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5 must-knows about hiring a home stager

Who fits the bill (and foots it) depends on location

Like it or not, when you stick that for-sale sign in the front yard, your home becomes … well, merchandise — something for someone to buy.

And just as a successful retailer works to display his merchandise in a way that makes you want to buy it, a good real estate stager tries to figure out how to make someone want to buy your home. He or she may rearrange or add furnishings — or subtract them — and suggest changes to the house that are intended to play up its best features.

A field that was in its infancy a decade ago, staging these days is a routine part of the real estate transaction in many communities. But in this relatively unregulated profession, just about anybody can claim to be a stager, and members of the profession can come from widely varied backgrounds and professional training. What you get for your money can vary, too.

Five things you ought to know about hiring a real estate stager:

1. There’s no clear-cut career path to becoming a stager, according to Shell Brodnax, president and CEO of the Real Estate Staging Association in Valley Springs, Calif., which claims to have about 1,000 members.

It’s a field unto itself, she says.

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"They are professional home stagers, which doesn’t preclude them from also being designers, decorators, real estate agents, etc.," she said. "They have a wide variety of backgrounds. The ones who seem to do exceptionally well have backgrounds in merchandising," or the visual display of products for sale.

Brodnax said the services they provide will vary, based on what a given house needs to make it show best to prospective buyers. Sometimes, that’s as basic as rearranging the furnishings for better "flow" or to emphasize a house’s best points. But usually their efforts are more extensive, and they may, with the owner’s permission, remove excess furnishings or bring in rental furniture or work with building tradesmen on changes to paint, finishes, etc.

"They’re going to counsel you on everything you need to do to properly prepare that property for sale," Brodnax said. "If the house is super-dated, they’re going to check whatever else is on the market to see what the competition is. If every other home has updated kitchens, baths, carpet or whatever it may be, they’re going to tell you, ‘This is what you’re up against — so you would want to change those avocado green countertops or that dark-blue wall.’

"They’re going to make all these recommendations, and it’s up to the client to choose what to invest in that the stager has recommended," she said.

2. Most, but not all, stagers have had some kind of professional training specific to staging, Brodnax said.

"There are two basic types of courses you can take: online and in-person," she said. "There are a few five-day programs, but most (classroom) programs are three days." The online courses, she said, are paced at the student’s discretion.

Much of the instruction in these classes, she said, will be weighted toward teaching stagers how to run a successful business, and although classroom sessions usually include some hands-on instruction about maximizing a home’s visual appeal in terms of saleability, it’s not usually the principal focus of the courses.

Having the visual skills, she said, is something of a given for those who take the stagers’ courses. "The majority of people who are going to take a class have already been doing this — they’re constantly rearranging the furniture at home," Brodnax said. …CONTINUED