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These are strange times in real estate. No one really knows what effects our current public health concerns will have on real estate markets going forward.
One thing we do know, however, is that uncertainty requires pulling out all the stops to make properties you’re putting on the market irresistible to prospective buyers.
Regardless of whether your sellers are letting you and other service providers in their home to stage or you have to walk them through it virtually, avoid these common staging errors.
1. Not staging at all
Numerous studies have demonstrated that staging speeds sales. Faster sales tend to bring the best prices. Quick sales at favorable prices generally produce happier sellers. So, the biggest mistake any agent can make is not insisting that properties they’re listing be staged.
Sellers’ tolerance for having properties on market for lengthy time periods is — whatever they may say prior to listing — close to zero. So, for your own mental health as well as your sellers’, staging is imperative — especially now.
2. Not prepping the property before staging
Stagers can do magical things, but the best stagers can’t distract from damaged paint and battered doors, floors and trim. Give your stager a break, and send in the cleaners and painters to fluff the property before staging starts (if it’s safe). It’s the best money your client will ever spend.
3. DIY staging
Even if, as you probably believe, you were born with special gifts in home decorating, doing the staging yourself is a mistake. That goes double for your clients. First off, neither you nor the client is likely to be the “gifted” stagers you think you are.
Second, even if you were, staging is not the highest and best use of your time. Stagers maintain inventory. They have movers on standby. And they stay abreast of homeselling design and color trends and know how to appeal to various market segments. The best thing you can do is get yourself and your clients out of your stagers’ way and let them transform the place into the “must have” house your client thinks it is.
4. Hiring the least-expensive stager
Your stager needs to understand merchandising and have the inventory, training and talent to use furniture and accessories to emphasize a property’s best features and minimize its flaws.
The best person for the job may not necessarily be the cheapest person. Further, the best stager and the second best stager’s fees are probably not that far apart. These people are helping you sell a property faster and for more money. So, why would you ever think cheaper was better?
5. Not allowing the stager enough time to do the job
This mistake is up there with cheaping out. You’ve picked your stager to achieve a marketing goal. Why would you not ask your stagers in advance how much time they need before the photographer shows up?
Pushing to get a less than perfect property on this week’s tour instead of doing advance work well and having a perfect property on next week’s tour is just dumb.
6. Forcing the stager to use sellers’ belongings
Sellers can be just as attached to specific belongings as they are to the structure they call home. (We once had a client nearly rip a stager’s head off over a cutting board choice!)
You have to be sensitive to those emotional ties, of course. But you can’t let them affect your marketing, of which the stager’s design plan is a major part.
This is why we insist on taking the stager through properties without the sellers present, if at all possible. Any change to a seller’s decor is apt to be upsetting to that seller.
Your job — not the stager’s — is to prepare your client to tolerate these upsetting changes. They don’t have to love them. But they have to accept them as part of your marketing effort.
7. Giving the seller veto power over the staging design
Because the seller is not the target buyer, the seller’s opinion of the staging is irrelevant. And that may not be something you want to say to your clients in precisely those terms.
We tend to talk with sellers in advance about who we see buying the property and how the stager might appeal to those prospective buyers. We definitely prepare them to not like the staging. And we’re not above telling them that staging will help them adjust to the idea that the property isn’t their home anymore — which we all hope it soon will not be.
Bottom line: Say whatever it takes to ensure the stager gets to focus on the buyer — and not the seller’s style preferences.
8. Not ensuring the stager can work without seller interference
By “interference,” we mean presence. To the extent you can keep the seller and stager from ever interacting, everyone’s life will go more smoothly.
At minimum, you have to keep the sellers out of the property once staging starts and, ideally, keep them out until the staging is done. (We suggest an out-of-town stay with their children and animals along for the ride.)
Incomplete staging is, by definition, not the final product. Given that the seller is most likely going to hate the finished product, letting them see unfinished staging is a mistake. Avoid this!
9. Not making sure the stager gets paid
Sellers will happily spend money on paint or a new sink. But they will try everything to avoid paying the stager. Stagers get paid, just like painters, on completion of their work, not when the property sells.
Make sure your clients know that and are prepared to perform, or that you’ve charged a commission large enough to cover the staging costs yourself. Then verify that the stager’s bill is paid promptly! Clients come and go. Your stager is someone you want in your corner forever.
10. Failing to define your target market for the stager in advance
It amazes us how few agents discuss their target audience for a given property with their stagers. Stagers are merchandisers. They understand marketing, demographics, and how to make spaces appeal to specific demographics.
If you’re staging a property to sell to dual-income professional people with no kids, it should look a lot different than one staged to appeal to a family with one parent at home and three kids in elementary school. If you’re going to pay a stager, it’s a huge mistake not to share relevant details about your target buyer while their design is in the planning stage.
Staging can make your life — and your sellers’ and buyers’ experiences — infinitely more rewarding, if you approach it right. Avoiding these 10 missteps is a great way to start.
Coronavirus response tip
With public concerns mounting over preventing the spread of coronavirus, plan to incorporate sanitation measures prominently in your property staging.
Keep doors open where weather permits to allow hands-free entry at open houses, when it’s safe to host them again. And give away hand sanitizer (with at least 70 percent alcohol content) lavishly.
For private showings, provide sanitizing sprays and/or wipes to sanitize lockboxes and entry doorknobs. Keep baskets of hand sanitizer, wipes, tissues, soap dispensers and paper towels in prominent spots throughout the property to encourage good hygiene. Finally, arrange to have cleaners sanitize properties regularly.
If there were ever a time to have properties looking, smelling and feeling squeaky clean, this is it.
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.