Although home staging can be a valuable tool in your marketing arsenal, it can’t do everything. Here’s the latest from NAR’s 2023 staging survey.

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Based on a January 2023 random sample of 43,000-plus Realtors, The National Association of Realtors (NAR) compiled its most recent Profile of Home Staging. Coming off a year which, in part, saw record low inventory followed by a depressed fall market, the number of agents going all-in on home staging had, predictably, diminished.

However, there were some interesting questions asked and, as always, some interesting things to consider when looking at what agents are spending money on when it comes to marketing listings. Divided into buyer and seller agent impressions, the report also provides insight into the things buyer agents are hearing from their clients about what they’re looking for while they’re home shopping. Here are my three big takeaways.

TV shows impact buyers, but not the way you think

A median of 5 percent of respondents cited that buyers felt homes should look the way they were staged on TV shows, however, 73 percent said that TV shows which display the buying process set unrealistic or increased expectations.

Many agents blame the prevalence of TV shows for making buyers struggle with the idea of formica countertops or white appliances. This is, in part, the rationale for staging in the first place — make the home look as perfect as the ones on TV to generate a faster sale at a higher price.

In reality, however, the gap in those numbers, taken with the fact that over half of respondents say that they’ve seen an increase in the number of buyers who expect to remodel their new home, suggests that the gap between TV and reality is more about the buying process rather than the way the listing looks.

Make sure that you prepare your buyers ahead of time for the homebuying process, including the struggles they may face when buying in a low inventory market. Make sure that they’re working with a competent lender and that they’re taking advantage of every opportunity to streamline their mortgage process — often the most stressful aspect of a transaction.

Keep buyers fully informed with regular and reliable communication. Help them understand what they’re signing and give them plenty of information about everything from the inspection to the closing process itself.

While staging matters, the whole home may not need to be staged

According to buyer agents, the living room (39 percent), primary bedroom (36 percent) and kitchen (30 percent) were the rooms that were most important for staging. The least important? Secondary bedrooms at only 9 percent.

Of course, this makes intuitive sense since buyers use their spare bedrooms in so many different ways — as guest rooms, home offices and other types of flex space. For buyer agents, the focus should be on finding out what your buyers are looking for and how they’re planning to use that bonus space, then help them envision how the secondary bedrooms will work for those plans. 

For listing agents, the focus should be on neutralizing that space whenever possible. This is especially helpful if it’s currently used in a distinctive way — say as a baby’s nursery or as a home office with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves or an oversized desk space. 

Helping buyers believe that they’ll be able to use the space in their own way with a minimal outlay in time and money may be a better bet than staging the space.

If marketing funds are limited, put more resources into online-friendly photos

While 58 percent of buyer agents found in-person staging important, a whopping 77 percent found photos more important than any other visual aspect of marketing. That means if you’re skimping on the photos, you may end up not getting buyers through the door in the first place.

Among listing agents, 89 percent cited photos as the most important aspect of marketing, at least where their clients are concerned. That means that no matter which side of the transaction you’re on, you should end up prioritizing the quality of a listing’s photos.

According to the survey, listing agents spent on average $600 when using a staging service or $400 when staging a home themselves. By contrast, professional real estate photography packages are considerably less expensive, making them a better value.

When considering that 96 percent of homebuyers make online search at least part of their process, the value of exceptional photography becomes even more important.

If you have very few listing photos or if they’re blurry, poorly lit and poorly composed, you may never be able to get potential buyers interested enough to come out in person and see your beautifully staged property. Staging is a supplement, not a substitute, for other types of marketing.

Christy Murdock is a freelance writer, coach and consultant, and the owner of Writing Real Estate. Connect with Writing Real Estate on Instagram and subscribe to the weekly roundup, The Ketchup.

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