There’s no business like show business, except perhaps when it comes to the business of showing homes.

With a background in theater, Barb Schwarz saw the parallels between stage productions and preparing homes for sale after she embarked on a career in real estate in 1972.

“One day I was talking to an owner. I said, ‘Do you like the theater?'” Schwarz said.

“She said, ‘I love the theater.’ I said, ‘When you go to the theater, they set the stage.'”

And there it was.

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“Your home is like the set,” Schwarz said. “I can be the director, and you can be the actor.”

The home was the stage. The buyers and the agents were the critics. Schwarz said the seller “just really lit up” when she explained the home-sale preparation process in those terms.

After that, Schwarz coined the phrase “Staging the home for sale,” received a federally registered trademark for the home-preparation concept of “stage” and “staging,” started the “Staging Life With Barb” radio program, created a training and accreditation program for home stagers, oversaw the design of some staging-related Web sites, and founded an international organization for stagers. This month she starred in the pilot episode of what she hopes will become her own home-staging television series.

Schwarz has personally staged and sold more than 1,600 homes. In 1985 she took her home-staging expertise on the road and began giving talks around the country. Through her seminars she has reached about 500,000 people.

“I’m like the queen of clutter,” she said.

Staging, to Schwarz, is all about “making magic,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe what some of these houses look like (before staging).”

Her five basic tips for stagers: Clean everything, de-clutter, use color, compromise when necessary and be creative.

Poor communication, overdone refinements and decor, and exorbitant fees are examples of poor staging skills, Schwarz said.

The staging should not “take over the house,” she said, but should complement it. “If you can hardly walk through a room–that’s overdone.”

In 2000 Schwarz developed the Accredited Staging Professional designation to introduce training standards to the staging trade. The basic two-day course costs $1,350 while a five-day ASP Masters course costs $3,750. Approximately 3,000 people have obtained the designation. Schwarz said she created the classes to introduce standards for the industry.

“There are a lot of people out there who have no training, no designation. They’ve never run a business,” she said.

Schwartz, who is a heart-surgery survivor, emphasizes to students that they should “really care” about their work.

“Give (clients) more than they even expected,” she said. “This is not a get-rich-quick thing.”

During hands-on training sessions in the home-staging courses, Schwarz purposefully instructs her students not to lug a bunch of supplies into a home.

“I teach the students that what they get paid for is creativity. When we go into these houses we don’t take one thing with us.” Like Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away,” Schwarz said she tells her students, “You don’t have anything, so you have to make it up.”

A consultation with a stager typically lasts about two hours and costs about $350, on average, Schwarz said. The stager prepares a detailed list of ways to improve the for-sale home. A full staging, in which the stager will perform all of the work involved, generally will cost from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on the size of the home, and homes up to 3,200 square feet can typically be staged in a day, Schwarz said. Stagers will typically supply furniture and home accessories for an additional charge.

“The average stagers have quite an inventory,” she added.

Stagers have two clients, she said: the seller and the real estate salesperson.

“Because the industry really relies on the Realtor, I teach our stagers how to work with Realtors and how to make a team approach–to really take care of both parties.”

Realtors have a role, she said, in informing sellers about the benefits of home staging.

Schwarz said Realtors and interior decorators are among those who enroll in her training sessions along with some entry-level stagers who are transitioning from other careers.

“We’re seeing a number of…people who have left corporate America. They have been downsized or were doing something they didn’t want to do,” she said.

Stagers who receive Schwarz’ Accredited Staging Professional designation can choose to become members of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, a group Schwarz started that now has about 200 members. Members of the association will meet in the San Francisco Bay Area in May for the group’s second-annual convention.

Homeowners who stage their properties can realize big returns for their small investment, she said, citing the example of one homeowner who sold a home for $400,000 more than the original listing price after paying for $25,000 worth of staging improvements.

The benefits of home staging can extend beyond the sale price. Schwarz said she has received requests to stage a home after the home is purchased. She refers to this task as “staging to live,” basically de-cluttering a home to make it more livable.

“It’s a whole way of life,” she said.


Send tips, feedback or a letter to the editor to or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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