July 2, 2021
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Not to be confused with a visit to the home simply to gather the info needed to provide a quote, a home staging consultation is a paid service in which a professional home staging consultant provides the home sellers with valuable, custom recommendations for increasing the home's perceived value in the eyes of potential buyers.  

I give away a lot of free home staging tips to both agents and sellers, but I can only provide very generic, one-size-fits-all advice in this type of format. To provide recommendations tailored to a specific home and help the sellers pull maximum equity out of their investment, I need to spend a couple hours viewing the specific house in question.

A Pro Stager's Recommendations vs A Listing Agent's

There are some major differences between the "declutter and tidy up" standard advice usually given by real estate agents, and the recommendations a professional home staging consultant provides.

Difference #1: How "Declutter" is Defined & Explained to the Home Seller

Let's start with the differences in how the home seller, the listing agent, and the home staging consultant will define "declutter". "Clutter" and "declutter" are very subjective terms. A lot of people who are not in the home staging industry think of "decluttering" as what one of my mentors calls "the mother-in-law tidy", a process which simply involves basic, obvious tasks such as clearing the stack of mail from the kitchen counter, picking up the dirty clothes on the floor, and finally folding and putting away that pile of clean laundry that's been draped over the seldom-used treadmill. In other words: quickly picking up the house in preparation for visitors who are expected to arrive any minute. The "tidying up" part should be the very last step before the open house and every showing. Much more than that can and should be done to a home in the months and weeks leading up to it going on the market.

Most real estate agents probably have something slightly more in mind than the "mother-in-law tidy" when they're advising home sellers to declutter, but they usually don't provide much, if any, specificity. Most agents aren't even sure what to specify or how to articulate what they have in mind. This leaves the home seller to come up with their own interpretation of what it means to declutter, which takes us back to "the mother-in-law tidy".

A good home staging consultant takes the time to specify exactly which items need to be pre-packed and removed from the home and why

Below is a "before" image I took of a master bedroom during a home staging consultation. Take a long look at this and see if you can identify everything that should be done to prepare this room for market. Unless you're a trained home staging consultant yourself, I'm betting you're going to miss some things.

Bedroom Before Home Staging
I chose this specific image to use as an example to make my point because this consultation was provided to a very close friend whom I know very well, and because I know him so well, I can tell you precisely what he would've done if I'd simply waved my hand across this room and said, "declutter'. He would've put away the jeans and the suitcase sitting on the bench and considered it done. I'm thinking that's all most homeowners would've done. When you get to the "after" image I've included further below, you'll see that my recommendations involved far more than putting away the suitcase and the jeans.

Difference #2: Knowing How to Add Perceived Square Footage

Honestly ask yourself if you would know which pieces of furniture to remove from any given room to make it look larger. Or how to rearrange the furniture to achieve the same effect. There is no one-size-fits-all advice I can give here that will work in any room in any home. Which items need to be removed or relocated will vary from home to home. This is why it is always wise to bring in a professional home staging consultant. The sooner the better, too, as the consultant will probably recommend some home improvements that might take some time to complete.

Now take a look at the "after" image of the same master bedroom. I'm sure you can agree that it appears much bigger, not to mention more aesthetically pleasing, but can you honestly say you would you have known to recommend all of this to the homeowner yourself? Would you have known to recommend removing the dressers, the pet steps and the bench at the foot of the bed to make the room appear larger? Would you have known to recommend replacing the nightstands with ones that have drawers to compensate for reduced drawer space after the dressers were removed? 
Before and After a Home Staging Consultation
There was no walk-in closet in this master suite, so those nightstands with three drawers each show potential buyers that there are solutions to the limited storage space that can be implemented without eating up a bunch of the room's square footage with dressers. Limited storage space is a huge objection for buyers and no walk-in closet will be a deal-breaker for many of them. But a too-small master bedroom is also often a deal-breaker. Coming up with ways to address potential buyer-objections is in the job description of a home staging consultant.

Difference #3: Sourcing New Items or Renting Items for the Home

After providing the consultation to the home seller, most  home staging consultants can also offer additional services such as shopping for any new fixtures, finishes, furniture and accessories they may have recommended be replaced or added.

Most consultants also own or work for a staging company that stocks items home sellers can purchase or rent. The staging consultant or a stylist from the company will select the items needed, and a crew from the company will deliver these items and put everything into place. This is the service known by most as "home staging", or more specifically to those of us within the industry, "occupied home staging", since we're staging a home that people are still living in. In some parts of the world, home staging is referred to as "property styling". I really like that term, but here in the U.S., it's only commonly used on the East Coast.

Rather than rent everything he needed to add to this room from my company's staging inventory, this particular client agreed that he needed to upgrade some of his bedroom furnishings and opted to purchase stuff he could keep and take with him to his next home. He picked out the headboard himself, but the gray in it didn't coordinate well with the wall color. So, after that purchase, he decided it was best to hire me to either source, or at least approve of, the rest of the items he purchased. Knowing he would be keeping these items, I picked out stuff he would like and would still appeal to most buyers. Luckily, I found artwork that had all the colors needed to tie the wall color and the gray in the headboard together (whew!), which gave the room a finished look.

After I sourced the new items for him and they were all delivered, he hired me to return to the home to style the property using all the new items I'd recommended, or, in other words, stage the home.

Difference #4: Knowing How to Make the Home Appear "Available" to Buyers

Not everything that has value to the home seller will have value to the buyer. Excess items, very unique or bold color palettes and design styles that are specific to the seller's personal taste, and personal other effects such as family photos and collections are just "visual noise" that will be a distraction for the buyers and make the home feel as though it's not available. It's as if the home were wearing a wedding band.

"Decluttering" in the context of preparing a home for sale could better be described as "minimizing" and "depersonalizing". If the seller is unwilling to depersonalize the house, they're giving buyers the impression they have yet to emotionally detach themselves from the property, and this will hinder a buyer's ability to start forming their own emotional attachment to the home. Buyers becoming emotionally invested in the home is crucial for getting the highest offers possible.

Things in the before image of the master bedroom above I would consider "visual noise" are: 

  • The items sitting on the nightstands
  • The pet steps at the bottom of the bed
  • The basket in the far corner filled with cat toys
  • The TV and remote on the dresser in the foreground
  • The stuff sitting on top of the dresser on the far wall (a jewelry box and an air purifier)

All of these items serve a purpose and have value to this homeowner. It is for this reason that I don't like to use the term "declutter" during a home staging consultation. "Clutter" is often used synonymously with "junk". "Clutter" implies that I don't see the value in their things. I understand that a lot of the items I'm going to recommend they prepack and put into storage are things that have sentimental and/or monetary value to my clients, so I try my best to be sensitive. I take the time to explain my reasoning behind my recommendations, and I remind them that they will be reunited with their treasures in their next home.

Difference #5: Time and Resources

A real estate agent really can't be blamed for not providing more specificity on what should be done to a home before it goes on the market. Agents already have a lot on their plates. A home staging consultant has the time because that's literally the job.

A home staging consultant also has more resources. The best home staging consultant will have:

  • a repertoire of cleaning and repair hacks to share
  • expertise on current trends in home design and a list of trending finishes, fixtures, paint colors and other things that will bring the home up to date
  • affordable alternatives for updates that don't involve replacing items in the home if the sellers are on a tight budget
  • a reference library of DIY blogs and YouTube videos to share that will help save the home sellers money
  • and usually a large warehouse of furniture, artwork and accessories available should the sellers opt to rent some of the company's assets

Difference #6: Design Expertise

Occupied Home Staging Before and After

Above are before and after shots of the same house, same client, same home staging consultation. This home had been flipped just before the client bought it. This dining room had previously been both a family room and a dining area. It was much too small for that (even though the wide-angle lens I used for the before photo makes the room appear larger). There was already another living space in the home, but no other dining area, so my client opted to dedicate this entire room to a dining set.

However, this left no light fixture above the table. The wiring from the light fixture in the previous dining area needed to be moved.

This client was hesitant to invest in a new light fixture and the cost to have an electrician relocate the electrical wiring. He lives alone and never used this dining room, so it didn't bother him that there was no lighting. But I reminded him that most people eat at their dining table at least a couple nights a week, and especially when they entertain during the winter, and not having a light fixture above the dining table would probably be a deal-breaker for most home buyers. He finally agreed, so I sent him a link to a very affordable light fixture on Amazon that was delivered within a couple days. He hired an electrician to install a new light box in the ceiling, pulling the wiring from the old box. My client patched the hole where the ceiling fan had been himself using materials I listed in my checklist that can be found at most home improvement stores. Altogether (fixture, bulbs, the electrician's fees and the materials to patch the hole), adding lighting to the dining room cost this client about $400. When it was all done, he agreed that it made a huge difference, and he thanked me repeatedly for talking him into it.

Aside from adding a light fixture, I also recommended this client find something larger to use as a liquor cabinet that was more in line with the architectural style of the home and would coordinate with his dining set. The two pieces in the corners of the "before" image on the left were leftovers from a larger entertainment center he'd purchased back in the 80s. He found the cabinet in the "after" image at a local furniture store. I sourced the two fiddle leaf trees and items to use as a center piece for the table and a couple other accessories for the shelves on the grandfather clock.

I actually sourced several items for this client, and after purchasing, he had me return to style the entire house using these items. Again, this additional service is known as occupied home staging or property styling. I sometimes refer to it as "photo prep" since it's the last thing that should be done just before the marketing photos are taken.

Paint works wonders to update a home and remove buyer objections 

Before and After Staircase Makeover

Above are before and after pics of a staircase after a home staging consultation I did for another property. If this was a Spanish-style home, that ceramic tile on the risers might have made sense, especially if it had been installed with more expertise. The before pic doesn't actually look that bad, but these stair risers looked much worse in person. First of all, whoever laid the tile was an obvious amateur. I suspect the previous homeowners had done it themselves (it wasn't my client who installed the tile). Secondly, the colors were a bad choice. The cream and brown tile and the muddy brown mortar (yep, they used brick mortar, not grout) were a very outdated look. To be honest, I don't believe that look was ever in style.

This client said their Realtor had been concerned they wouldn't put an offer on this house, because these stairs had been a deal-breaker for many other potential buyers. My client wasn't crazy about the stairs, either, or several other very outdated features of the home. But because it was outdated, he was able to get it for asking price and not a penny more. Depending on when you're reading this article, full asking price might sound like a great deal for the people who sold my clients this house, but this was in late 2020 when the housing market was crazy hot. Comparable homes in this same neighborhood were going for as much as a hundred thousand dollars over list price. So my client getting this home for asking price was a bargain. There was no bidding war between buyers clamoring over this house.

I was enlisted by this client immediately after they closed escrow. They still live in this house, but are planning on selling it within a couple of years, and they didn't want to leave money on the table like the previous owners did by not updating it. They were wise to bring in a  professional home staging consultant to advise what should be done to the home so they can make a profit when they sell, as well as enjoy the home improvements while they still live there.

Back to this staircase: ripping out the tile was not going to be possible without ripping out the stairs altogether and starting from scratch with new risers and steps, and that would be far too costly and labor intensive. I offered a much simpler and affordable solution: paint the tile. Yes, you can paint ceramic tile! The client was skeptical and very nervous about trying this themselves, so I did it myself (I sometimes agree to do small painting projects like this for clients for an additional fee). The end result was a much better looking staircase that now coordinates with the rest of the white trim in the home.

Below is a before and after comparison of the interior front door of the same home. Painting it was an easy, inexpensive update that the client said they never would have thought of doing had I not recommended it. I also picked out the new paint colors for the interior of this house. The peachy color on the walls in the photo on the left was very outdated. The color in the after photo is Sherwin Williams Agreeable Grey.

Front Door Interior Before and After Home Staging Consultation

I hope after showing you some of the before and after photos of these two homes and explaining some of the recommendations I provided to these particular clients, you have a better understanding of what to expect with a professional home staging consultation, or at least a consultation provided by me.

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