Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer where we field housing and design questions from our clients. This month, one of our astute readers wonders about the whole phenomenon of home staging and why it matters when you are selling your home.
I, like so many of my friends, love nothing more than to devour design media. Not only is it fun, dramatic and educational, it helps to have a steady stream of inspiration for tackling my home projects. Now that I am getting ready to put my home on the market to sell, I realize staging my home is an absolute must. But it also got me to thinking: why is staging so important and how did this phenomenon come to be?
Ready to Stage and Sell Swiftly
Here's my response:
Dear Stage and Sell:
Great question, especially given the rise of home and design media in recent years. This is in part because, with technology, platforms and access to media has expanded greatly, but is also a reflection public appetite for this subject matter.
As for staging specifically, it has evolved to now be considered an essential tool in communicating what a home for sale “should” look like in order to appeal to prospective purchasers. As a Seller, you need to present your home in an attractive package, but you also need to forge that intangible emotional connection with a home that will ultimately provide the impetus for prospective Buyers to pay top dollar. If marketing and strategic pricing is the lure to get Buyers to your front door, home staging is the hook that encompasses them, mentally and emotionally to transition towards purchase as soon as they see your listing online, as well as when they cross your threshold.
Why is that, and how has this concept of home staging become such an essential part of preparing your home for sale? Read on:
HGTV Effect And The History Of Staging
How did staging come about exactly? There are varying accounts of how home staging began, the consensus is that in the mid-1970s, interior designer Barb Schwartz crossed over into residential real estate sales. She recognized the challenge of selling a home that wasn’t appropriately decorated or maintained. She also recognized the challenge in communicating this to the Sellers without offending them. She drove the concept of creating an environment (i.e. hence the name ‘staging’) that would help Buyers to emotionally connect to the home and be motivated to buy.
Here is a little background on Barb Schwarz and some of the antidotal stories of the history of staging: “Home Staging History and Statistics”,”The History of Home Staging”, “The Not-So-Secret History of Home Staging”.
Although there are now all kinds of channels and magazines that have popularized design, décor and home renovations, the spearhead of the movement could arguably be HGTV. Given the widespread popularity of the channel (In data compiled at the end of 2016, HGTV was the 3rd most popular network in the USA behind ESPN and Fox News, but edging out CNN).
While this is very much a fixture in today’s media, HGTV actually has roots that extend back several decades, first debuting on the air in 1994 to 6.5 million viewers. Why are their shows so popular? In part because they keep it simple and have hosts and characters that are relatable; shows are set in various smaller towns around North America and beyond, which viewers can connect with. Similarly, viewers value the entertainment and the fact that the outcome is procedural, which is the recipe for many hit shows in television history. And, apparently, viewers like the conflict and resolution, though this personally drives me crazy as it often seems so contrived. What else drives me bonkers in flip TV? The shows set up false expectations on how easy it is to renovate - you see before, then a gutted space, and then a reveal in the span of 20 minutes - and more likely than not they'll share with you their acquisition price + reno costs and then a sale price that ='s profit without taking into account carrying costs, selling costs, and the discounts made available to the show's producers for promoting the products. And, while I'm ranting, the work being done on the show is not included in the renovation budget. Basically, it misleads the reality of what can be a very stressful expensive undertaking. The same goes for homeowners who enlist a tv show as part of a makeover, where things can go awry as we recently saw when a Vancouver Couple Sues The Makers Of 'Love It Or List It' Over Alleged Reno 'Defects'.
According to Nielsen Ratings, 47 per cent of the viewership has incomes above $125,000 and 75 per cent are already homeowners. HGTV is a station that people stay put on as well, with the average viewing time of over 2 hours, according to HGTV. This is important when you consider the “why” behind staging.
So why does this matter so much? Just like when CSI was so popular in the 2000s, and loads of average citizens become armchair experts in evidence gathering (there were reports, anecdotal and otherwise of ongoing issues with juries and court cases for a while, with a change in the public’s perception of evidence collection and presentation) so have loads of viewers become aware of what a home “should” look like thanks to the omnipresence of HGTV. Media and pop culture sets a standard.
How has this “HGTV Effect” spilled over into the marketplace? It has impacted everything from home renovations to décor to the approach for both buyers and sellers of real estate. I wrote about this here in the HGTV Effect And Toronto Real Estate, while Urbaneer teammate Kellye Macmillan applied her hysterically funny context around her and her husband's needs and wants through the HGTV lens in her blog Marriage 101: Sorry, HGTV - Identifying Your Real Estate Needs and Wants.
Homes And The Emotional Connection
Houses are like people: individual, special and radiating emotional connection. Like people too, houses have stories to tell. It’s a strange phenomenon really. Some buildings feel neglected, while others feel too shiny and new to offer much depth, while others that are plain and simple embrace you with a wonderful sense of calm. One thing is certain, while appearance does matter, it is how a property “feels” that gives it the quality of “Home”.
Research on housing and home, suggests that no matter where you live, you do what is called ‘optimization’. Basically, whether the place you are in meets all or your needs, wants or wishes, you optimize the space so that it most closely accommodates your own vision of home. Of course, while this mostly depends on your financial situation, people often start with little things that are easy and decorative. Inexpensive solutions like paint, window coverings, and carpeting are used to provide a backdrop to personal possessions, go a long way to create that sensation of home.
The visual result of changing a space doesn’t make a place necessarily feel more like Home, but the personal investment and physical act of the change does. It is the act of spreading one’s positive energy through a place that helps solidify that sense of home. People often say that the first thing they do when moving into a space is that they clean it, even if it is already immaculate. This is a way of spreading one’s energy, and by extension, the moving of furniture, the hanging of pictures, and the painting of walls, all help imprint the energy of the resident.
Have you ever gone into a model home and, as beautiful as it was, felt no emotional connection to it? This is because “Home” is not something that can be manufactured; it has to be lived and experienced. But that' doesn't mean one can attempt to replicate it, even if it might be under false pretenses. With Houseporn so prevalent in our media-saturated culture, there are loads of platforms mnemonically communicating what finishings, fittings and furnishings are 'on trend', such that what constitutes a 'home' asethetically can now be conveyed quickly and effectively to a Buyer during their brief visit to a space.
Sure, space can be pretty but if it doesn’t resonate with potential Buyers, the impact is lost. So, why is that? Why do some spaces feel like a living container, while others feel like “Home”? While home staging works to provide an aesthetic to promote value and, perhaps more importantly helps Buyers see how furniture fits in a room when they might not if the place was otherwise vacant, there are also emotional underpinnings that assist Sellers in creating an atmosphere and an impactful first impression.
Don’t Underestimate The Impact Of First Impressions
When it comes to real estate sales, purchasing powers are largely linked to emotional response, followed by a logical decision-making process. So, when a Buyer enters a home, does the home grab them? Are they able to envision themselves living there? Does the home stir up an emotional connection? It stands to reason that if you can get the heart on board, the head will follow.
Conversely, if a Buyer has a negative first impression, it is hard to reverse that process, which is why staging is so important. Let’s say a home meets a Buyer’s criteria on paper, but they notice a deficiency of some kind when they first view the home (i.e. untidy, furniture too big for the space, home in need of small repairs that haven’t been attended too, odours, etc. etc.). That deficiency raises a red flag, even if it is a small one for the Buyer. While it may not be a deal-breaker ultimately, it can potentially place barriers between Buyer and top dollar.
The reason for this is that these perceived “deficiencies” signal on an unconscious level the potential for other problems with the home. A home that is untidy suggests that it hasn’t been cared for; large furniture sends the message that the home is small, cluttered closest say that there isn’t any storage, etc. etc.)
While these unconscious messages may in fact not be true, it is hard to undo first impressions, which is why staging is so important. Given that so many people have clearly defined expectations of what a “good” home should look like, with the proliferation of home media, strategic staging is essential.
Here is a good article on that point: "The Psychology Behind First Impressions, And How It Affects Your Home Buying Choices"
Staging Must Be Authentic
Let’s be clear; staging a home is not about fooling Buyers about a home’s deficiencies (i.e. slapping paint over damage, for example) or to suggest that a home is something that it is not (although it does, purely through the act of staging, effectively manufacture a false identity by creating an aspirational space). Buyers are more sophisticated than ever and sellers need to be mindful of that.
Staging a vacant home can assist Buyers to visualize, spatially understand room dimensions, scale and proportions. I certainly recommend it to my clients selling new builds or significant renovations in order to align the quality of the dwelling with an aesthetic which is contemporary. When I do make the recommendation, I suggest only the very best of staging firms who offers high design furnishings and art. In Toronto this costs about $5000 per month to complete a three or four bedroom home. None of this faux leather brown sofas, glass vase of red sticks, or sea shells common to middle-of-the-road staging firms who use big box store ubiquitous furniture!
I’ve touched on how essential the emotional connection is when a home is staged, which is why you need to provide your space with some personality. Personally, I'm not a fan of clearing the contents out of a client's home and plunking down a bunch of mediocre product. Instead - in most situations - I prefer to execute a style enhancement which elevates an owner's existing home with an eclectic mix of product that gives some on trend feelings without compromising the patina of their beloved residence
Just one of the many services that we offer here at Urbaneer is our Style Enhancement where we work with Sellers and their possessions to elevate the positive attributes of their property. In our comprehensive, multi-faceted Style Enhancement service, we guide homeowners on how to prepare their home for sale in a fresh, current style that will help it show to its maximum potential and best use. Here is an example of one of our Style Enhancements: “A Beauty Boost on Bay Street”
The Value Of Staging
Sometimes as realtors, we price an abode and add a premium for enhancement. Despite the modesty of its location, or the state of its condition, we feel the charm of the place and the love for its patina. This premium for home is not easy to achieve, for it only comes to those who have truly celebrated the place in which they have lived. It is for those who have optimized the space and made the best of it without dismay or regret.
In a more pragmatic way, staging a home makes the selling process go more quickly and usually more profitably. According to the Real Estate Staging Association, staged homes sell in half the time that non-staged home do; according to the National Realtors Association, 77 per cent of Buyer’s agents said that staging helped their Buyers to visualize the property as a future home.
I've long been fascintated with how we engage space, and the multitude of factors that influence our relationship to the built environment. In fact, understanding our 'housing as a symbol of self' was part of my Graduate Research in Environmental Studies at York University for my degree Planning Housing Environments. Here's one of my posts that explores the complexity of this rich topic, in The Psychology Of Real Estate, Housing & Home.
Are you thinking about putting your home up for sale? Be assured you will benefit from my decades of experience, eye for design and the Urbaneer Style Enhancement service. Please know my team and I are here to help!
Did you enjoy this?
Here's some of my past blogs which you might like:
May my team and I be of assistance? We’d be delighted to develop a productive sales strategy that will maximize results by leveraging market data, targeting marketing and drawing on decades of hands-on experience. It would be our pleasure!
~ Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
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