Memphis Daily News: Home Stagers Get Creative to Sell Homes
Jan, 2011: With a plethora of homes on the market – many of them languishing there for months – home staging is one of those rare subsets of the housing industry that’s benefited from the economy’s downturn.
Home stagers specialize in arranging furniture, decluttering and accessorizing a house to make it as appealing as possible to prospective buyers. On a street with multiple “For Sale” signs in the yards, staging a house can make it stand out from the crowd, potentially shaving months off its selling time and saving the seller thousands of dollars.
“With all the challenges we have now, even though the market is greatly improving, it’s the houses that are close to perfect that sell,” said JoAnn Smith, a Realtor with Prudential Collins-Maury in Memphis.
Smith, who spent 12 years working as an interior designer before entering the real estate field, believes so strongly in the staging process that she offers home staging as a free service to her real estate clients.
Since the downturn, more Realtors in the Memphis market have realized the value of professional staging.
The Realtor-stager relationship is symbiotic, said Jeff Ross, owner of the Memphis and Little Rock franchise offices of Showhomes, a national home staging franchise.
“We’re there as an assistant to them,” Ross said. “They know we want the house to look its best. It’s a win-win.”
Showhomes operates differently than most traditional home staging businesses. Its specific niche is staging homes the sellers must, for various reasons, vacate before they’re sold. Along with the usual props – artwork, accessories, furniture and advice on where to place it – Showhomes provides people to live in clients’ homes until they sell.
“Houses sell better with people living in them,” said Morgan Armstrong, an interior designer and one of Showhomes’ Memphis-area stagers.
Showhomes “home managers” bring their own furniture into the homes and agree to live in them on a short-term basis and keep them in show-ready condition in exchange for rental rates at about one-third of market level. Ross likened the service to that of a matchmaker.
“We find somebody with nice, quality furniture who can move into a market in a home that’s for sale,” he said.
Home managers are screened and must have furniture sufficient in style and amount for the level of home they occupy. The sellers, Ross said, gain a caretaker, lowering the home’s risk for vandalism, theft and general neglect.
And through the work of Showhomes’ stagers – which include Ross’ wife and business partner, Heidi – the houses are set up specifically to appeal to buyers.
“In a vacant home, your eye goes to all the imperfections, the nail holes, the scuff marks, the tears in the wallpaper,” Ross said. “When there’s furniture there, you don’t notice those imperfections.”
In 2010, Showhomes staged 24 homes in the Little Rock market and 10 homes in Memphis. Ross hopes to grow the service locally in 2011.
Smith said a common misperception about staging is that it means removing all traces of personality from a home and painting it with a broad, neutral brush. On the contrary, she said, it’s about making a home relatable to buyers.
“Some stagers do a total depersonalizing, but I think that takes the homey-ness away,” she said. “And when people buy a house, 90 percent of it is an emotional decision. If that house doesn’t connect to them in an emotional way that says ‘home,’ they move on to the next house.”
And in a market as competitive as the current one, the smallest details can influence a buyer’s decision, Jones said.
“There’s higher volume to compete against in every price range,” she said. “That allows the buyer to cherry pick. They can look at one house in one neighborhood, and if they don’t like that one room with wallpaper in it, they can go two streets over and find one where the homeowner has removed the wallpaper.”
The stager’s job, Armstrong said, is to make sure the house that’s staged is head and shoulders above the competition.
“I stage the home to sell, and basically the only difference between staging and interior design is that you have to accommodate not only the taste of one client, but the tastes of many clients,” she said.