photo courtesy of REAL ESTAGING
A stager's blog starts the conversation.
In light of the recent post by Cathy Dick on her blog titled, "Remove my home staging signs from the home? Why?," I got to thinking about the relationships between sellers, stagers, and Realtors®. So far, I've never seen a particularly warm-fuzzy friendship between the three. That's not to say that it doesn't exist, but one scroll through the comments section of Cathy's post and you'll see what I mean.
Why do we seem to be at odds? (Realtors® and stagers)
The first thing I notice about staging and the discussion between agents and stagers, is always the same - there is split of opinion on the usefulness of staging. For the record, I think staging is a good thing and we have some great stagers right here in San Antonio, but I do have some concerns and thoughts (which I'll explain later). Much like any real estate related product or service out there, there are those that will love it and those that will despise it. I'm not surprised by this really as there is an opinion out there for just about every agent. We are a varied bunch and we don't always agree amongst ourselves on techniques, products, and services.
I don't know a ton of stagers, so I can't really comment for them. I do know that for them, they are providing a service which they believe in. From my position as an agent, I'd say they're a passionate bunch and truly believe in the potential of their services. A conversation back in February on Nicole Hurst's blog, "Cole House Design Asks "Do You Offer a Guarantee" on your Home Staging Work?," had a great comment thread that shows just how passionate they can be. Most of the stagers there seemed open to listening to agents and had a lot to say in terms of feedback, so I thought it was a good constructive conversation.
The idea that was passed in that comment thread was an interesting one to me, as in my dealings with sellers, I have found a reluctance to employ the services (on their end) of a stager. I think the biggest obstacle is cost up front with no guarantee of return. Although stagers have some great statistics for their services, agents have a hard time convincing their sellers that the cost is going to yield a sale. There is no guarantee of a sale with staging (much like there is no guarantee of a sale with a Realtor®) and because of that initial outlay of cash, there seems to be a disconnect between stagers and sellers.
What puts you at odds? (Stagers and sellers)
Sellers are surrounded by shows announcing the usefulness of staging, but they are also surrounded by DIY shows telling them how to go about it for less. Much like the eternal battle between FSBO and Realtor®, we need people to see the value in our services. How we go about it is once again, up for debate. Sellers that I have met aren't against the idea of staging, but they are against the idea of tightening budgets (this discussion would probably be different with a different economy). By the time they're done paying everyone, they fear there will be nothing left. Unfortunately, that's out of your control.
Your control of the situation is often out of your hands once you've staged the house and one of the complaints I seem to hear from stagers is that they can't offer any sort of "guarantee" as the sellers aren't guaranteed to keep the house the way it is or perform the list of chores the stager has suggested. Much like an agent, you're stuck with a seller who wants to sell their house, but won't work to get it sold. We as agents know the problems associated with this as well. In our case, there often comes a time when we must say goodbye in these situations and take our losses. I think you may have the upper hand in this situation though, as your "product" is tangible, ours is not (until the final sale). We also invest into the sale of a property, but some of that is not directly seen by the seller (some marketing isn't quite as tangible), whereas your "product" is right there in their home.
Where's the solution?
One of the thoughts I had in Nicole Hurst's blog was the possibility of a shift in business model. What if an agent and stager joined forces and charged a commission rate for their services combined. The stager would present at the listing presentation and give the sellers their opinion of what to do. We would give our presentation on how much to sell it for and how to go about marketing the home. The commission being higher than expected might throw some sellers off, but by having a "no money down" type option with a team of professionals, I can imagine it being a little easier to swallow for the seller. The initial outlay of cash seems to be one of the biggest sticking points I've come across. By getting a percentage commission (or even a flat fee - at closing), the stager becomes part of the way we sell the home, not just a side note in the eyes of the sellers.
Instead of arguing that things were out of our control (stager or Realtor®) we could both take a more proactive role in each other's business. I won't tell you which towels to hang of course, that's not my job - but we could feed off of each other, much like I do with a good lender. Teamwork. And a mutually beneficial service to the seller that would seem much more seamless in their eyes and take some of the sting out of the initial moments of selling their home. Very few people want to layout a few hundred to a few thousand dollars before they even know if someone will come look at their house. However, I'm willing to bet that if we could work as a team in getting the home sold, take our commissions as a team, and sell the homes quicker and for more money (which I believe can be done with staging), we could build a strong unit with the seller, who would turn around and recommend us as a team. It would take trust and teamwork between Realtor®, stager, and seller, but I think the return in stronger in the end.
**UPDATE** - Erica Christoffer from realtor.org contacted me and wrote a post about this post, "Should Real Estate Pros and Stagers Join Forces?" Thanks to everyone for commenting on it and being a part of the discussion. As soon as I get to answering all the comments, I may just have to write a follow up using some of the ideas I'm building thanks to all the comments.