Set the Stage! Home Staging Advice for Home Builders, featured in NAHB's Best in American Living Magazine

Joan Inglis, Founder and Lead Designer of Carolina Spaces - the leading home staging, model merchandising and interior design firm in North and South Carolina, was asked to provide her expertise to home builders in the Spring 2018 issue of NAHB's Best in American Living Magazine.  Joan shared her wealth of home staging and interior design knowledge by authoring the article "Set the Stage."

In her article, Joan explains the value of staging for home builders, when done properly by a professional experienced with new home sales. She also provides a list of Do's and Don'ts for Inventory Home Staging.

By Joan Inglis
As Featured in the Spring 2018 Issue of NAHB's Best in American Living Magazine.
New home builders have long realized the value of model merchandising and the impact it has on volume and velocity of sales. Staging for home builders — when done properly by a professional familiar with new home selling — is basically scaled-down merchandising. 

Though staging is most widely used in resale properties, the process is picking up steam in the home building industry, said Barb Schwarz, a Pacific Coast Realtor and interior designer who created the concept in the 1970s.  

“Time is money to a builder when it comes to selling a home, and staging saves time,” Schwarz said.

The goal of staging a home is to make it more appealing while still allowing the potential buyers to envision putting their own personal touch on the property. Home stagers will bring in furniture, art, and accessories to ensure the decor is on-trend and aspirational. 

Furnishings in at least the open concept area of inventory product will give buyers a spatial perspective, take their focus off scanning for flaws, and encourage them to relax and linger. Model merchandising details, such as costly custom window treatments, are eliminated.

 “Time after time, buyers look at the drapes and not the crown molding the builder installed,” Schwarz explained. “Buyers talk about the excessive artwork and the excessive furniture. They start mentally buying the furnishings instead of purchasing the house.”

Builders have myriad options when setting up a staging strategy, said Rhinehart Realty Realtor Cathie Campbell, MIRM, and accounts manager with Carolina Spaces. Depending on budget and time, plans can include leasing or purchasing furnishings, or utilizing furnishings that a builder might already have warehoused. 

Buyers need help visualizing   

According to the National Association of Realtors 2017 Profile of Home Staging, 77 percent of buyer’s agents said staging a home made it easier for a buyer to see the property as a future home. Buyers have problems visualizing empty rooms. They get confused with the room’s purpose, potential layout, and furniture scale. 

NAR’s report states that about one-third of buyer’s agents said staging a home increased the dollar value offered between 1 and 5 percent, compared to other similar homes on the market that are not staged.

Realtor Jenny Chung with Real Living at Home in the Washington, D.C. area, and owner of Jenny Chung Interiors, said she recommends staging new construction properties to all home builders she represents. 

“Prior to going on the market, these homes are fully staged from top to bottom and the investment in staging has brought them list price, multiple offers, and a quick sale 100 percent of the time.” Chung said.

“Builders normally consider home staging when their inventory homes have remained unsold at about 60 to 90 days, Campbell said. By the time a builder investigates a staging company, gathers a proposal, schedules, and completes the staging, the home has been on the market about five months. Properly priced and staged, the inventory home should sell within 30 days and close in another 30 days. 

“All told, seven months have passed,” she said. “The builder missed their goals on this home, which they probably targeted at having sold and closed in no more than 120 days.” 

New Tradition Homes of NC in the Charlotte, North Carolina, market hired our firm to furnish and stage the main floor and parts of the second floor of an 8,000-sf new construction, custom home that had been listed at $1,599,000, and shown vacant with no offers for eight months. After staging, the builder did not reduce the price and the home sold within 21 days for the full list price.

A cost-effective strategy

So, what can a home builder expect to pay?  For staging services performed by a new construction staging professional, home builders should budget between 1 and 3 percent of the list price for all-inclusive services.   The lower percentage pertains to a lesser amount of staging.   Adding more spaces to furnish and stage will bring the price up.

Realtor Sharly Ward, owner of Hawaiian Global Staging, stages properties for D.R. Horton in Waimea and Kailua-Kona, as well as for local custom home builders. She said her fee amounts to about 10 percent of the price of fully decorated models.   

“My builder clients are able to have several different models staged at one time because the cost is so much lower than interior design,” she said.  “They appreciate that I am making their product more attractive to a wider audience instead of designing for a particular buyer.”

A word of caution: Not all stagers work alike or have equal abilities. Many use common rental furnishings, flea market finds, and garage sale items. Remember that the quality of the staging will reflect on your product. Staging is an unregulated industry and cheaper does not mean equal or better.   

You will get what you pay for, so you must check qualifications and education, and the quality of staging in person. Schwarz recommends home builders visit new construction homes that have been staged by any stager they are considering.

Do’s and Don’ts of Inventory Home Staging

DO address the landscaping of your inventory product.   Flowers, whether planted or potted, draw buyers inside.

DO accessorize and stage the bathrooms to give them a spa-like feel.   Kitchen and baths help sell houses.

DON’T clutter the kitchen countertops.   Buyers need to see kitchen workspace.   A few well-chosen, well-placed items are enough.

DO completely furnish and stage rooms/areas to show lifestyle.   Furnishings that are the wrong scale or style for your demographic will only further confuse buyers.

DON’T assume that all stagers do cheap work and work alike.   You could waste your money on a bargain basement stager. Plus lose a sale.

DO ramp up your budget to furnish and stage the owner’s suite.   Buyers get the impression that bedrooms look small when they’re vacant.

DON’T block any traffic patterns in the home with furnishings.   Buyers like wide open spaces.

DO have your inventory product re photographed after staging and be sure to change out the photos on the MLS and marketing materials.

Joan Inglis has been featured dozens of times on TV, online and in print.  She has won numerous local, state, regional and international awards since forming her company, Carolina Spaces, in 2004.  Carolina Spaces is the leading expert in Home Staging, Luxury Home Staging, Model Home Merchandising and Interior Design in the Charlotte, NC region and provides award-winning services for home builders nationwide.  Call 1-855-SPACES-5 or Contact Us for more information.

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