The tell-tale signs are there. Colourful cushions sitting plump on stylish but uncomfortable couches. A pile of pretty magazines on the coffee table. A bowl of well-placed fake fruits on the bare kitchen counter accompany an open cookbook (usually Jamie Oliver or Donna Hay). Beds in the bedrooms are impeccably made with ironed sheets, yet more cushions and a throw rug that looks as if it has been casually draped. The bathroom has perfectly folded towels, strategically positioned candles and expensive but unused bars of soap. All these are clues to a professionally styled home that are so common these days.
As a Buyers’ Agent, I have seen thousands of properties and can almost guess each time which company has styled a property! It is rather funny to actually go into Open Inspections and see the same cushions, vases and paintings over and over again.
So what is involved with staging or styling a home for sale and is it worth the time and effort to arrange it all?
What is staging/styling?
Staging or styling a home is often recommended by real estate agents as it helps them to market the property better to prospective purchasers. It involves calling professional companies who have stylists that specialise in staging a home for sale. These companies usually have a warehouse full of furniture and accessories which they then bring in and either partially or fully decorate the home. Some people choose to ‘mix and match’ rented furniture with their own furniture. But this is not always possible, for example in the case of vacant properties or those with existing furniture that are too old or too difficult to match with.
How much does it cost?
While each company may vary and have different packages on offer, generally, furniture and all accessories are usually rented on a six week basis. This covers the four week marketing campaign by the selling agent, plus two additional weeks prior to take photos and prepare the brochure, etc. For those on a tight budget or a vacant property, it may be possible to just style the property for the photo shoot and this will save on rental fees. But of course, people who walk through during Open Inspections may feel under-whelmed if they see such nice photos online and walk in to an empty property. The cost varies depending on how many rooms need to be staged/styled.
So what the pros and cons to styling a home?
- A nicely styled home can evoke a lot of emotion and draw buyers.
- It can help potential buyers visualise where furniture might go.
- Presents a cohesive ‘look’ of the home.
- Modernises the home which may otherwise look tired and outdated.
- Helps to hide flaws (for example via a strategically hung painting or rug on the floor).
- It can warm up an otherwise barren space like a large rumpus room.
- Photos and ads look better, particularly for vacant properties that might otherwise be difficult to photograph. Furniture and accessories help to add depth to photos and can give illusion of space.
- Inexperienced buyers are often drawn to the nice furnishing and overlook more important elements to the property.
- Professional stylists know how to use neutral palettes and can help choose furniture and accessories which will have the broadest appeal.
- Staging can de-personalise the home too much and it can feel quite commercial.
- Some buyers are completely turned off by staging/styling.
- It is not cheap and can be problematic if home does not sell within a few weeks as ongoing rental costs will add up. An alternate arrangement to remove the staged items part way through the sale process is really not ideal.
- Buyers are quite savvy these days and often styling can in fact highlight potential issues. A very common example of this is when dining table and chairs are all pushed against a wall to create more space in an otherwise tight space.
- A bad styling job can cause buyers to get distracted for the wrong reasons.
- If you are still living in the property which has been styled, it can be hard work to keep the kids from damaging the rented items.
Styling on a budget If you choose to stage or style your property for sale, make sure you shop around and compare prices and packages between companies. Ask your real estate agent if they use a preferred company and have discounted prices.
If budget does not permit full scale styling, consider the possibility of styling just a couple of the key rooms that need it the most. Alternatively, save the money and just focus on de-cluttering your home. With so many photos and resources available on the Internet, you might even get away with some DIY styling. Borrow or purchase some nice bed linens, cushion covers, towels, etc. Get friends or family to come over and give you their honest feedback on what needs more/less styling. A thorough de-clutter and clean is also always a good investment.
Is it worth the money? Should you do it?
The companies who provide staging and styling services will make claims that the investment is small compared to the return. They may also claim that properties sell faster and for a higher price than they otherwise would. However, in reality, such claims are difficult to quantify and verify. There is no way to prove that a property fetched $X more because it was staged. Many deceased estate properties which are completely run down also fetch high prices without any styling. What is indisputable though is that a well-presented property will always appeal more to buyers.
Ultimately, whether or not you style a home for sale should depend on your overall marketing strategy, the price point of your property, your target buyer demographics, what your competitors are doing, as well as the type of property you are trying to sell. For example, where styling may not be required is if you are trying to sell a property which is targeted at buyers who will knock it down and rebuild new. In this case, they care more about your land than the house itself. On the contrary, styling may be really useful if there are rooms in the property which don’t have a clearly defined purpose – for example, the bare basement can be presented as a warm and cosy rumpus room.
About Oliver Stier
Oliver J. Stier is the Director of OH Property Group, a leading Sydney buyers agency. He studied Quantitative Economics and Finance at Cambridge University (UK), University of Toronto (Canada) and Princeton University (USA). In addition to being a licensed real estate agent, Oliver also holds the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation.