How to Stage Your Listings

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When I started selling real estate back in the 1900’s (1998 to be exact) staging was not nearly as important as it has become today.  Why have things changed?  Because of Pinterest, Instagram, and HGTV.  Buyers often spend hours looking at pictures of perfectly staged and decorated dream homes online and so their expectation and idealized mental image of the house they want to buy is the perfectly decorated dream home.  Unfortunately that’s not what many sellers’ homes look like, so staging has become an important and valuable part of the process.

I highly recommend, unless you are trained and skilled at effectively staging a house for sale, that you hire a professional stager to do this work.  Whether you are doing it or bringing in a full-time staging company or professional, here are some important things to communicate with the seller, to gain their cooperation in the staging and marketing process:

1. Think “model home.”

In other words, the more the home looks like a perfectly staged model, the more attractive it is to buyers.  I occasionally encourage sellers to check out staged builder model homes to get a good idea of what a “staged home” looks like.  If you just give them a “to do” list without a vision of the result, then it can just sound like a lot of work and/or expense for them without a clear benefit.

2. Respect that it is their personal home.

One of the surprises I discovered when staging conversations come up with sellers is how often and how easily homeowners are offended by the agents’ suggestions or recommendations about staging the property.  They can easily feel like the agent is making costly, inconvenient demands of them regarding their property, which makes them not want to work with that agent.

3. Focus on the Benefit, not the Process.

The process of staging a home can be inconvenient and costly for sellers.  Tie the staging process to the desired result, which is to make buyers fall in love with their home and be willing to pay top dollar, rather than to to details of all the work the sellers need to do.

The two fatal words you never want to say to your seller is “de-clutter” (because it implies their house is cluttered, which will make them defensive) and “de-personalize” (because it is their home and it is very personal to them).  Instead, focus on doing things that will “make your home show at its best, so buyers will fall in love with it.”  That is the result (benefit) that sellers want.  The process may be a pain, but if they know that the benefits of it are desirable, they will be willing to happily cooperate.


Hi there, it’s Kevin Ward with YesMasters Real Estate Success Training, helping you get more yes’s and more successes in your business and in your life. Today, let’s talk about how to stage listings. More specifically, how do you stage listings in a way that doesn’t make the seller mad at you or make the seller hate you, or, even worse, cost you the listing?

One of the things that I ran into when I first started really talking about staging houses with sellers was I discovered that I could get a listing against a lot of agents who were better than me — when I say “better,” who were bigger producers than me — because when they would talk about staging the house, and they would tell the seller, “Okay, you need to do this, you need to do this, you need to do this,” they would actually put off the seller. They would actually make the seller mad because the seller felt like the agent was coming in there and telling them to spend all this money and do all this work, and that the agent was trying to boss them around. They’re going, “This is my house, and I just felt like they were coming in and they were telling me they weren’t going to list the house or it wasn’t going to sell good if I didn’t do all this work and put all this money into it.” The seller actually took it personally and decided they didn’t like the agent. The agent was trying to help them get the property prepared in a way that really works.

Now, when I first started selling real estate back in the 1900s, staging was not nearly as important as it is today. In fact, when I first started selling real estate back in 1998, staging was not even something I was trained on. It was not something that, in the training that I went through, and I was with one of the number one companies in the world, they never talked about staging, really. It was just not something that we did. Even in the luxury markets, I was in Dallas/Fort Worth, in Southlake, in Colleyville, Grapevine, Texas, where you had the high-end properties, properties that were over half a million dollars back then, were definitely luxury homes. Even the new construction, the model homes, very rarely were they staged, which meant were they furnished and all of that. It just wasn’t that common. Only with the big tract or the big volume builders, where they had model homes and they had a lot of inventory, where they were building a lot of spec homes, would they have a model home that was actually staged back then. That was still something that in most normal sales was not that common, and even with a lot of new construction, with custom homes, was not even that common.

Some things have changed in the last 15 years that have made a dramatic impact on the importance of staging a house and getting it really market-ready. That is two things. Number one: Pinterest, and number two, HGTV. Because here’s the reality. Every lady, before she buys a house, she spends weeks, if not months, spending all of her free time looking at Pinterest pictures and watching HGTV. If you watch HGTV, all the shows on HGTV, most of the shows are on real estate, and most of them are about people taking and finding an ugly house and making it a beautiful house. When they’re done, they’re looking at this gorgeous home and it’s perfectly decked out. Everything’s up to date, everything’s modern, everything has custom, professional interior designers that have come in and made everything match, and it just looks fabulous. They spend all their time watching this, and so they get in their mind, “That’s the house that I want!”

Or, they spend an hour at night sitting in bed looking at Pinterest, looking at all the cool pictures, and what kind of pictures are they looking at? They’re looking at pictures of houses. What kind of houses are they looking at? What kind of kitchens and bedrooms and master bathrooms are they looking at? They’re not looking at the fixers. They’re looking at the perfectly staged, perfectly designed, perfectly laid out, professionally decorated perfect dream homes. Dream kitchens, dream closets, dream bathrooms, dream master bedrooms, dream backyards, dream front yards, dream flowerbeds. I mean, all of it is like, the dream, and that’s what they’re spoiled with. They’re like, “I want that! I want it!” It’s like a little kid. “I want that!”

Today, when you’re showing houses, if the house is ugly, it will still sell, but it sells for less because people go, “That’s a fixer,” and they want to get a big time discount if a house doesn’t show perfect. A vacant house? Oh my goodness. Vacant houses, used to, it was no big deal. But now, a vacant house looks unloved. It looks unlived in. It doesn’t feel like a home. Because they’re so used to seeing the pictures on Pinterest and on HGTV and on all the other places, social media and on the internet, because they’re so used to that, people have a higher expectation of what they want their new home to look like. All of a sudden, or maybe not all of a sudden, but over time, staging has become a critical part of, not only the high end but even of bread and butter homes, is the better a house shows, the more like a model home it shoes, the better off it’s going to be.

I want to share with you today three key steps in doing a great job of not only staging a house, but of communicating it with the seller. Now, this video is not a how-to-stage. There’s a lot of people out there that are professional stagers and all that that are going to be better than me. In fact, I am going to recommend that if you’re going to do a lot of business, which I think you should do a lot of business, is I recommend that you hire a professional stager to do your staging for you, and that you hire them to come in and do the basic staging consultation. Then for the actual process, they can do a staging consultation with the seller, and then once they do that staging consultation, then if the seller wants the stager to actually do all the work and provide the fixes and all that kind of stuff, then they can hire the stager to do the work.

You pay for the initial consultation, which is typically 60 to 90 minutes. You pay for the staging consultation, and then they can pay for anything else if they want the stager to actually bring in the furniture, bring in the decorations, help them actually physically make the changes and so forth … Or, if it’s a vacant house, to help them bring in the furniture. Or, they can just simply help you do it, teach you what to do, and they can give the seller a list of, “here’s the things I recommend you do.”

Here’s the keys that I want you to think about in terms of how to stage listings.

1. Think “model home.”

A lot of what you have to do here is, you’ve got to communicate this to the seller in a way that they see the value of it. This is critical. You can understand the importance of staging. You can tell them how important it is, but if they don’t get it … You can tell them exactly what they need to do to stage their home, but if they don’t like it, and it seems like an inconvenience or hassle for them, or they don’t see the value in it, then they’re going to resist it, and they’re going to say, “No, no, no, no, no!” How do you help them see the value?

One is, I want to communicate to them. Let’s say that somebody doesn’t want to spend a lot of money, and they’re like, “I can’t afford a stager, I can’t afford to do anything. What is the poor man’s way to stage my house?” Here’s what you do. “Next week, I want you guys to go look at all the new homes in the area, and go look at the model homes.” If there’s any new construction in your area, send them to the model homes and say, “Look at how the model homes are done. Take pictures and videos of the model home, and look at the model kitchen: what it looks like, what the countertop looks like, how much wall space there is, how many pieces of furniture are there in the room, what kind of furniture, how is the model home set up.” That’s the key. That has been proven by studies and marketing studies and all that. Those new construction, new homes, new home specialists, they know how to make a house sell for top dollar and fast. The better a house shows, the faster it’s going to sell and the more money it’s going to sell for, which is true.

You want them to think “model home.” How do you make your home look like a model? Now, that’s the thing you do. I recommend if you’ve got good staging training and you’ve got a knack for that and you’re a real estate agent and you can do that, great. That’s awesome. If not, if you’re like me, if you’re a guy and you don’t have that creativity or that eye for design, an eye for flow and all of that … I always had a professional stager that I would literally pay to come in and do a staging consultation, and then I could either pay her then or pay her at closing, depending on the agreement you work out. By the way, this is a great investment if you sell all your listings. I could bring in stagers all the time, and they loved working with me, because they knew I would get the listing sold. Bring in a stager. They do the consultation, then either the seller can do the work or the stager can do the work. It didn’t matter to me. If the stager did it, seller paid. If the seller did it, seller paid. All I paid for was the initial consultation, but it’s a great value add when I would do the listing presentation, that I take care of that.

Now, I’m not saying you have to do it, just a suggestion, but this is the vision that I want to help the seller understand in case they don’t see the value of a staged property or of staging. A lot of times, they’ll go along with it until they see the inconvenience and the cost, and then they want to resist it. I want to give them an image of, “Here’s what we want to do with your house. We want to make your house market-ready.” This is a great term. “To get your house up to market standard or market ready, we want it to look as much as we can like a model home.

Now, I’m going to show you in a second, I’m going to tell you the two key words to never use that almost every agent uses, and it’s a huge mistake. It will make sellers resist you, and it’ll make them mad when it comes to staging. I’ll talk about those two words in a second.

2. Respect that it is their personal home.

Here’s the second thing you’ve got to keep in mind. Remember, never forget this. Remember it is the owner’s home. Remember it’s their house. To you, it’s a listing. To you, it’s a commodity. To you, it’s something to put on the market and to sell it. To them, it’s where they live. It’s their home. It’s personal. When you come in and start talking about all the things they need to do, or the stager comes in and says, “You need to do this, this, and this,” well, you’re talking about their own personal home, and now you’re telling them it’s all wrong, it’s got to be fixed. You’ve got to respect the fact that it’s their home, they live there.

What I would do and what I suggest you do is you say, “Now, what’s going to happen is, I’m going to bring in a stager. I understand this is your home and you live here, so you don’t have to do anything the stager recommends,” or if you’re doing the staging consultation yourself, “You don’t have to do anything I recommend. I respect that this is your home and you live here. However, the goal is for you to not live here, right? We want to make sure your home shows at its best for buyers so that when they walk in here, they want to own your home. Does that make sense?” The sellers go, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

3. Focus on the Benefit, not the Process.

Here’s the third one. What I want is I acknowledge this is your home and you live here, so you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. By doing that, I basically help them drop their resistance because I’m acknowledging that it’s their house, and I’m not coming in, trying to tell you guys what to do in your house. They’re funny, sellers are funny that way, but you’ve got to respect that.

Then, the main thing that you do is focus on the benefit. Focus on the benefit of the staging. Now, the benefit is going to be the result, which means it’s all about getting the house sold in the best amount of time for the most amount of money, right? That’s what you want. Make sure when you’re talking to the seller that you’re talking about … “Now, I understand it’s your home, so you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. However, you don’t want it to be your home for very long, right? The purpose of staging is so that we can make your house show at its best so when buyers walk in here, they’re not only excited about it, but they’re willing to make a better offer because the house looks great. Does that make sense?”

“We’re making it about the result, which is to make buyers excited about it so they’ll be willing to write, so they’ll write the best offers, so we can get your home sold for top dollar in the best amount of time with the least hassle. Does that make sense? Now, if it’ll help the house sell for more, are you guys willing to go through a little inconvenience and a little work to get the house showing at its best so that it will get you a better sale and more money in your pocket? Yes?” Yes, absolutely. When I focus on the benefit, then they’re going to go like, “That makes total sense.”

You may have to come back and visit it, because here’s what’s going to happen. My stager would come over, sit down with them, and I would let them know. I would let them know before the stager comes in. Prepare them to meet with your stager. Here’s what you tell them: “Now, look. My stager’s going to come in here, and I’m going to tell you guys, her job is to help you get your house where it’ll show at its best so it’ll sell for top dollar, because that’s what you want, right?” “Right.” Now I get them to agree what they want is the house to sell for top dollar, which is the benefit, and that’s what my stager is going to help them do. I tie the staging consultation to the benefit.

Important that I’ve acknowledged this is their home, but I’m also going to tie in what the stager’s going to tell them to the benefit, because I know the stager’s going to come in and tell them stuff they don’t like to hear. I let them know, “Now, she may tell you some stuf you guys don’t like to hear. She may ask you to do some stuff, and here’s the reason. Because she’s an expert and she knows the things that will make your house show at its best to make buyers excited about it, that will make a house look like, for other people that don’t own your home that walks in, and they feel like it’s home to them. Does that make sense?”

Now, here’s the two key things, the two words you never, ever, ever want to say. If you say it to a seller, they’re going to be mad at you. They’re going to hate these words, because these words are bad. One is ‘de-clutter.’ “We need to declutter your home, you’re going to want to declutter your house.” Now, why is that a bad thing? Because the very fact that you’re saying ‘declutter’ is a message to them saying your house is cluttered, and they’re going like, “My house is not cluttered!” Automatically, people, without even thinking about it, get resistant. They get defensive, because now you’re telling them their house is cluttered and “We thought we kept a great house.” Whenever you use a word that can come across as judging their house, this is their home. Frankly, you know most Americans live in cluttered houses, right? We have more stuff. We have too much stuff in our house.

Don’t use the word. What you want to focus on is, “We want to get your house showing at its best, right?” Now, if you’re doing the staging consultation and you use a language instead of saying, “We want to declutter,” you say, “What we want to do is we want to make … The fewer things that are in your house, the bigger the house looks and the more comfortable the house looks. The more stuff that’s here when people walk into it … You’re used to it, because it’s your home and you know where everything is, and it all has its place and it all fits perfectly, but when somebody else walks in here, it looks busy, and there’s too many things for them to think about. It’s when the house feels busy, then they aren’t as comfortable. Make sense?”

Declutter. Never say de-clutter, because they’re going like, “My house is not cluttered!” You cause people to become defensive, and they don’t like the idea that their house is cluttered.

Number two word you never want to use is ‘de-personalize” your home.’ All the pictures you guys have on the mantel and the fireplace of your family and all that … A lot of people, especially Baby Boomers and maybe the Great Generation even before the Baby Boomers, retirees, they have their whole hallway, or maybe the wall going up the staircase, is covered with family pictures. It’s like every … Their kids, their grandkids, their wedding pictures. It’s just got a hundred. A wall covered with photos, right?

It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t make buyers feel comfortable because they walk into it, and they’re trying to feel … And, this is the way you usually can explain this to sellers, is that when buyers walk into a house, they are looking for a feeling, and the feeling they’re wanting to have is, “Does this feel like home to me? Does it feel like our home?” When they look at the wall and it’s got a bunch of pictures of strangers staring at them, because they’re your family, they’re not their family, staring at them, they don’t feel at home, and they don’t understand it. They don’t think about it, it’s not conscious, but it doesn’t feel like their home. They’re walking into this house, and they’re going like, “Wow, it’s a pretty house. Does this feel like my home?”

The more impersonal it is, the better, but when you say ‘depersonalize’ to them, they’re going like, “But, this is my home!” It’s very personal, because to them, selling their house is personal. When you use the word ‘depersonalize,’ people go like, but now they take it personal. Don’t use the word. Focus on the result and help them see the buyer’s perspective of what a buyer is wanting to feel, not of what they need to do. Depersonalizing sounds painful. Helping a buyer feel at home and make the house feel like, where they walk in and they want to feel like, “Does this feel like my home?” You want to take out anything that could cause them to not feel like it’s their home. The more depersonal it is.

By the way, just a little bonus tip here. That is the greatest reason why you never want a seller to be at home in the house when the buyers are looking at the property, because when the sellers are there, even if they’re polite and they’re kind and courteous … There’s some exceptions to this, but, for the most part, when the sellers are there, the buyers feel like they are intruders. They’re coming in to see, “Does this feel like it could be our home,” and while the sellers are there, then they’re in the seller’s home, and they’re like, “We’re intruding.”

For those of you that have been in real estate for a while, you know this is true, that buyers are more uncomfortable when the seller is there, and the buyers will not stay as long and they leave quicker. Well, the quicker they leave, the less likely they are to make an offer on that house and buy that home. Why? Because they’re just saying, “It didn’t feel like home to us.” Well, it couldn’t feel like their home because it was the seller’s home, and the sellers were right there. Whether they were polite and friendly or in the other room, it didn’t matter. Just knowing the sellers were present reminded the buyers the whole time, “This is not your home, this is somebody else’s home.” The buyers are trying to feel, “Does this feel like our home?” You want to do everything you can to depersonalize it. Just don’t use that term. Does that make sense?

When you do this, what you’re really doing is you’re focusing on what the seller wants, not the process. The seller wants the home to show at its best, so buyers are excited about it, so buyers choose it, so buyers are willing to pay the most money for it and so forth. What sellers don’t like is all the work attached to get that outcome. Focus on the result, not on the process of staging, of decluttering, depersonalizing. All of that feels painful. It’s just like, “No, I don’t want to do that.” But when you understand, “We want your home to look like a model home, I understand it’s your home, I respect that. However, I assume you want it to be somebody else’s home and you want to show at its best so buyers will want it more, so they’ll pay more money for it. Yes? Perfect. That’s what we’re going to do. Now, if it requires you to do some changes and a little inconvenience and a little expense, is that okay with you guys if it helps you get the better result?” “Yep, we’re okay with that.” “Perfect.”

Now, you can tell them anything you want to. The stager can come in, tell them anything that she needs to, tell them the truth, because they understand and are focused on the benefit and the result it’s going to give them, rather than the pain of that process. It is a game changer. Remember, it’s not just about the staging itself. It’s about helping the seller appreciate and understand the value of what you’re doing so they’re excited about it, so they buy into it, so you can do it, get the result, get their home sold, get them the result for them, and for you.

I’d love to hear your feedback. If you have comments to make, post them below. Any questions about it, post it. If you like it, give it a thumbs up. We’ll look forward to talking to you soon.

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