By Erica Christoffer, Contributing Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
You can call Barb Schwarz the God Mother of staging. She is the creator of the staging homes concept, founded the home staging industry, and developed the Accredited Staging Professional courses and designations. Plus, she spent years as a top-selling real estate pro in the Seattle area. Now this professional speaker and industry leader has published her fifth book, Staging to Sell: The Secret to Selling Homes in a Down Market (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), where she addresses REALTORS®, stagers and sellers alike.
Here’s what Schwarz had to say about Staging to Sell, and the field she loves:
You have been published many times. Did you change your approach at all with this book?
SCHWARZ: Yes, this is my fifth book and my third staging book. I felt it was really important to do a dialogue between a seller, a stager and a REALTOR®, to really lay out the roles each one plays and how they need to listen to and support each other. I laid out the positive ramifications of listening and how that can create a successful sale — as well as marketing, practicing their business skills, and the commitments each needs to make.
What are the top three pieces of advice you give stagers and real estate practitioners when it comes to educating sellers on staging?
SCHWARZ: Number one for me is communication. By saying to the seller, “pretend that you’re the buyer.” Ask them what they would want to see. Show them before and after pictures of individual staged rooms. Pictures are worth a thousand words. You need to communicate verbally, with body language, and with eye contact. Show sellers respect. Show them what they are paying you for. Open them up to the concept of staging right way. And when it is staged and priced right, you know in your heart it will sell.
Also, it takes time to educate a seller. So, my second piece of advice would be to invest the time in the beginning. Talk to them early on, and your job will be so much easier later on. Putting in the time early and communicating clearly are incredibly important. I’ve learned by trial and error. I’ve made every mistake in the book during my 37 years in the industry.
Finally, tell the truth and stick to it.
You talk a lot about pricing in the book. Can you describe how pricing and staging fit together?
SCHWARZ: First, you must have policies in terms of how you work, whether you’re in independent contractor, real estate professional or a broker. The minute the seller asks, “By the way, would you lower your fee?” ask them to first listen to your marketing presentation and your pricing presentation. There is no way you can negotiate the services you provide until they have seen them. By doing this, you can educate the seller. Many do it backwards; they talk about the pricing before they talk about the marketing. They need to make a decision after being educated.
Teach them about staging and the benefits. Homes are traditionally priced based on square footage, bedrooms and bathrooms, condition, and location. That’s great, but staging has been left out. We have stats on staging, which I’m gathering from the thousands of students who become ASP (Accredited Staging Professional) certified. The stats show that 94.8 percent of ASP staged homes sell on average in 37 days or less. One of the key factors of pricing has to do with staging. We need to be classifying houses as to whether they are staged or not.
Know your inventory and your market. Look at staged homes and non-staged homes in the same market, average prices, and days on the market. You are serving the seller. They will see the percentage of difference the staged homes sold for. And I really believe REALTORS® should suggest a price range. Don’t just say one price, because a lot of sellers become defensive. Then let the seller decide from within that range. To get in that top half of the price range, you need to be staged. I call it your ‘staged list price range.’
What tips would you give a real estate professional who is working with a seller who has no cash to pay for an ASP stager?
SCHWARZ: I teach this in class: You can stage without money. People have things in their homes you can use to stage. The REALTOR® is the director, and I love helping them tap into that creativity. I have ideas that don’t cost one dime.
First, it’s about getting the home clean. I’m talking about Q-Tip-clean inside and out. That just takes elbow grease. Second, the seller has to pack up their clutter. That doesn’t cost anything and they will have to pack up their stuff anyway. Place the boxes neatly in the garage. The next thing is buy a can of paint. Paint on sale costs next to nothing.
When it comes to the creativity in the room, let me give an example: Take a young boy’s room. The drapes are shredded, there are posters all over the walls, the dresser is scuffed. Here’s how we’d do it: Find a theme using sports equipment. Look in the garage, you might find a fishing pole, a tackle box, fishing boots, and some rope. Take the fishing pole and replace the old curtain rod. Go to the linen closet – find a twin plain sheet, hang it as a curtain and tie the rope around the center or hook it off to the side. Put the bed on an angle. Clean up the dresser, clear off the belongings, clean up the fishing tackle box and put it on top. Take down the posters, fill nail holes with chalk or white toothpaste. I’m always looking for stuff they own that we can use creatively as props. Maybe they have a fishing net we can hang creatively in the corner behind the bed?
When we stage a house in the classes I teach without any money, the REALTORS® are just speechless. It’s opening the mind of the REALTOR® to see all they can do with no money.
Other options are that the REALTOR® could pay for the APS stager upfront, or the seller could pay and be credited back after closing.
What is the most significant part of the book for you?
SCHWARZ: The fact that I did notes to the seller, and that’s in every chapter. I just thought there was a real need to tell the seller in today’s market that this is how it works and this is what you have to do. I’m very literal and I really tell them what needs to be done to sell their home. And the stories of success in the book show the credibility of staging and pricing the house right. A lot of REALTORS® are in need proof, who haven’t taken the ASP classes. And the proof is there.