There is more to staging than meets the eye … but not much.

The first impression of your listing is the impression made by its visual presentation on the Internet. Eye-catching photographs of the home are important, and the competition for prospects is fierce.

Look at real estate community websites and you get an idea of what visual staging on the Internet looks like when you have thousands of dollars to spend.

Fortunately, certified professional stagers can help home sellers compete at a very high level on the Internet, and they have the client videos to prove it.

The second first impression is the one made by the home itself. In other words, staging has become a marketing tool that draws the market to the product, as well as a merchandising tool that helps win over the prospect to the look and feel of the home when visiting in person. You need both, and with staging you get it.

The concept of staging is familiar to the market, according to June Moore, a Realtor in Lake Mary, Fla., who says that the market understands the staging service, and traditional sellers are generally open to meeting a professional stager.

The issue appears to be that many sellers think they can stage their own home.

"The real problem with staging is when sellers try to stage their own home objectively. It is impossible, because staging is an art, according to Audra Slinkey, San Diego, Calif., president of Home Staging Resource, an online training center that offers a home staging certification program.

"Staging is not cleaning out the closet, fluffing the pillows, and clearing off the countertop," Slinkey said, "and professional staging cost a whole lot less than the next price reduction."

The vast majority of sellers would rather not spend the money to make their homes salable unless they are going to get their money back via a higher sales price.

A HomeGain report lists the top three staging expenses that return the most for the dollar:

1. Clean and declutter: $290 cost, $1,990.

2. Lighten and brighten: $375 cost, $1,550 benefit.

3. Staging: $550 cost, $2,194 benefit.

Or for a cost of $1,215, you could realize a return benefit of $5,734 on a national average, the report suggests.

Slinkey is an advocate for marketing the home with the best photography possible. "If they don’t like what see on the Internet, they will go somewhere else, so the visual appreciation of the home’s value begins with beautiful visuals on the Internet."

HomeGain says, "Staging your house helps potential homebuyers visualize living there, which can help speed up the sales process and get your home sold quicker."

An overriding principle must be remembered when working with homebuyers, whether they are looking for a new or resale home: Prospects will not want to see a home a second time, unless they can picture themselves living in it the first time.

So we have to think this staging thing through. It is obviously important, but for agents to make more sales with fewer prospects they will need to become better qualifiers.

There is nothing like chestnuts roasting on an open fire, children laughing, and dad sloshing through the snow to get inside because the house has a one-car garage and they are a two-car family.

Or selling the world’s most beautiful kitchen with tomorrow’s technology and appliances to a couple who eats out five days a week because they don’t like to cook.

You can do everything right, but one thing is for sure: A prospect who does not want to live in the home is not a prospect for that home.

The reason they fell in love with the home might have nothing to do with staging. Or it may have to do with what Mother Nature has already staged.

"We want to see the home you showed us Monday. The one with the oak tree in the backyard," is a better call than, "We can meet you again tomorrow to go see some more homes."

The caller has seen a home they can live in — one in which they think they would actually enjoy living in. They see a place to build the tree house for their kids, host a cookout with friends. They can see themselves enjoying the lifestyle they love. That’s why they want to see it a second time.

The home may have been professionally staged or not. It possibly was staged and video shot of the home, oak tree and all.

There are times a picture is worth a lot more than 1,000 words. When it comes to real estate, the picture is worth thousands of dollars — especially if the home is as warm, neat and clean as it is visually represented.

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