Living in a fully staged house that must be ready on command for a showing is perhaps the least attractive part of the selling process. If you find your sellers are struggling to cope with living in a home that’s staged and actively being shown, heed these survival tips.

Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays. 

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Most of us are reasonably familiar with the litany of woes sellers and buyers typically experience. One of my agents, however, is getting an all-too-real refresher course in the twists and turns of selling a personal residence when it’s fully staged.

I, of course, had to ask how this was going for her.

While I can’t recommend other brokers do the same, when the dust settled, my agent and I realized we’d probably created a decent manual on exactly how to pull off something as spectacularly awful as living in a staged house while it’s actively being shown.

So, if you find yourself advising sellers how they should cope with living in a staged house while it’s actively being shown, suggest these 10 survival skills to them:

1. Leave for the first few days the listing is active.

Depending on the price point, many of our listings do go into contract within the first 10 days to two weeks. So, the best way to cope with living in a staged house is to put off doing it for as long as possible.

This is an expense not everyone can afford. But a nice long weekend away — at a minimum — seems to be worth the cost to most sellers. So, suggest they go away, and the more luxurious the getaway — the better!

2. Stop thinking of staying in a staged house as living. It’s not. It’s camping.

The everyday life your sellers once knew is simply unattainable. So, having realistic expectations goes a long way in making a temporary inconvenience more bearable.

If sellers can think of it as an extended stay at a friend’s vacation home or a camping trip, that seems to make living in a staged house at least tolerable. And it’s a relatively accurate description of the “lifestyle.”

Of course, the degree of difficulty escalates with each additional member of the household. So, it’s essential that everyone is on board and actively helping keep the property in showroom condition.

3. Establish sensible advance-notice periods to insert in the showing instructions.

The agent needs to guide the discussion regarding how much advance notice sellers need to prep the property and vanish with kids and pets in tow. Two hours notice before a showing seems reasonable to most buyers and their agents. And they will often give sellers a bit more notice with that as a minimum.

If your seller knows that two hours is the maximum time available to get the property in peak showing condition, they’ll figure out what they can and can’t do in that amount of time.

That’s pretty much limited to stashing the stuff of everyday life and getting themselves and other occupants (including four-legged ones) out the door. So, if they require more time, you need to get that sorted out with them in advance.

4. Don’t do anything that spatters, like cooking. Or eating.

Sellers shouldn’t use the oven. They shouldn’t microwave anything potentially explosive. And, they most certainly shouldn’t fry anything unless they’re prepared to wash down the stove and everything surrounding it immediately after use.

When dining in, the menu should be limited to salads (as long as dressing spatters are rigorously prevented), sandwiches and other things that aren’t messy, such as takeout.

Ideally, the seller would enjoy all meals away at restaurants, outside — hey, it’s a picnic — or hanging over the kitchen sink, which would have to be washed down and towel-dried to spotless perfection immediately afterward. Again, it’s like camping, but without the fire.

5. Shower at the gym, and have a hairdresser on speed dial.

Sellers want to be clean themselves, and buyers want to see a flawless home. Having a shower that’s in showing condition means cleaning it and its surrounding glass relentlessly and hand drying it every time it’s used.

The gym shower is much more simple, and it’s not the seller’s responsibility! Ditto to shampooing and other hair care essentials. That’s why hairdressers exist. Having someone else shampoo one’s hair is very stress-relieving. And they have to clean up their station, wash and dry, and fold the towels afterward. Not your seller!

6. Keep necessities in easily hidden bags or covered containers in every spot necessary.

Although I would never look under the bed, my seller assures me, if I did, I would find:

  • The bathroom scale
  • A box of makeup, hair brush, comb and hair spray, daily medications and vitamins
  • A bag containing soap, tooth paste, tooth brushes, floss and face cream
  • Dog toys and a variety of chews
  • A bag of allergy medications, cough drops, a sleep mask and Melatonin
  • Maybe shoes and, very likely, pajamas

All I can say is thank God (and our stagers) for bed skirts!

7. Give in to an obsessive need to clean, tidy and touch-up paint.

There’s nothing like having to get a property ready to show multiple times to focus a seller’s attention on minute details. And that’s a good thing because buyers see everything!

Suggest sellers keep cleaning supplies, garden gloves and tools, trim and wall paint, and brushes together in an easily accessible — but hidden — spot. And encourage them to give right in to the slightest the urge to clean, weed and touch-up paint. It’s hard to overdo being clean and tidy.

8. Protect the stager’s furnishings against every weird mishap conceivable.

If a seller soils or damages a rug, piece of furniture, lamp or perfect accessory, the loss to the stager is more profound than most sellers realize. The cost to replace an item is often significant, plus it can be difficult to locate a replica of the spoiled item, especially if it’s a unique size or style.

It pays to protect items that belong to the stager from the hazards of everyday use. All it takes is one small piece of ripe avocado taking a bad bounce and landing square in the middle of the stager’s immaculate white rug, and sellers can kiss their security deposit goodbye.

So, sellers should plan to live like monks. They should try not to walk on the rugs or eat or drink near anything that’s not theirs. They should scrupulously avoid messy activities — and avocados — and protect chair seats with stain-resistant covers that can be whisked off before a showing, shield other furnishing from spills and protect all accessories from accidental bumps.

If something is damaged, however, they should report it immediately. The stager needs to advise whether clean-up should even be attempted.

9. Do not change the dog’s diet or routine.

Even with the best coping skills, sellers are stressed. And their pets (as well as kids) are doubly so. Nothing is as it usually is. And sellers’ little ones are involuntary conscripts in this process.

So, sellers need to keep as much of their routine intact as humanly possible. And, whatever they do, urge them not to try a new dog food while they’re living on someone else’s rugs! (We could say more about this, but we’ll just spare you.)

10. Hire a cleaning service.

The constant wiping, cleaning and tidying soon gets to every seller. If they can afford it, hiring a professional cleaning service to come in on a regular basis is respite care for stressed-out sellers.

You can recommend it. If you’re feeling really generous, you can provide it. You’d be amazed what a memorable and welcome gift that can be.

There might be other items that would be useful in specific circumstances, but these are the top generic survival skills for sellers living in a staged house. So, we hope you’ll pass along these tips for how to survive living in a staged house to all your sellers.

It might help them create lemonade from the enormous lemon that living in a staged house truly is.

Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.

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