5 Realities of Staging Your House for Sale

NOTE: Time marches on and things progress. So does this blog. The idea of the name change I made awhile back was to broaden the scope of the posts here. This is one such post.

The latest fad in home selling is called “home staging.” Realtors often insist on it. (The woman with whom we listed our lovely 2300-square foot colonial style house with oversized 2-car attached garage in practically mint condition didn’t think it could be sold without that staging.) Yes, realtors only get paid when they collect their part of the commission that sellers have to hand out at closing (it’s usually split four ways and not necessarily evenly), and realtors spend some money up front to list a house on sites like Realtor.com and Zillow.com. So realtors’ concerns are understandable, but is home staging really the answer? Time to look at the realities of this home staging process.

Excessive de-cluttering: Sterile, impersonal, cold feeling. It’s one thing to de-clutter and de-personalize. It’s another to make the home feel like no one has ever lived there – or ever could.
Excessive de-cluttering: Sterile, impersonal, cold feeling. It’s one thing to de-clutter and de-personalize. It’s another to make the home feel like no one has ever lived there – or ever could.

What Is Home Staging

Basically, home staging is where someone calling her/himself a “home staging expert” tries to make you do things you don’t need to and that have no effect on whether the house sells. These people have realtors totally convinced that a house won’t sell without their magic touch.

The home stager tries to make your house:

  • look like no one lives there (they like to arrange furniture so oddly that you actually want to move out yourself right away)
  • be “photogenic” (and then the photographer gets the lighting wrong so everything looks all bluish or yellowish and the lens they use makes things look too wide)
  • resemble as close as possible those photo layouts in interior decorating magazines (rooms that you would find extremely uncomfortable if you were actually there and not just looking at a photo taken from just the right angle)
Trust me, the kitchen was not anywhere NEAR this big nor this yellowish. And we had to remove the microwave from the counter at the home stager’s insistence. We, in turn, insisted that the hand towel remain in place, as well as my oil painting on the wall. They give a true homey touch.
Trust me, the kitchen was not anywhere NEAR this big nor this yellowish. And we had to remove the microwave from the counter at the home stager’s insistence. We, in turn, insisted that the hand towel remain in place, as well as my oil painting on the wall. They give a true homey touch.

The “home staging” trend seems to come from two sources:

  1. A couple of TV shows: House Hunters on HGTV and Sell This House on A&E, both of which used to be favorites until we saw the reality of this trend they were creating and also the agent we were working with appeared on the first show while she was supposed to be helping us sell ours.
  2. The internet where house listing sites have become quite the rage, with 20 or more photos and often even video tours of the listed property (these are more to satisfy the curious than to attract buyers).

Realtors have glommed onto this trend in some of the larger housing markets in part, I think, so they have to spend less effort actually promoting the property. Most realtors don’t even want to talk to you after they get your signature on the listing contract. Our realtor for that last house we sold didn’t even show up at the sale closing.

The Realities

The effectiveness of home staging is questionable. Take a look at these realities:

1 – What Looks Good in a Photo Is Not Easy to Live With

Home staging is not meant to be livable. Very true. So, you should hope the house sells fast.

One of the worst stagings I’ve ever seen was a room with two sofas parallel to and facing each other and perpendicular to the fireplace they were in front of. A large screen TV was mounted over the fireplace. Looked great in the photo, but if you watch TV on a regular basis, you’d better hope your house sells fast. The TV was too high up and at a right angle to the seating – to see the screen you either had to sit sideways on the sofa and tilt your head up (resulting in a neck ache after a few minutes) or sit straight on the sofa and turn your head 90 degrees to the left or right, depending on which sofa you were sitting (again resulting in an aching neck).

For our house, we had already de-cluttered, but the home stager wasn’t satisfied, so we did more, eventually packing away most of our books, all of our CDs and DVDs, half the dishes and cook wares, and a lot more. Thank goodness we had a sizeable attic in which to store it all. She wanted us to get rid of or store more, but we had reached our limit of tolerance and kept available things we needed to be able to live in the house while it was on the market.

Effect on our house sale: no feedback received on how nice photos were, no comments on the house being well staged.

The stager wanted the TV stored, all the books put away, and my office equipment moved to another room. Aha, you don’t even see that office equipment, do you? Needless to say, we did not follow that advice, and didn’t get one bad comment about anything she had mentioned.
The stager wanted the TV stored, all the books put away, and my office equipment moved to another room. Aha, you don’t even see that office equipment, do you? Needless to say, we did not follow that advice, and didn’t get one bad comment about anything she had mentioned.

2 – Maintaining That Staged Appearance Is Tedious

Once your house has been “staged” for market, you have to maintain it at least until the photographer comes around and preferably until you get a sales contract on it. Not all home sellers do this, since it can be a hassle (hubby and I viewed a house that looked great in the listing photos but that had not been maintained – we showed up to see dirty dishes, spilt foods, pet messes, dirty laundry, and a fist-sized hole punched through one of the bedroom doors). You have to keep it clean, de-cluttered, and leave furniture in odd places.

More than once I had to rush around the house getting things ready for a showing. The beds had to be made, dishes washed and put away, and so on. All the while, I was working from home and had to clear out, putting my work stuff away first. And tripping over the ottoman that just had to be in that particular spot in the living room wasn’t helpful.

Effect on our house sale: no comments on how photogenic the furniture arrangement was (and thankfully no one tripped on that ottoman), the buyers were focused on other matters such as room sizes and the placement of the house on the lot, neither of which we could change and both of which they could have already known from the listing information.

3 – Home Staging Often Goes Too Far

Those TV shows have gotten home staging “experts” into the habit of recommending some costly changes. They think nothing of saying that the walls need to be repainted and all the flooring replaced, things that can cost hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars. They also often suggest that you knock out a wall, replace all the windows with double-pane ones, re-sod the lawn, and a lot more. What the seller can afford seems of no consequence.

One of these things for us was repainting the exterior our house. The realtor and the home stager said repeatedly that the color wasn’t neutral enough (the condition was very good, so no repainting was needed). As the months went on, we finally went ahead and spent thousands of dollars. This also meant that exterior photos had to be redone, which the realtor didn’t want to do because it would have cost her $50 (a petty sum out of the thousands paid out to her at closing). [Just so you folks in the Raleigh, NC, area want to know, her name is Tina Caul of Re/Max.]

Other items the home stager had recommended but that we did not do and that turned out to be unnecessary for attracting buyers:

  1. Repainting the interior, especially the two guest bedrooms on the second floor
  2. Removing the floor fans we had in some of the rooms (the realtor and the home stager were afraid people would think the HVAC system didn’t work well)
  3. Replacing the existing carpet with new carpet in some rooms and with hardwood flooring in others
  4. Installing a combo microwave/exhaust vent over the stove
  5. Ripping apart the master bathroom so it could have a tub and a separate shower
  6. Putting down a path of pavers from the deck to the little storage shed
  7. Rip off the deck and replace it

Effect on the house sale:

  1. not one comment from other realtors showing the property or potential buyers about the exterior color being nicer, nor did that new color stop some buyers from driving up to the house for a scheduled showing and then driving away without even getting out of their cars
  2. the interior paint colors received compliments from most realtors and buyers (I am a trained artist and had studied color theory extensively)
  3. the floor fans were not even noticed
  4. in the kitchen buyers only cared that the appliances were white, not stainless steel
  5. the master bathroom also impressed everyone, with not one peep about the tub/shower arrangement
  6. buyers seemed to get to the shed just fine (we sometimes sat in our car and watched, usually so I would know when I could get back in the house and resume work)
  7. we actually got complimented on how nice the deck was

4 – Home Staging Doesn’t Address What Buyers Really Care About

There are actually two issues here:

  1. Home staging being used to hide problems with the house from potential buyers. In a house we were viewing to buy, the realtor stood there talking about how nicely staged it was (I think only realtors even notice such things). We were busy looking at the gash in the wall behind the bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter (part of the staging props), and then we moved aside a nice potted plant on the floor to see the odd area in the bottom cabinets that looked like it had once held a dishwasher (a board had been nailed in place over the opening, but we were able to get it loose enough to see that there was some major water leakage and that the floor was all rotted away).
  2. Home stagers having a standard checklist for the home seller to spend money on, needed or not. For the house we recently sold, our agent, under advice from the home stager, demanded that we buy a smaller microwave (this was her idea of compromise when we refused to put ours away altogether). She said our big one made the countertop look small. [Note: we removed the microwave for the photos and then put it back until we replaced it with the smaller one.]

Effect on our house sale: buyers would comment at how much counter space there was even before we switched to the smaller microwave, and now we are stuck with them both (ever try to sell a used appliance and get more than a few dollars for it?).

5 – Home Staging Is a Waste of Time and Money

In the end, none of the home staging mattered. While the photos certainly looked nice (albeit too off in their colors and rather horizontally stretched, making rooms look wider than they were), they weren’t what attracted buyers to view the property and they had nothing to do with why several buyers scheduled a showing, drove by the house, and sped away without looking inside (even after we had repainted the house a nice subdued yellow). What was the issue? The neighborhood. Our house was one of the biggest in the HOA and the “feel” of the neighborhood was supposedly not one of safety (all bunk since it was considered one of the nicest HOAs in the area, with a pool, clubhouse, and tennis court).

Lessons Learned

Now that it’s all a couple of years behind us, I can say that we learned how wasteful and useless most of that staging was. To save you all that fuss and expense, I have put together the items you really need to be concerned about. Print out a copy and wave it at your realtor to get him/her to back off trying to get you to spend all that money needlessly.

See my free guide to The Sensible Way to Stage Your Home for Sale (PDF).

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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