an impressive $32,000.

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It's best to stage a home before listing, before open houses and promotional photos are taken, so it shows beautifully from the start. And it's always a good idea to stage before a price reduction.

Tom Trujillo of Prudential Santa Fe Real Estate offers a complimentary staging consultation from a local stager/ home enhancer to all his listing clients.

"It helps sellers understand what buyers want to see when they're buying a home," Trujillo said. "When a home is not properly staged it slows down the selling process. ... Working with a professional stager really helps move a listing."

Television shows such as HGTV's Designed to Sell and A&E's Sell This House have increased consumer awareness about the benefits of staging.

Yet most people are slow to implement changes in their own home or listing because they have many unanswered questions.

How much will it cost?

Where do I find a qualified stager? I know it works in California, but what about Santa Fe? And why do I need to redecorate? I like how my house is decorated!

The goal of any good staging is to help a house stand out from the competition so it will sell as quickly as possible and for the best possible price.

According to ShowHomes.com, in a 2004 survey of Realtors, almost two-thirds of respondents estimated that a staged home, kept in "show to sell" condition, sells for a price that is between 10 percent to 20 percent higher than an unstaged property.

AFTER HOME STAGING by Heather Wood -- Photos courtesy of Casa Milagros Interiors
Staging during the holidays creates a challenge -- utilizing tasteful, simple decorations that work with the home's design enhance, rather than detract, from the space's features. Creating a warm, welcoming palette is key and utilizing what a homeowner already has saves time and money. Realtor April King of Equity Realty, LLC, Santa Fe, hired Casa Milagros Interiors to stage her soon-to-be listed condo in the South Capitol neighborhood for a holiday open house. Above is the result. Below is the condo before the staging.
BEFORE HOME STAGING by Heather Wood -- Photos courtesy of Casa Milagros Interiors

John Rigatti, in the Santa Fe office of Sotheby's International Realty believes that offering a professional staging consultation to his clients helps differentiate him from other Realtors. "And it's helpful to have the third-party evaluation of the property," he said. "The most important thing is that staging helps a home sell more quickly and at a better price."


The goal of any good stager is to help homeowners and Realtors understand why "undecorating" a home is essential -- including removing personal photos, collections, memorabilia or anything perceived as too distracting.

"When too many photos and other personal items are out, buyers don't look at the house, they look at personal items," Trujillo said. "To sell a house, you need to be willing to put the pictures of the grandkids and your personal collections away."

Even a million-dollar art collection, while beautiful and intriguing, can detract from the buyer seeing the house, its architectural details and nuances.

Even though the home sellers' possessions will leave when they do, the buyer's perception is of a package deal. If the home looks cluttered or like an homage to all things 1972, that's what the buyer perceives and remembers when comparing it to other similarly priced listings.

April King of Equity Real Estate, LLC, in Santa Fe believes that working with a staging consultant helps both the seller and buyer.

AFTER HOME STAGING by Heather Wood -- Photos courtesy of Casa Milagros Interiors
Some strategic rearranging and decluttering helped the living room of this Las Campanas property. Carol Day of Coldwell Banker Trails West Realty, Santa Fe, recruited Casa Milagros Interiors to bring calm and comfort to the room, shown below in its unstaged state.
BEFORE HOME STAGING by Heather Wood -- Photos courtesy of Casa Milagros Interiors

"It forces the seller to declutter the home so that the home shows instead of their personal belongings ... and mentally prepares the seller for the move to come," King said. It helps the buyer, too, she added "because they can visualize themselves and their belongings in the space because the stager has neutralized the property."

Artistic yet calculated

So what's involved in staging a home for sale? While no two stagers operate exactly alike, the typical occupied-home staging involves a consultation, followed by hands-on work.

Typically, at the consultation, the stager will point out things that should be done in advance of the intensive staging day.

This might include painting or plaster repair, carpet or tile cleaning, landscaping or other maintenance chores.

Once the background issues are addressed, the stager returns to create that model-home image: moving furniture around to showcase a focal point like a fireplace or view; editing the contents of a room to create an airier feel; accessorizing to bring out the cobalt-blue of a bathroom tile ...

It is an artistic, yet calculated process. And it's hard work.

There is much physical labor involved in staging, which is why it isn't cheap.

What does it cost?

Staging fees vary according to the level of service. Occupied listings are typically the least expensive because the homeowner usually has enough furniture and accessories, although sometimes other accents or new pieces are brought in. Hourly staging fees vary greatly based on experience and training, and average $75 per hour and up.

Some stagers charge a package price.

Most vacant listings are fully furnished by the stager, requiring the stager to carry an inventory of furniture and accessories.

Because of this, most stagers typically ask for a percentage of the home's sale price.

Vignette staging -- partially staging key rooms to provoke a feeling or mood -- can be equally effective. Instead of fully decorating a vacant home, the stager uses just enough furnishings and accents to evoke an emotional response. Typically this type of staging is billed on a monthly rental fee for the furniture and accessories in addition to service fees.

Who to contact

So how does one find a stager? The popularity, and success, of staging has exploded this new career path, making stagers easier to find than ever.

To find a stager for a home or listing, you can start by asking Realtors or homeowners you know. Stagers vary widely in their level of expertise and knowledge of Santa Fe and our unique real-estate market. The Interior Redesign Industry Specialists' Web site at WeRedesign.com or StagedHomes.com for Accredited Staging Professionals list stagers certified by the respective organizations.

Once you've contacted some potential stagers, interview them. Ask about their backgrounds, certifications and training; how long they have been in business (and in Santa Fe); and whether they have a portfolio and references.

Heather Wood is a freelance writer who writes regularly for the Santa Fe New Mexican. She can be reached through her website at www.HeatherWoodFreelance.com.

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