Are you so cheap you're free?

Home Stager with Home Star Staging

Today I followed up a message I had received from a Realtor over the weekend.  Seems they'd been working with "another home stager" who was not available for a new listing and they wanted to know if I did "free consultations" because their "other stager" did them for free. 

Inside I kinda cringed and I said "No, I don't, nor do I know any professional home stager locally who does." 

I also went on to say that as the RESA Texas State President and member of RESA it's not something I'd ever recommend or do as a home stager. It's my intellectual property I'm sharing and every detailed home staging consultation is specific to each home.  I also said, "I can't imagine how someone can make a living doing it for free either".   Funny thing was, the Realtor actually rather agreed. 

If you're a home stager and you're reading this and you are giving awStop sign ay your services for free, and YES A HOME STAGING CONSULTATION IS A PAID FOR SERVICE - You need to STOP and realize that not only does this devalue you and your professionalism it does the same for the industry. 

Don't be so cheap that you're free as some mommas would say!

Have some pride and confidence in yourself and the service you provide because INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY IS A COMMODITY and is rightfully worth being paid for.

I can totally understand the feelings when starting out in your business and rationalizing that offering FREE anything is tempting and can open doors for you.  You may tell yourself that it helps get your name out, you get much needed experience, etc. This practice can actually harm you in the long run as you are setting precedents that can undermine you and your business by essentially saying that:

  1. Your services aren't worth paying for
  2. You don't really have the knowledge or confidence in what you are doing
  3. Others should expect you to be so cheap that you end up working for free

Now we all could be extremely busy working for free, but is that really running a business?

Why do home stagers, especially it seems those who aren't running a home staging business, feel the need to give it away for free?

And worse, why would anyone feel comfortable enough to ask? (the expectation in the minds of some has already been set as to what service we provide) 

Would any self respecting electrician or plumber ever not get paid after visiting your home, even in some cases if they found nothing wrong and only checked an appliance? Service call charges anyone??

I write this with the knowledge and understanding that over time and perseverance you too can feel confident enough in your abilities to not only feel comfortable accepting payment for doing your job but also letting others know why you do and refusing to be taken advantage of.  I have actually raised my rates this year and do not go to any property without commitment of payment first. I make no bones about it as I know that the service I provide brings value and equity to my clients.

I know my worth and why I am paid and so should you!


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Home Star Staging is a qualified, insured home staging company and we are always here for you North Texas!

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  • Contact Karen at 496-964-0516 or



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Donna Ross
Room Remedy Interiors, Sydney, Australia - Salton City, CA
Home Decorating, House Staging, Sydney

Great Post Karen, as always.

A 'subservient chicken' kind of relationship between agent and stager is NEVER a strong one. Where is the incentive for loyalty?

Perhaps those who ask for the free consult are thinking along the lines of how traditional interior designers or real estate agents work, where they they provide a free initial meeting/consult so they can talk about their approach to the job and to see if they'll be a good fit for the home owner's needs. They'll also talk about the home owner's budget. They certainly don't provide their full service right then and there. And that's how we stagers differ. We turn up to do the work in full. No half jobs.

The home staging hobbyist might be happy to come over for free and for fun, but the true business professional knows very well it's no way to run a genuine business.

Mar 08, 2011 07:38 AM #17
Heather Cook
Rooms in Bloom Staging & Design Inc. - Kitchener, ON
Quality Home Staging

Karen, not only a great post but also a ton of awesome comments as well! I'll be honest, we did some free stuff in the beginning, thinking it would get us in the door with some agents but it only ended up kicking us in the a@@ when they expected us to do it for free EVERY time!

We raised our pricing too this year and we know we're well worth the cost of our staging services. We are working with more realtors and home owners than ever before and they don't quibble at our pricing. They tell us we're worth it!

Mar 08, 2011 10:34 AM #18
Ann Hayden
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Select Properties-St. Louis Missouri - Chesterfield, MO


Some people never appreciate the finer things in life and most are not free!

Ann Hayden in Wildwood, MO

Mar 08, 2011 03:10 PM #19
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

That floors me Michelle however it doesn't surprise me. It's kinda like a movie star expecting free everything just because they're "famous". Sorry, I don't work that way.... I love that you asked her what you did. Little did she realize she would have even been producing more had she been savvy enough to work with you!

Hi Donna, you're so right, we deliver the goods in a consultation that affords them the ability to DIY if they so desire, the confusion may be in some people's minds of course of how other professionals work.  We need to continue to educate our clients on what we do and how we do it as well as refuse to do anything for free but a bid or quote!

Hi Heather, we've all been there at the beginning (hopefully learned as we did it just doesn't work out to offer free anything) So glad to hear you're so busy and you have others who value your amazing services too!

So true Ann!

Mar 08, 2011 11:06 PM #20
Joan Marsh Bunker
Staged with Class - Marlton, NJ

Thank you for that valuable post. When I was just starting out, I briefly considered this approach. But I realized that people value you according to how you value yourself. We are professionals - we give out very important information to a seller - and we are worth every penny that we charge! (if not more). 

Mar 09, 2011 12:42 AM #21
Claudia Jacobs
Claudia Jacobs Designs LLC, Goshen, NY - Goshen, NY
Decorating, Staging

Love your message Karen! I actually had a realtor inquire about helping with a few pieces to stage an occupied and when I told her I could rent them to her she was horrified. Not sure how she thought I made a living but I truly believe she thought she may pay for my consultation which included furniture.

This is the most frustrating part of the business, dealing with the real estate community who just doesn't get how we work and the value we bring to their listings. It is also lacking @ these conferences. I don't want to hear from 10 stagers who are promoting their services, let's here & get inspired & motivated by hearing from the Realtors who use staging as their part of their marketing.

The more professional we are, we can set & raise the standards of our industry and charge what we deserve. There is great value to staging but we have to believe it ourselves.

Mar 09, 2011 12:45 AM #22
Kim Nicholas
Ultimate Staging & Décor, LLC - Grand Rapids, MI

Great post!  I recently met with a Realtor who I had been going out to his homes to view them and issue a proposal to the homeowner.  There was apparently some confusion, as the homeowners thought I was there to consult - for free!  I explained they may purchase my report, and decide on a recommended staging package that would be included in the report.  So, the Realtor finally gets on board, and does not set it up as a free service.  Then, he said he would like me to upcharge my report by $125.00, and pay him for it - as a lead fee, and he would advertise the home as being staged by my company!  I feel over!  So wrong at so many levels!  I explain to him he gets paid via his commission per a better selling price on the home.  If clients could pay that much, I would be charging that much, and keeping it!  (Pricing via what the traffic will bear in our area), and that is not how I want to spend my marketing dollars of my business.  I would finish any projects I have started with his clients, but would not be working with him in the future.  Other stagers in the area refused as well, except for one.  Upset she did not stand as a united front on this one!  Shook his hand, and walked away from all those "feebys"!  Amazing!

Mar 09, 2011 12:55 AM #23
Michelle Finnamore
Toronto GTA, Alliston, Newmarket - Vaughan, ON
Preparing your property for sale

I was at a paint seminar this evening. Another stager there was commenting that a local stager approached a brokerage that she was already working with to say she would do all their consultations each month for $80. That's $80 for an entire months worth of consultations. I was aghast!  Does that "stager" not realize she has to put gas in her car, pay insurance on the vehicle and her business, etc. etc. 

This is not a person that is a professional stager. She has no business model. You cannot sustain your business by working for free. She will be gone soon along with all the other "stagers" that work for free. At the end of the day, you have to pay the bills.

Thank you to everyone for weighing in on this issue. It is so important to hold a value to your service. An approximate price quote for an average house of that type is free. A staging report which is the action plan to get the property ready for market or staging work is not free.

Mar 09, 2011 04:44 PM #24
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

You're absolutely right Joan!

Education Claudia, it's where the industry is lacking, and it starts from the ground up. Not enough home stagers are comfortable sharing the message and info - and too many are still devaluing themselves and their services afraid of losing business if they don't cut their rates.  I agree with you on the conferences about speakers, we need to hear from the trenches of what works and what doesn't tap into the source who can share with us how we can better service our clients. I don't want to be sold to either at these events bring us real time information that we can apply today and be able to better serve our markets.

Good for you Kim in holding your ground, some people are so nervy! not to mention highly unethical to even suggest that.  There will always be those who cross the line no matter the profession, my integrity and self worth is more important to me than a few dollars.

Truly unbelievable Michelle however some will do anything in order to get a foot hold (or so they think). We all can be busy for free - but as you said we also need to pay the bills! I am a firm believer that if you don't have the business acumen, seek out resources to help you (I was not prepared when I first started out & learned many lessons in the school of hard knocks).  

Mar 09, 2011 11:24 PM #25
Gina Metzger
Spaces Refined Inc. - Lake Zurich, IL

Fantastic post Karen.  In short, this is a very common issue.

Recently came across an ad from a cleaning lady offering staging for 15/hr. She feels qualified based on the fact that she has access to many homes. She may be perfectly good at what she does. Not certain? By placing that ad she has devalued others in the industry that have invested in themselves through education and building a reputable business.

We all know what it takes to make general operating expenses. Some more than others. Thousands a year. I wonder if without a registered business and model. One would be able to obtain liability insurance?  My business insurance broker required proof of legitimacy before issuing a policy. This is also reviewed on a yearly basis. Just a small percentage of overhead.

If I give away free services.... I will not stay in business. Back to the old saying. "It takes money to make money". If you are giving it away or undervaluing the service. How does one cover the overhead? 

Before hiring a Stager, consumers should ask themselves if the individual representing is in a 'legitimate business' or just dabbling as a hobby.

 Agree Karen, it would be great to hear more real-time scenarios from other Stagers "in the trenches!


Mar 10, 2011 02:55 AM #26
Barb Hutson
Sonoran Accents Home Staging & Redesign, Phoenix Metro, AZ. - Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix Home Stager, Redesign Expert 480-216-7182

Thanks for this valuable post!  These things need to be said and more than once.  I recently did a proposal for a staging job at a luxury property and the Realtor told me she was expecting drawings from me of what I would do before she decided on my services.  I told her I did not do that , as that would be giving my expertise away.  I also told her that I did not spend time choosing specific pieces of furniture, etc. until I knew for sure if I had the job and had a deposit.  Not sure who she'd worked with before that might have done that, but they were wasting their time.

Mar 10, 2011 10:24 AM #27
Patricia Marie Kelly
Marie Kelly Unlimited - Algonquin, IL
Certified Home Staging & Design Expert

Thank you Karen for addressing this all too common issue. It is sad that so many people have entered our industry without the knowledge, training or accreditation to uphold the criteria that so many of us as strive for each and everyday.   


Mar 10, 2011 11:45 AM #28
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

Funny you mention cleaning companies offering staging... I stopped referring one lady I was due to that exact thing. I even called her on it saying that if that's so then she's my competition and i would not be referring her.  Although I can offer cleaning services too if I so desired to make more money but I have chosen a professional to refer that work to. It wouldn't be her anymore. (What is your name?)

We do need to continually remind others about the job we do & the value we bring Barb and good for you to sticking to your guns!

I think it's every industry to some extent Patricia but I know of no clients who would be comfortable calling a painter and asking him to paint a wall for free to I can "see if I like it". We just need to educate!

Mar 11, 2011 03:10 AM #29
Reno, NV

Karen, THANK YOU for tactfully letting those stagers, who give free consultations, that they really are hurting all of "us" (0UR INDUSRTY). I agree with all the points you have given, not to offer free consultations, hoping that it will lead to a house staging contract.  Having been in a "service" orientated business; gen. contracting custom homes for so many years, and spending weeks to prepare a bid, only to lose a contract to a lower bidder, it was always disappointing, but the nature of that business. So much time given to that client with no compensation what -so-ever! This topic was  the title of my very first blog EVER...."Why Give Services Away For Free?"  I just couldn't understand why anyone would give a 2 hours consultation without getting paid (only to hope for the staging). Offering free consultations  really does undermine professional stagers and the value we place on our time, training and past experince. I will NEVER give my time and knowledge for free.... NEVER! This is my livelihood!

Mar 11, 2011 07:29 AM #30
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

You sound as passionate as I am about this Teri and we just keep needing to share that message.  What is the point in running a business without getting paid? 

I'm also to the point that any time in addition to the initial 2 hours I spend on my consults are going to be billed as well.  I just sent an email to an especially "information hungry" client who didn't take great notes. I often get follow up emails and phone calls from clients I spent time with for a verbal consult and they either "forgot" what I said or needed to be reminded or had other questions once I left. Many never result in more work which is fine however, the minutes and hours that I spend in addition to the consultation should be billed as well.  I need to start setting that precedent at the beginning of my consultations, especially if a written consultation report wasn't secured. There is a reason I charge more for the written reports... so they don't have to and everything is covered the way I report it.

Yesterday's client asked how I bill if I go only "15 minutes into the hour"! My response "for the full hour" thank you very much! This job actually exceeded the initial 4 hours contracted for by an hour and 15 mins (no lunch thank you) and to be asked that question I was floored but didn't miss a beat. Also reminded them I didn't take lunch either!

Mar 11, 2011 08:38 AM #31
Cathy Lee
CL Design Services Home Staging - Danville, CA

I just have to chuckle as today I received a message from an agent "I need a vacant home staged today, open house Sunday so photos tomorrow. I do not have any money and either does the seller. LOL!!!!!  

Mar 11, 2011 03:12 PM #32
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

I won't even comment Cathy!

Mar 12, 2011 12:36 AM #33
Michelle Finnamore
Toronto GTA, Alliston, Newmarket - Vaughan, ON
Preparing your property for sale

Hi Karen, glad I checked back in on this post. Really enlightening conversation.  The answer to the last post is to ask how much furniture can they borrow from friends and family and how many of their friends and family can help stage the property.  I provide an action plan for my regular fee and let them get to it. It won't look like I staged the property, but something is better than nothing.

I remember a couple of years back there was a professional franchise cleaning company that offered staging services. I don't know what they were thinking but it didn't last. They figure as they are already in the house why not offer staging. It doesn't quite work that way and that is what they found out.

Mar 12, 2011 01:49 AM #34
Leigh Newport
Staged by Design® - Leesburg, VA
Northern Virginia Home Staging

I agree completely. I had an agent call me last week saying that he was having a hard time working with the same stager. They keep "falling by the wayside", as he put it. When he asked me how much a consultation was, he told me it was $80.00 for a full consultation. That's incredibly underpriced for the DC Region. No wonder they keep falling of the map-who can stay in business at such rock bottom prices?

He even said he found them through an "association website", but didn't elaborate as to which one. I completely agree with what you are saying.


Mar 27, 2011 01:48 PM #35
Liz Murray
Renaissance Home Staging & Redesign - Chandler, AZ
Professional Home Stager

I love this post!  I just ran across a realtor who had a vacant home sit on the market for a year.  I told him my fees for consultations, and told him what they included.  He asked me to drive out to the property after that.  He then got ticked off because I presented an "invoice".   I was then told that they had several other stagers there before me, and that they did not charge.   This guy obviously got the impression that home stagers are property visitors who like to view properties and drive around all day for nothing.

Then this weekend I looked to see if the property had been staged over the last 3 weeks.  Guess what?  Not a stitch of furniture or even a plant is in place.   I'm soooo glad I walked away from this guy,..but I WILL REMEMBER his thought that his $1,000,000 wasn't worth a stager,..but it was worth a price reduction!  

Ding aling,ling.  :-)

Mar 28, 2011 01:52 PM #36
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