Small Business

Going Through a Stage


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Kaili Harding faced a dilemma: Her husband's hitch with the U.S. Army was just about to expire, and the Hardings were planning on relocating to the Chicago area from their current home in Clarksville, Tenn.

The couple needed to sell their home as quickly as possible in order to buy a new place in Chicago, a more expensive housing market. The last thing they wanted was to be saddled with two separate mortgages. Compounding their difficulties was the fact that troops from 101st Airborne Division stationed near Clarksville were deployed in Iraq at the time, creating a stagnant housing market.

SETTING AN EXAMPLE. Harding decided this required some outside-the-box thinking. After doing online research, she looked into the possibility of "staging" her home. A staged home is one that has its appearance modified in the hopes that it will sell more quickly and fetch a higher price.

Harding's research on staging paid off and in two weeks, she and her husband had sold their home.

"After that every [real estate agent] in town came to see what we had done," Harding remembered. "I realized that this must be what you have to do to sell a house." The Hardings' story is the kind professional stagers love to cite as an example of the power of home staging. They say that with the service, people sell their homes more quickly, and sometimes for more than their original asking price.

VISUAL FEAST. "Staging a home is beneficial to the prospective buyer because it gives them the opportunity to visualize -- to see how they would arrange [furniture in] or live in a space," said Jessica Margot, an interior designer who works with some of Chicago's top developers. "You want to emphasize the better features of the space. You want to bring out the architectural elements to lead the viewer through the space."

After her successful experience, Harding decided to get in on the act and made home staging a career. She started the President of the Greater Chicago Chapter of International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP), which now has 30 members. In 2005, Harding herself staged 150 homes. She concedes that staging is still a growing industry, and only a small percentage of real estate agents use stagers at this point. "It's a shame because they are not getting the full value of the home for their clients," she said.

But Nancy Lincoln, a real estate agent in Arlington Heights, Ill., contends that staging isn't always necessary. "Some people's homes are stunningly beautiful the way they are, and the furniture placement is already workable for viewing homes."

APPEARANCE IS EVERYTHING. Staging comes in varying degrees. There are strategic stagings in which the seller will just spruce up an important room in the house, like a living room or family room. Then there are lower-cost stagings, which aim to "de-clutter" a home and rearrange or augment the existing furniture. At the other end of the spectrum are high-end stagings that completely change the appearance of a house.

Marjorie Rissman, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Highland Park, Ill., tries to reduce costs to the seller by doing the work herself on homes that are already occupied. But she advocates bringing in a staging professional in more challenging cases like an empty home, which can present significant challenges to sellers who want to sell quickly, or who are unwilling to come down on their sale price.

So is staging worth the money and effort? "Buyers have a hard time visualizing a vacant house without the warm and fuzzy creature comforts," says Rissman.

VOICE OF EXPERIENCE. Take the case of Joann Louer, who recently moved to Atlanta, Ga. When she put her Aurora, Ill., property on the market, she immediately had it staged. Within 15 days, she had an offer. Contrast that with a similar house in the same subdivision that lingered on the market for three months.

"I really believe staging makes a house sell quickly," attests Louer. That's one resounding "yes."

SLIDE SHOWS:

Setting the Stage to Sell Your Home

Staging Your Home to Sell -- Part 2

Staging Your Home -- Part 3


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