Home Staging and Hiring a Stager

Dressing a house for success

modern farmhouse kitchen
••• David Papazian/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Contrary to what you might think, home staging is about more than preparing the house for sale. Staging is what you do after you've cleaned, decluttered, painted, and made minor repairs. It's about illusions. It's about creating moods. It's about making the home look bigger, brighter, cleaner, warmer, and more loving. It's about dressing the house for sale—the metaphorical lipstick, mascara, and single strand of Tahitian pearls that pulls the home's look together.

Home staging can pay off big time for sellers. Not all sellers are receptive at first, but if the home doesn't sell because it's missing that "oomph," home staging always seems to turn it around. You can do large scale home staging or small scale, but the important thing is to engage some aspect of home staging. If you do, you're more likely to quickly sell for top dollar.

Defining a Professional Home Stager

Professional stagers are highly skilled artists. They can take a blank canvas and paint a sensuous portrait, but the canvas is your home and their paintbrush is an arsenal of home decor accessories. Stagers possess the skills of a top-level designer, and they create dramatic scenery that appeals to all five senses. The secrets to their success are subtle details that come together to create a cohesive and pleasant experience for visitors walking through the home. A home stager might:

  • Arrange sparse pieces of furniture in an appealing grouping known as a vignette.
  • Showcase a generous usage of soft fabrics such as silk, lambswool, and satin.
  • Display unusual knickknacks in units of one, three, or five.
  • Drape window coverings with simple lines.
  • Add unique elements to shelving, bookcases, and fireplace mantels to draw attention to areas you want potential buyers to look at.

Common Accessories a Home Stager Might Use

Stagers bring in a vast array of items to spruce up the house. Here is a small sampling of items professional stagers often use to dress each room. How they are utilized is limited only by the creativity and vision of the stager.

  • Mirrors
  • Plants
  • Silk flowers
  • Floor and table lamps
  • Area and throw rugs
  • Small love seats
  • Ottomans
  • Afghans
  • Pillows
  • Inflatable queen-size beds
  • Baskets
  • Plastic tables and chairs

Professional Home Staging Tricks and Tips

For some helpful tips, let's turn to Dawna Johnson. An artist for more than 45 years, Johnson is an accredited staging professional master (ASP) and owner of Sacramento Staging Solutions. She says the idea behind staging is to allow rooms to show themselves. "If your home is vacant, it's soulless," Johnson warns. "Without staging, it will probably remain on the market for many months." She calls the kitchen the "heart of the home," and offers this practical advice for making that space sparkle:

  • Apply orange oil to cabinets that appear dry, which will renew their luster.
  • Put out large bowls of fruit such as polished apples, bright oranges, and luscious grapes.
  • Arrange colorful and fun cookbooks on the counters.

Johnson believes in bringing the outdoors inside through the use of greenery and plants. Create clean, crisp spaces and arrange furniture with plenty of room to walk around. She says bathrooms are essential to dress well. "Bathrooms should look open, airy, and delightful," says Johnson. One of her favorite tricks is to add baskets filled with spa treatments such as towels tied with ribbons, scented soaps, creamy lotions, and jars filled with moisturizers.

The backyard needs staging, too. For patios and decks, Johnson brings in plants and potted flowers, and she adds additional color by setting the picnic table with bright, plastic dinner plates.

Home Staging Costs

Prices vary depending on where you live and the local demand for professional home staging. Coastal areas and large metropolitan cities where home staging has been prevalent for years command higher prices. Some real estate agents help sellers stage the home themselves. Most listing agents agree, however, that vacant homes show better with professional staging. Even if an agent is capable of helping to stage a home, they're likely to encourage sellers to hire a professional stager. Fees range from $500 to $5,000 or more, depending on square footage, the number of rooms staged, and the number of staging items that need to be rented.

How to Find and Hire a Home Stager

Real estate agents are often your best source of information because they tend to develop long-term business relationships with the best stagers in town. Like with any profession, you've got good stagers and so-so stagers. Experience is the best way to separate the two, and real estate agents are most likely to have experienced the staging options in your town. Don't be afraid to ask a realtor for a referral to a top-notch home stager. Here are some other final tips for finding the perfect staging professional:

  • Do organic searches in any major search engine by entering the words "home stager" and your town. Or try "home staging" and your town, or even "staging a home" and your town.
  • Read reviews of home stagers on Yelp.
  • Search social media for home stagers and home staging companies in your area.
  • Look at the website of the most popular home stagers and pay close attention to the way the photographs make you feel. If you find yourself gravitating toward a certain style, pick that stager.