Discussion: Does Home Staging Pay Off?


Original Post Date: September 19, 2012

By: Stefanos Chen

In the luxury-home market, open houses can feel like red-carpet events, and the listing photography can be as glossy as magazine covers. Elaborate staging to woo buyers seems like a given, with the Journal’s House of the Day providing plenty of examples. But after at least one home featured recently in the Journal went without staging, Developments wondered: Do luxury listings really need rented furniture to sell?

Ryan Serhant, an agent with Nest Seekers International and a mainstay on the reality show“Million Dollar Listing New York,” says he always has listings staged, or thoughtfully furnished, before showings. “They think they want to walk into a blank apartment,” he said, but “buyers don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Mr. Serhant says furnished apartments almost always sell faster than unfurnished ones because they give the impression of being move-in ready, even though the space will most likely be bare on moving day. (Staging services usually include rented furniture.)

But the real-estate industry wasn’t always sold on the idea. Barbara Brock, a principal at Sold With Style, a “pre-sale consulting firm” that specializes in home staging, says she remembers a time when homes were sold “as-is,” and the notion of paying an outside consultant to prep the space was still the germ of an idea.

Steve Games, chairman and principal of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty in San Diego County, said staging first gained traction during the housing downturn in the 1980s, when competition for buyers’ attention gave furnished homes the edge. The practice petered out for a while, he said, until coming back with a vengeance in the mid-2000s run-up to the bubble bursting. Now, he says, it’s a permanent fixture.

“I’ve seen staging come and go, and this time I think it’s here to stay,” he said, with more and more agents figuring the cost of staging into their marketing budget. The industry even has its own support base.

The Real Estate Staging Association, a trade group with about 1,000 members who identify as home stagers and “redesigners,” says research proves that staging works. After tracking 174 unfurnished homes listed for sale in 2011, they found that the homes lingered on the market for an average of 156 days. When those same properties were staged and relisted, they sold in an average of 42 days.

Whether the benefits outweigh the costs, though, is another matter. Shell Brodnax, president of the staging association, said home staging will set back the typical home seller $1,500 to $3,000. On the high-end of the market, Brett Baer, president of Meridith Baer Home, a luxury-staging company, says prices can range anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 for an 800-square-foot condo, to more than $100,000 for a super high-end mansion.

As several agents pointed out, though, the cost of staging can seem reasonable when the alternative could be a languishing listing.

There’s also the persnickety problem of taste. As most home stagers and real-estate agents will attest, the key is choosing a neutral, “clean” layout that won’t offend the typical buyer.

“Poorly done staging is as damaging as well-done staging can be to the success of a project,” Mr. Games said.