Book Review
Title: "Staging to Sell: The Secret to Selling Homes in a Down Market"
Author: Barb Schwarz
Publisher: Wiley, 2009; 267 pages; $19.95 list ($13.57 on

Never have listing agents and sellers so needed a leg up as they do now. This is especially true for Realtors representing individual home sellers, who might not be able to compete with foreclosures and short sales on price, and so need some other way to create a compelling value proposition for the buyers who do visit their homes. Enter home staging.

According to author Barb Schwarz, who markets herself as "The Inventor of Home Staging," even in a down market staged homes sell in 35 days or less, on average, while those that are not staged take an average of 172 days to sell. Schwarz paints a vivid, data-backed picture for why and how real estate agents who list homes should master the key tenets of home staging.

"Staging to Sell: The Secret to Selling Homes in a Down Market" is interesting in the novelty and comprehensiveness of its approach. It is a book on staging that has various ingredients targeted toward agents, stagers and even homeowners themselves.

In addition to sketching out the key elements and principles of successful home staging, Schwarz weaves in a good deal of very strong material on how listing agents can use their home-staging successes — i.e., past transactions that benefited from home staging — to market themselves and obtain listings and get sellers to buy into the concept of staging going forward.

For example, Schwarz teaches the concept of a "career book" agents can compile and use in listing presentations that includes not only credentials, awards and testimonial letters, but also before-and-after pictures of staged past listings, with the corresponding sales success data.

Further illustrating the depth of her understanding of Realtors and their business opportunities and challenges (and the utility of the solutions she’s come up with in 30 years as a real estate broker and home stager), Schwarz reveals her system for analyzing and presenting comparative market analyses and pricing recommendations to a prospective seller, working in the staging status of the comparables vis-à-vis the subject property as a meaningful metric. …CONTINUED

Unlike design-only professionals who posit staging as the be-all and end-all to getting a home to sell, Schwarz’ real estate sales knowledge rounds the book out by virtue of her emphasis on pricing, the logistics of executing a successful sales business (including always outsourcing the actual work of staging to a stager!), and a number of dialogues and tools for maintaining positive client relations, even when sellers push back against the cost or recommendations involved in staging their home.

In her comments directly to sellers, Barb offers strong arguments for why and how they need to invest in staging their home to get it sold for top dollar, and then offers her Realtor audiences the additional blessing of managing seller/reader mindsets around home pricing and giving sellers simple exercises to get a reality check about how their home will appear to prospective buyers.

Her kitschy little refrains are just the sort of things that every Realtor wishes to permanently implant into a seller’s head for the duration of the marketing period, like, "If we can smell it, we can’t sell it!"

Schwarz’ approach is just as comprehensive when it comes to providing details on how to actually stage a home: Though simple and actionable, her substantive guidelines on staging cover everything from creating curb appeal to staging interiors, from painting to furniture arrangement and even cleaning and showing logistics.

She wraps up the book with a number of agent tools, like guidelines for "staging" and organizing your workspace and your life, and more dialogues and phrases she’s found successful in working with clients. The one thing I found a little strange about the book: all the tools therein struck me as highly useful, but it did seem a little strange to offer sales wisdom to Realtors in a book also directed to their clients.

I’m not a listing agent. But if I were, and when my buyer clients do call me up to sell their homes, I will definitely be buying them a copy of this book as a gift — to them and to me!

Even sellers who can’t scrape up the funds to hire a professional stager stand to benefit greatly from the book’s guidelines for things they can do themselves to avoid putting a totally unstaged home on the market. "Staging to Sell" is an extremely affordable, user-friendly resource for Realtors and sellers alike.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site,


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