Home staging

Home staging: Worth the cost?

Real estate agents can be quick to recommend professional home staging to sell your home faster and for a higher price. However, for a service costing several grand, there’s little hard evidence this outlay will pay for itself.

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When the Norrie family wanted to sell their Auckland property last year, their real estate agent referred them to a home staging company.

Home stagers spruce up your home during the sale period, by bringing in their own furniture and knick-knacks.

The Norries had the kitchen, living and dining areas, bathroom and two bedrooms staged for four weeks, costing them $2100. While some people move out during this process, the Norries remained. “It was like camping in our house because we didn’t want to sit on their chairs, or use the furniture,” the family said.

When auction day came, “loads of competition” saw the house sell for $50,000 more than expected.

The Norries were “convinced that the staging attracted buyers who might otherwise have been put off by our own interior decoration and the unusual old furniture”.

The companies themselves tout the financial benefits of using their professional services. On its website, Homestaging Wellington claims “research shows that home staged properties sell for more and in less time than empty properties”.

Sold on Staging’s website states “whatever the cost, the aim is to make a much larger return on that investment”.

We did our homework on both the costs and the research on the benefits of professional staging.

Price survey

Left: Auckland Homestaging before. Right: Auckland Homestaging after
Left: Auckland Homestaging before. Right: Auckland Homestaging after

To find out what these services will set you back, our mystery shopper arranged for five in-home consultations on a Wellington home (see “What we did”). None of the companies had prices on their websites – costs depend on the size of your home.

Our second mystery shopper, inquiring about an Auckland property, asked five more home staging firms for over-the-phone estimates for a similar property.

For our Wellington home, there was more than $1200 difference between the least (Homestaged) and most expensive (Set 2 Sell) quote for a full stage – though both also offer lower-cost partial staging.

In Auckland, the difference between estimates was more than $1600. This shows it’s well worth shopping around.

While Auckland Homestaging Ltd offered the cheapest estimate, our Auckland-based companies typically charged more than their counterparts in the capital.

When we asked the 10 companies about the price differences, one pointed to the extra care taken by its contracted furniture-delivery service. Two firms said their higher prices reflected the better quality furniture used – though Auckland Homestaging, at the other end of the cost spectrum, also stressed the high quality of its decor.

Homestaging Wellington said its prices vary throughout the year depending on demand. The summer period, when we ran our mystery shop, is typically the most expensive.

What the research says

When you sell your family home, the choice will likely be between keeping your own furniture and using a home stager’s. The companies (and real estate agents) often have a tale or two where professionally staged homes sold faster and busted sales records to encourage you to choose the latter.

When we asked the mystery-shopped companies about their claims, two gave us evidence beyond personal anecdotes.

Left: The Look homestaging before. Right: The Look homestaging after
Left: The Look homestaging before. Right: The Look homestaging after

Suite Thinking pointed us to the US National Association of Realtors’ survey of 54,000 industry members. More than half of those surveyed thought staging boosted a home’s sale price and nearly two-thirds thought staged houses sold faster. However, the survey didn’t distinguish between professional and DIY staging.

Auckland Homestaging’s website outlined a survey of Auckland real estate agents in 2017, in which 99% of agents believed staging positively impacts a property’s sale price and time on the market. But the company didn’t know how many agents were surveyed.

Lux & Co owner Chris Haturini said professionally styled homes attracted higher numbers to open homes.

Dan O’Connor, managing director of The Look, said “there is very little quantifiable evidence as to how much of an increase in price, or how much of a reduction in marketing period well-presented properties will achieve. However, we’ve had comments from clients that for every dollar they spent on staging, they got $10 back.”

Most companies shared positive feedback from their clients. However, if you want to determine if professional staging has a real effect, you need to run an independent, scientific study.

Our own search uncovered just one of these, with findings you’re unlikely to read about in promos. A 2015 Journal of Housing Research study found buyers shown a 3D video of an unattractively staged property were left with a worse impression, but in the end were willing to pay just as much for the home as the group shown it all gussied-up.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the home staging industry criticised the research for not using a real home.

One of the research authors, US-based College of William & Mary Professor Michael Seiler, said any seller spending thousands on home staging understandably wanted to get these expenses (or more) back. “The problem is we didn’t find evidence that having your home staged will create any value,” he said.

Based on the results, Dr Seiler advised sellers to avoid paying the pricey fees charged by professionals. “There are some very low-cost things you can do yourself.”

Other benefits

Consumer NZ members we spoke to who’d had homes staged were generally impressed by the hired companies’ services and styling.

In our view, until companies hold robust, independent proof for their home staging claims, they shouldn’t make them.

If a real estate agent recommends you hire a staging firm, bear in mind you’re the one left out of pocket if the service doesn’t pay off. The agent gets their commission either way.

Consumer NZ members we spoke to who’d had homes staged were generally impressed by the hired companies’ services and styling.

The Norrie family said “the staging really set off the house’s best features, such as the view of the plantings outside the windows”.

Another perk was the “anonymity provided … It made the house feel generic and impersonal – incredibly helpful psychologically. This helped us cope with the idea of so many strangers being in our home when we were not there,” the family said.

With a lack of evidence for the financial benefits, you’ll need to weigh up if these advantages alone are worth the price.

We say

  • Be sceptical of any claims professional staging will boost your home’s sales price.
  • If your priority’s the bottom line, try a DIY-staging approach first, particularly if you’re in a sellers’ market. If the offers aren’t meeting your expectations, then consider the services of a stylist.
  • Get two or three estimates from different staging companies and ask to see photos of their recent work. It’s worth mentioning you’re shopping around as the firms may offer a better deal.

What we did

For our Wellington mystery shop, we used a two-storey Whitby property with the following features:

  • three bedrooms
  • one study
  • two bathrooms – one main and one en suite
  • one lounge-dining area
  • one open-plan kitchen and family room
  • outdoor areas including a deck.

Our Auckland mystery shopper asked for estimates based on a Ponsonby home with a similar layout and size.

Company Price ($)[width=med] Length[width=med]
Homestaged 2472.50 5 weeks
Homestaging Wellington 3478.75 4 weeks
Set 2 Sell 3680 5 weeks
Sold on Staging 2875 5 weeks
Suite Thinking 2702.50A 5 weeks
Auckland Homestaging Ltd 2392 5 weeks
Living Edge 3852.50 5 weeks
LUX & Co 3600 5 weeks
Polished 3162.50 5 weeks
The Look 4025 5 weeks

GUIDE TO THE TABLE PRICE includes insurance and GST, based on mystery shops in December 2018. All Auckland prices are estimates, not based on an in-home consultation, and may be subject to change. If the company gave a range, we used the middle of the range. A indicates the company’s Gold Service quote, which includes outdoor furniture. Prices vary depending on the size and layout of the property and may vary throughout the year.

DIY home staging

Here are some handy tips for selling your home that won’t cost the earth:

  • De-clutter the house: A home comes across as cramped if there’s stuff everywhere. Box up as much as you can and store it while your home’s on the market. For viewings, hide functional, used items such as kitchen cloths and toothbrushes.

  • Keep everything spotless: Perform a thorough clean before the first viewing and make sure every surface is sparkling each time buyers come through.

  • De-personalise the space: Take down photos, degrees, cards and trophies. The goal is for buyers to pictures themselves, rather than you, in the home.

  • Invest in a few flourishes: Once you’ve cleared everything out, consider one or two finishing touches – from fresh-cut flowers in the lounge to a bar of new soap or an immaculate towel in the bathroom. If you need inspiration, check out the embellishments used in interior decorating pictures.

Troublesome T&Cs

What happens if something breaks? Many staging companies have insurance for the furniture and knick-knacks in your home – but the limitations can sting.

One company told our mystery shopper she’d be liable for an excess of up to $1000 if damage occurred. Another said there was no cover at all unless she had an alarm system in place. One Auckland company charged extra for insurance.

Make sure you ask about insurance, and any caveats on cover, before signing up with a firm.

If you plan to rely on your contents insurance, check with your provider first. IAG (which underwrites brands such as AMI, ASB, BNZ and State) said its policies “cover you as the policyholder, your partner and your family. We would expect any home staging company would have its own insurance cover for such circumstances”.

The question of commission

We asked our five Wellington home stagers about real estate agents and finders’ fees. All said they don’t pay commission to agencies.

Legally, if a real estate agent receives commission for services they arrange on a seller’s behalf, they must disclose this – any commission or discounts should be stated in writing in the agency agreement.

By Olivia Wannan
Investigative Writer