Why I Became a Home Stager Rather Than an Interior Designer
Probably every home stager will tell you they have always had a "good eye" or a "knack" for interior design, that their friends and family have always complimented them on the way they've decorated, and that they've always dreamed of having a career in the interior design industry. That's true of me, as well, but it's important to point out that home staging is not interior design. Home staging is a marketing strategy. It is true that being a great home stager means you also need to have design skills, which is why Larimar offers someinterior design packages, as well, but helping get homes sold is my passion.
So, what motivated me to open a business that focuses primarily on home staging? At the time the decision was made, it felt a little like an impulsive "aha" moment (it caught my boyfriend by surprise, anyway), but looking back on it, there were severalmoments in my life that lead to this decision.
It goes all the way back to when I was a first-time home buyer over two decades ago (yep, I'm that old). Back then, the extent to which most home sellers prepared their home for the market only went as far as decluttering and tidying up the home (and some didn't even do that much). In the 90's, home staging was almost exclusively for model homes. I remember touring the gorgeous models in my area with my [now ex] husband and being sad that our budget was going to restrict us to an outdated fixer upper that didn't evoke the same excitement from us as those staged models.
About three years after we settled on a fixer upper for our starter home, we had become parents of two (with a third on the way), and we were ready for a bigger home. By now, our income had grown, so we had more to spend this time. We looked at several older homes with huge lots and swimming pools (which many in Southern California consider a "must have"), which were well within our budget, but we ultimately chose a smaller lot, with no pool. Why? It was a new build and the staged model for the floor plan we chose won our hearts. It wasn't just because this house was brand new. We had also looked at models in new developments that had not been staged, and while I was able to imagine thehouse with furniture and decor (because I'm a creative), my ex-husband couldn't (most of the population can't), so those homes were a hard pass for him. Without furnishings to provide reference for scale, he perceived the rooms as being either too small or too large; and without the additional table and floor lamps - not to mention the decor and accessories that add texture and warmth - these houses came across as too dark, "cold" and uninviting for him.
These two personal experiences as a home buyer showed me how much staging - or the lack thereof - had affected our home buying decision both times.
The sellers of the first home we bought could've easily gotten a higher offer fromother buyers if they had invested in updating the home and pulling together a cohesive look with furnishings and decor (it was truly awful. I still shudder thinking about it). My ex-husband and I couldn't have offered more back then, because we were young newlyweds on a tight budget, but even if we'd had more money to spend, we still would not have offered more for that house in the condition it was in and the manner in which it had been presented. But we did sell this same home for a good price, and quickly, because in the time we owned it, we did a lot of painting and other updates. And, of course, because I am who I am, I had instinctively furnished the house to attract attention to it's strong features, and avert attention from it's flaws.
A few years later, when we had a little more money to spend, our decision for our second home was made almost entirely on the staging we saw in the model. There were other factors involved in our decision, of course, such as location, square footage, etc., but there were loads of other homes on the market that met that criteria. The staging was what made the home we chose more appealing than the others.
By this time, I was intrigued enough to ponder a career in home staging, but at the time, the limited information I could findgave me the impression that staging wasexclusively for big home developers who hired huge design firms to decorate model homes only. And as a new mother of three very young children, I couldn't see how, at that phase of my life, I would fit into that business model.
Eleven years later, I divorced and became friends with my ex-husband's high school sweetheart (that's a story for another time) and she, too, was going through a divorce. I was fortunate enough to keep my house in my divorce, but sadly, she was being forced to sell hers. So the first time I ever visited her in her home, it was on the market. As soon as I entered, I remarked on how beautiful her home was, and she said, "Oh... well... that's because it's staged right now."
Whaaaat?!? Imagine how the wheels in my head started turning! "Wait.... so you mean to tell me that there are companies who will stage a house that isn't a model in a new development? They'll do it for anybody? And you can live in it while it's staged?"
"Yep. About half of this stuff is mine, and the other half belongs to the staging company."
But, alas, I was still picking myself up after my divorce, my kids were still too young to be left home alone, so at the time, sticking with my online retail business that allowed me to work from home seemed more practical. Once again, home staging was pushed to the back of my mind.
Fast forward another seven years: By this time, I had been with Ray (also know as Best Boyfriend Ever) for over four wonderful years. Ray works in retail management, and with the state of brick and mortar retail businesses being what it is (every day we hear of another chain filing for bankruptcy), he was laid off of his job of seventeen years and had to take a new job with another company that required him to relocate. This meant he needed to sell his Southern California home and find a new one in Las Vegas, while simultaneously traveling all over the country training for his new position. My kids were much older, so didn't need me around as much, and the online gift basket business I owned at the time was in it's slow season, so I volunteered as his house hunter. Before we could find him a new home, though, we had to (reluctantly) sell his old one.
Before he put his California home on the market, Ray interviewed three listing agents, and he ended up choosing an agent with the highest listing fee, because this agent included professional photography and home staging services in their listing package. I'm not sure Ray even understood what home staging was at the time, but the agent's explanation of it was at least good enough to help Ray understand that, although this agent's fees would cost him more initially than the other two agents had quoted, this agent's marketing strategy would likely get Ray's home sold in less time for more money, which would result in a higher return on investment. Again, I saw how home staging had an influence, but this time it was the seller, not the buyer, that was influenced. This listing agentpositioned himself above the others by offering a package that included home staging, demonstrating to Ray the level of commitment he had to marketing Ray's home for the best possible results.
I was at Ray's house the day the home staging team came. It was a real eye-opening experience for me in many ways. While they did a good enough job that it did, indeed, result in better listing photos, and Ray was very happy with the results it got on the sale of his home, I could see a lot of room for improvement in the work and the level of service these particular stagers provided. I won't get into everything I think they could've and should've done better (maybe that'll be a subject for another blog post), but it was one of those times when you look at something and say to yourself, "I could do it better." So, this was yet another experience that lead me to consider becoming a home stager.
Once we got Ray's California house sold, I turned my focus to finding him a home in Las Vegas that had everything on his "must have" list, at least a couple of things on his "nice to have" list, was in the safest neighborhood, and was within the price range he was willing to spend. And let me tell you, that was no easy task!
This is turning into a really long blog post, so I won't go into the details of what was on his "must have" list, but I will tell you that it's all the same things that - I have since learned in all the home staging certification courses I have completed - are on the "must have" lists as the vast majority of home buyers these days. Gone are the days of home buyers who are willing to buy fixer uppers. Unless they are investors who have a passion for flipping properties, today's home buyers want move-in ready. And even though all the research indicates that this mindset is specific to millennials, Ray is in the boomer generation, so I think it's safe to say that it's not only millennials who are adverse to the prospect of spending all their days off on home improvement projects.
I looked at hundreds of homes online and dozens in person. I found many in his price range that only needed a few minor updates, but Ray didn't want to have to do any work. The homes I found that didn't need any work were priced over what he was willing to offer. I also found several homes that met all of his criteria in both features and price, but when he saw the photos online, he would turn the house down. Why? The furnishings! His most frequent comments when he would pass on an otherwise perfect house were, "It's messy," "They have too much stuff," or "It looks like my grandmother lives there." Exasperated, I'd remind him that the sellers would taking all their stuff with them when they moved out, but he would say "I can't look at these photos and see past all that stuff, so I can't be sure it's the right house for me. "
After four months, I finally found one that was good enough for him. It had everything on both his "must have" and his "nice to have" lists and was in one of the best neighborhoods in Las Vegas. But the part I want all you home sellers and listing agents out there to pay close attention to is this: He was willing to offer $25,000 more than the limit he had committed to spending because this house had been flipped. It wasn't even an elaborate flip. It just had new laminate wood flooring (I can tell it's the cheapest, lowest quality on the market, but he doesn't care), new granite countertops in an on-trend color, a new backsplash (again, they used the cheapest material), and all of the dated oak cabinetry in the house had been painted white and given new hardware. Furthermore, Ray could "see" all these updates because the house wasn't messy, cluttered, overly furnished or filled with outdated "grandma" furniture and decor.
Finding Ray a new home was a very frustrating, very long process, but it was also very rewarding in the end (probably because I had to work so hard it). By the time I was done, I wanted to go knock on the door of every home seller in the area and give them a consultation on what they needed to do to get buyers more interested in their listings, get higher offers and sell faster. It's just so obvious to me now, but apparently it's not obvious to most sellers. I've noticed it's not even obvious to a lot of listing agents. There's so much money being left on the table by sellers who won't invest on "flipping" their own home and staging it before they put it on the market. Why sell your house at a fixer-upper price only to let some investor come along and reap the ROI?
The final push that got me to open a home staging business was this: Around the same time I started house hunting for Ray, I began playing on this app called Design Home. I have a love-hate relationship with that game. It charges real money to purchase furniture and decor and I've spent way too much. When I think of all the money I spent on that game that could've gone toward purchasing real furniture and artwork to stage real homes.... ugh! Anyway.... players use their purchased virtual furniture and decor to design virtual rooms, and players vote on the designs. (Speaking of virtual, please don't virtually stage your home listing. It doesn't work). This means there's a leader board of top designers, and I've made it to the #1 position a few times, which makes it even more addicting (hey, I crave validation just like everyone else). Getting at the top of the leader board means all the other players can see you. If you link the app with Facebook, you can borrow furniture from your Facebook friends,. So, one of the times that I was Top Designer, I got a friend request from someone who turned out to be a home stager in Texas. I accepted her friend request and reached out to her. I told her about my dream of becoming a home stager. She said, "You can do this!" And she was right! I immediately clicked on the link to the home staging training course she sent me, signed up, and have since taken many other courses and will continue to do so, as I believe strongly that continuing education is very important.
So, now you know the whole story. Kudos to you for reading all the way to the end! It must be a slow day for you. Lol! I sincerely thank you for being interested enough to stick through it. I suppose, a shorter and more precise answer to why I became a home stager would be because I have a passion for helping people sell and buy homes, but that wouldn't earn me the brownie points I need from Google for "relevant content." <insert cheesy winky face emoji here>.