When Shakespeare penned the phrase, “All the world’s a stage,” he most definitely wasn’t thinking about real estate. But Barbara Schwarz, a Bellevue, WA interior-designer-turned-real-estate-broker saw every home as a stage when forty years ago, she developed the concept of “staging the home for sale.” Schwarz saw the challenges brokers faced preparing clients’ homes for the market, recognizing how dated furniture, clutter, or loud colors could make it difficult for buyers to see a property’s potential. Her goal was to de-clutter, re-arrange and prop rooms to create neutral, yet warm, spaces so buyers could form a positive first impression of a home and see themselves living there.

In the last decade, the concept of staging took off on the West Coast, and picked up traction across the country as the housing market collapsed. When residential property prices fall, real estate brokers and sellers need every advantage; staging provides that edge.

Now as the housing market rebounds, a new type of buyer has emerged, making staging even more critical. “Today’s buyers have so much more information available to them because of the internet. They’re more sophisticated, they’re busy, and they want turn-key houses,” explains Marion Filley, of Marion Filley Team Advantage/Prudential Real Estate. Filley has been staging her listings for over 15 years, and considers it an important part of her marketing program. “Although it’s often hard to convince sellers who’ve lived in their home for a long time to take up worn carpeting or redo the floors, because they think the new owners will do it, the reality is that buyers don’t want ‘projects’.”

Adds Kara Williams, a team member of the Fair Group at William Raveis, “A staged house – clean, uncluttered – gives the impression of a well-maintained home. Buyers are still price-sensitive and will lose interest if they think a house needs work.” 

Julie Carney, of the Julie Carney Group at William Raveis, is also a big believer in staging. “It’s about presenting a house in the best possible way. If a house shows well, it will most likely sell faster and for a higher price.”

While some real estate agents do their own staging, others will recommend or bring in someone who specializes in staging. The stager is a neutral party, and will typically do a walk-through of the space and provide the seller and broker with a list of recommended improvements. These may include anything from repainting to repositioning or removing furniture, replacing worn bedspreads, pillows, and throws, re-glazing bathroom tiles, and changing light bulbs to brighten a dark room.

“Too much visual stimuli will distract buyers. Orange walls–they’ll remember the color, not the room. Diplomas on bookshelves–they’ll remember where the seller went to school, not the house. You want buyers to focus on the space, not the furnishings, and have a good feeling about it,” says Joann Fisher, a broker in the Wilton office of Wilton Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty.

Stagers’ services vary, and are based on clients’ budgets and what they are willing or able to do themselves. A stager can shop for all the items on the list, and handle the re-decorating, or homeowners may decide to implement the improvements on their own. In that case, the real estate agent will often bring the stager in afterwards to make any tweaks necessary. Most stagers charge an initial consultation fee and hourly rates for the actual staging process.

Cindy Heiman, principal of Home ReVisions Staging, has been staging homes in Wilton for over fifteen years. “No matter if I am hired by the real estate agent, homeowner or builder, I’m the buyer’s eyes. I will come into a property, and provide my unfiltered assessment of what needs to be done to get it ready to sell. My comments are never intended to be a judgment regarding how owners live or decorate, but they need to understand that how we live and how we sell a house are two different situations.”

Heiman will provide a list of recommendations, but leaves it up to the homeowners to decide how much they want to do. She emphasizes that staging can have an impact even before a potential buyer sets foot in the door.

“It’s important to create a really great first impression, not just with buyers, but among real estate agents who will be bringing buyers in. The majority of today’s buyers start their home search by viewing MLS listings online. If they see photos of a listing that looks tired and cluttered, they’ll skip it and go on to the next house, so staging is even important for the photographs real estate agents use online.”

Some sellers have loved how Heiman transformed their home so much that they have hired her to oversee arranging their furnishings in their new home. Others admit they wish they had made some improvements sooner. Says Helen Terry, who recently listed her home with Filley, “We ended up loving how our house looked after it had been staged, and wish we’d made many of these changes when we first moved in.”