Unless you've been living under a rock, the latest buzz in the home staging industry is Paperny Film's most recent production, The Stagers. Television viewers are given a sense of what actually goes on in the life of a Home Stager at Dekora, one of Canada's leading staging companies based in Vancouver, British Columbia. The show airs Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. on HGTV Canada.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Finlason, star of The Stagers recently. You couldn't ask for a more enjoyable exchange. I'm honoured that Matthew graciously took the time to do this interview during his out-of-country hiatus from filming. I'm looking forward to meeting him the next time he's in Toronto.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Canada, Matthew was brought into the family construction business by his Father at an early age. Alongside his Mother, an Interior Decorator, Matthew was also introduced to the world of design. Is it any wonder that he became the very talented artist that we see today. The proof is in his incredible transformations on the show. While attending University in Toronto, Matthew worked as a landscape designer. At the age of 18, he began spending his summers developing both residential and commercial property with his family in the Caribbean. Most recently, Matthew worked as a Production Designer for the upcoming feature film "Control ALT Delete". He is now located in Vancouver and does work for both Dekora and ArtiZEN Renovations. As well, Matthew still oversees his family's real estate projects in the Caribbean, Toronto and Vancouver.
I asked members from Active Rain, a community network for real estate professionals, to send in their questions about The Stagers for Matthew. Read on to learn more.
Q. Would you have staged any differently if this project wasn't on TV?
A. In each episode there is a real client with a real deadline and a real budget that requires the same love regardless of the cameras. Unlike other shows, we have no idea what will be filmed the next day - it depends entirely on how staging went today to determine what I need and where I will be tomorrow. The cameras literally 'just followed us' at our job. Staging on camera, however, is 8x more stressful simply because a crew of people are in your way stepping on your canvas. It also becomes difficult to gauge space with more bodies in it which can increase the margin for error and cost money (transportation) when something is over or under scale. The real difference in staging on-camera was the 'second-guessing'. Being judged by millions of people and my peers instead of just home-owners was a foreign element! This raised the stakes for me and I would pause before every vase and then remind myself that it is my instinct that is true and has led me thus far.
Q. What is your average fee - i.e. is it calculated as a percentage of the property's asking price or by square footage?
A. Fees are entirely dependent on what the client needs and what they are willing to pay for staging or any other service they wish coordinated. Square footage doesn't play as much a role as how many rooms will be staged and what the rental fee will be for the kinds of furniture they need.
Q. Do you stage for the seller, the agent or the buyer?
A. While juggling everyone's 'needs' I always work to service the 'space' so that it will appeal to a wide majority and a variety of buyers. I get very personal with my stages to determine 'who' the market is so that I can market that lifestyle. My process is very different from other Stagers including fellow Stagers at Dekora.
Q. How many actual man (& woman) hours does it take for the staging jobs shown and are those stager's labour hours included in the show's budget?
A. Stager labour wages as well as ALL other costs are included in the shows budget. We can't always break them down for you without violating sensitive agreements with clients and suppliers. What I can tell you is that every conceivable cost to make a stage happen is included in those numbers that are, as all is said and done, determined by the client and their needs. We service those needs and clearly present what those costs will be to the client.
Q. What kind of shoes do you and your team wear when you are actively staging?
A. Cool and clean shoes for 'Meeting the Client'. Runners in the 'Lock-up'. Comfy slippers during the 'Stage'. Dress shoes for 'Final Walk-through'.
Q. Do you or any of your associates have any real estate background?
A. Living in Vancouver most Stagers tend to be involved in the development of their own real estate properties. I myself design, renovate and stage my properties one to the next. Shop talk is always about real estate markets, clients, buyers and sellers. I haven't met a Stager-Agent yet.
Q. How much of the work is more interior design over staging to sell - i.e. are walls removed, counters replaced etc.?
A. Most of the work is 'Staging to Sell'. If a client requires interior design and the time permits any of us can and will provide those services. I usually will advise a client on what they can do to help update their home if it is not a part of the staging budget: paint, fixtures, tile, hardware, and of course if the time permits minor renovations that can also include drywall, tile, cabinetry. Many staging clients become interior design clients after they see what we can do in 5 days.
Q. Are vendors solicited for "freebies" and marketing plugs to get their products on the show or is all inventory from Dekora alone?
A. No solicitations. No freebies. No marketing plugs. Furniture comes from Dekora's incredibly stocked 'Lock-up'. If a job requires a 'particular stock' or look that isn't present in the Lock-up we rent from the appropriate source which usually isn't determined until the day before, by the Stager. It's tough for production to keep up with what we need and where and many times are racing last minute to get location releases. They hate it when I change my mind last minute but the reality with staging is that at any moment something will appear that can change the entire palette and furniture arrangement thus requiring a different source. It's very tough for production keeping up with staging schedules and its flips and turns.
Q. Did it really take 4 days (8 hours per day) for Bridgett and Maureen to stage the 1,200 sq. ft. bungalow? If so, was there more to it that wasn't shown on T.V.?
A. The timelines are real. Production loved what we (Stagers) could do in so short a time period hurdling obstacle after obstacle, coordinating through clutter, never losing sight of our creativity and sprinting toward open house deadlines. Isn't that what it is to be a Stager? Staging timelines are the true drama for the show. A stage can continue up to 1 hour before open house. I have snuck a few times during open house to swap cushions or lamps. Why do homeowner's decide to stage so late in the game?
Q. Do the home stagers and the staff get paid by the sponsors?
A. We wish! It doesn't work that way. The show was shot from the hip with passion for the craft and truly authentic without agenda.
Q. Do the clients pay for anything or is it free to them since they use their home to do the staging?
A. These are real clients with real budgets and like real staging jobs they pay for the service. Television is better at attracting personality more than it does property.
Q. How do they break down the costs in even percentages - staging, inventory, assistants, delivery, etc.?
A. All costs are included in what is revealed in the show budget. Staging with Dekora, I am not involved in negotiating those costs so I am unable to provide breakdowns or percentages. I know what I cost and I know more often than not I convince a client to spend more on renting a proper sofa.
Q. Were the items sold to the client (art and decor) included in the $40,000 staging fee or was that separate income?
A. The staging fee did not include items sold.
Q. Who has the last say on the job?
A. It should be the Stager who has the last say, as we are the professionals who know how to design to sell. Clients must understand that we are not designing for their taste. Staging is often confused with interior design and hopefully The Stagers will change that. However, the reality is that we are working with people's financial livelihoods and they will always have something to say in the end about this and that. A good Stager can also manage these personalities and PR situations.
Q. Where do you all eat? Do you bring lunch boxes? What is good stager energy food?
A. My name is Espresso!! Wouldn't it be lovely to have time for lunch? With our time constraints and having to source within business hours, energy bars become a staple.
Q. A $900 lamp - is that really necessary?
A. The budget is often determined by the client's needs. I am not afraid to use items that "aren't staging" if it works within my budget and makes the home feel more expensive to achieve a desired price point for the seller - which is the point of staging. If that means using a Naguchi Paper lamp to diffuse the view - the major obstacle to selling the condo in episode 4 - then that's just what I'll do. If the client wants to pay less, there is the Ikea knock-off. Who really wants to stage with IKEA when marketing sophistication? The rental fee of one is similar to the purchase price of the other. When people are buying new homes they are buying up in life. Stagers are not just selling real estate, we are marketing lifestyle. I apply psychology to furniture placement to entice a buyer with a lifestyle that once was beyond their reach. Who is the buyer? How do they aspire to live? These are the questions I ask during my staging process. Often the buyer purchases the home AND the Naguchi lamp or Cow Ottoman.
Q. Does the staging fee quoted include salaries for all designers, assistants, furniture movers etc.? Would the furniture rental component be for one month or more?
A. The staging fee includes every cost. The rental is for one month and if the property is on the market for several months the renewal fee is factored into the total budget.
Q. The Pilot episode - there is some confusion as to what the actual budget was for that project vs. actual staging costs. Some people thought that the overall budget was $6,000 and that Dekora went over budget since the actual staging costs shown were approx. $20,000. Others thought that the $6,000 was what was budgeted for rentals for the living room and bedroom only. How did this work?
A. I believe we were close to budget, however as the project continued along there came to everyone's attention that there were more needs to attend to that weren't obvious at the outset. This included landscaping costs, contracting a glass company to remove a desk that wouldn't leave through a door as well as other necessary steps to ready the home for sale. A budget doesn't go over without approval from the client. The property did take a few months to sell which means that there were renewed monthly rental fees that were added to the total staging cost.
Q. Are there plans to continue the series beyond the 13 episodes already filmed?
A. If everyone loves it or at least watches it there will be more opportunity to define this business craft. Let HGTV know you want more so we can continue to highlight staging in the media. Let them know what you want to see, including what you like and what you didn't. Life is a work in progress and I believe there is more to say on The Stagers.
Q. Will all episodes be filmed in Vancouver or is there a possibility of other cities being approached?
A. I have no idea - only production would know this.
Q. Are 1 hour episodes feasible in the future?
A. I think 1 hour episodes are essential to the telling of what actually happens during a stage. If HGTV knew that viewers wanted more..........
Q. How many hours per day were you filming? How many hours does it take in total to complete one 30 minute show?
A. The show was never made, I believe, for the 30 minutes in mind. The show is pieced together with the most interesting and informative footage collected over many hours that it takes to stage a property. It was never about television schedules. The less days we have to stage, the longer those days tend to be.
Q. Does much of the taping get cut out?
A. How long does it take to stage a home and how long are you sitting watching the show? Do the math. The show is made in the editing room which is why all your comments positive and negative can only help make better future episodes.
I'd like to thank Matthew for taking the time to answer everyone's questions. It was a pleasure getting to know him better and very interesting to learn a little more about The Stagers from a "behind-the-scenes" point of view.
If you haven't watched The Stagers yet on television, you've been missing out. It's time to see what all the hype is about.
Dezigner Digz is a home staging and interior decorating company located in Burlington, Ontario and servicing Ancaster, Hamilton, Aldershot, Burlington, Waterdown, Stoney Creek, Bronte, Oakville, Milton and surrounding areas. The owner, Charlene Storozuk, is a member of the Real Estate Staging Association and is the founder and current President of the Halton & Hamilton-Wentworth Real Estate Staging Association. For more information, visit our website at www.dezignerdigz.com.