Don't Give It Away For Free (And How To Deflect The Knowledge Vampires)

Home Stager with Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA

photo of a knowledge vampire

I don't understand why some home stagers give their knowledge away for free. Why would a professional home stager offer a free home staging consultation? Why would home owners and real estate agents value your knowledge if you don't? Isn't your expertise worth anything?

I've heard that some home staging training schools advocate giving away free home staging consultations "to get your name out there". Yes, your name is getting out there, but its getting out there as a home stager who gives their expertise away for free. And once you are known as a stager that's willing to give it away for free, it will be very hard to convince real estate agents that your knowledge is worth paying for.

NOTE: For the purposes of this article, a "consultation" is defined as giving specific information on how to prepare a specific home for sale, like "paint this wall Benjamin Moore Fired Lobster", or "this chair should move over here". I am not talking about general information like "declutter and clean". You should be paid for a consultation if you are using your training, experience and expertise to provide specific information.

A bid or estimate is defined as giving pricing to stage a home, and does not include house specific information . "Staging the living room, dining room and kitchen for $xxx" is a bid. Once you have a signed contract and deposit for the staging, you can provide them with more specific information if you choose. Some stagers charge for an estimate or bid (often as a "trip charge") and some don't. This is up to the individual stager and what their market will bear.

You've probably spent a lot of money and time learning about home staging and running a profitable business . If you took a home staging training course, you shelled out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Or you may have gone to college and toiled for years in marketing, design or mid-level management. All that education, training and experience cost you and made you the excellent stager you are today. Don't you think you should be paid for using your knowledge and expertise for someone else's benefit? Are you helping the home owner to prepare their home for the market? Are you helping them sell their home faster and for more money? Are you helping the listing agent to sell their listings faster? Are they getting paid for their expertise?

"But my competition is doing free consultations," you cry. "Potential clients call me and say they talked to my competitor and he/she will do it for free," you lament. Well, guess what. The free information your competitor is giving away (or all that free information on the Internet) must be lacking, or they wouldn't be calling you. (Unless they expect even more-than-free and they are hoping you will pay them for the privilege of giving them your free information.) 

If you don't know how to sell the value of your knowledge and expertise, at this point, I would A) ask for a refund from my home staging training provider, because this should be core curriculum and B) fold up my home staging tent and get a job flipping hamburgers (at least you'll get paid minimum wage). Working for free won't pay your rent, your mortgage, buy inventory, pay your lease on your warehouse or storage unit, put food on your table, put gas in your car or keep the lights on. For more information about this topic read On Pricing Power by Seth Godin. If you need help figuring out your value proposition read Powerful Value Propositions or Google "Value Proposition".

I read a fantastic article today No You Can't Pick My Brain. It Costs Too Much on the Forbes website. If you are giving away your knowledge and expertise for free, you should read this article, print it out, tape it to your bathroom mirror and read it every day. The author, Adrienne Graham, shared some really powerful information. One of my favorites quotes is:

Trust me, if they will walk away because they cannot get a freebie, they weren’t meant to be a client and there was no real opportunity in it for you.

If they can't get what they want from you for free, and they walk away, (I call these people "knowledge vampires") they probably would not have hired you anyway. If you let them walk away you have just prevented an knowledge vampire from sucking you dry. There was nothing in it for you.

Adrienne's article goes on to outline the ways you can stop giving away your knowledge for free. A few of the most important are:

  • Believe what you know is valuable - if you don't value it, why should anyone else?
  • Create a fee schedule - this way when you start to slip and give your knowledge away, you can refer to your schedule and let them know what your time/expertise is worth. 
  • Don't back down - you'll lose the knowledge vampires as clients, but they really had no value to you anyway (since they weren't willing to pay you). And a few of them might convert to paying customers, once they see you won't give it away for free, which is the best kind of customer to have.

I'm sure I will get a few comments from real estate agents who will say that they give away a lot of information for free and do a lot of work before they get paid at the close of escrow. I know this is the standard and customary way that real estate agents work, but I've never understood how this business model came to pass. I feel bad for real estate agents that have to spend a lot of money out of pocket to market a home and spend countless hours showing homes to prospective buyers without the guarantee of getting paid. Thankfully, this is not how home staging works.

Value your knowledge and expertise. Don't give it away for free. Expect to be paid for helping home owners and real estate agents help sell homes/listings faster and for a higher price.



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Los Angeles Real Estate Staging

2015 RESA Professional Stager of the Year

2014 RESA Top 10 Professional Home Stager2010 RESA Professional Stager of the Year

Michelle has staged hundreds of Los Angeles homes, many of which have sold with multiple offers, above listing price.

She works with home sellers, listing agent, builders, flippers and asset managers to prepare homes for sale throughout Los Angeles and North Orange County.

Moving Mountains Design provides vacant home staging, color consultations, corporate and executive relocations,  and interior design. We also stage model homes, REOs, foreclosures and auction properties for real estate investors and asset managers. Builders hire us to stage their models or to help move inventory when sales slow down.

For more information about our Los Angeles home staging services, contact Michelle at (626)385-8852 or by email.

Click here to see our Los Angeles home staging portfolio

Click here to go to our Los Angeles home staging blog

Click here for more information about home staging in Los Angeles and how we can help sell your home faster and for the best price

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Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Beth: I think some trainers are unimaginative and can't figure out a better way to tell newbies how to get business. Sad.

Thanks, David. Besides under-valuing the profession, they are under-valuing themselves.

Kimo: I have no problem sharing general information for free, but specific information that requires finess and expertise shoud be charged for. Otherwise, you are giving everything away and getting nothing in return. Thank you for the Hawaiian cultural info. I have heard the term Kahuna, but didn't know its origins.

Apr 16, 2011 02:45 PM #26
Barbara "Barb" Bodnar, Licensed Associate RE Broker
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Yorktown, NY
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage


Great blog post and article.  So many people have come to expect that we give our long hours of education away for free.  Some things are a "client level of service".


Apr 17, 2011 05:10 AM #27
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Barb: I really feel for real estate agents. You all do so much work without the guarantee of a paycheck. Thanks for your comment.

Apr 17, 2011 05:48 AM #28
Karen Otto
Home Star Staging - Plano, TX
Plano Home Staging, Dallas Home Staging,

Amen Michelle! I say our intellectual property is valuable and is a paid for service and I don't care if someone else is giving it away for free (it isn't worth much then if it's free IMHO).  I'm happy to teach  the principles of staging in general terms to whoever wants to attend a class or talk however when I step foot inside a client's home, it becomes specific to that property and therefore is a paid for service.  I think consultations are actually one of the most valuable services we provide (and actually the hardest for us to do). It takes skill, knowledge, patience and sensitivity to deliver these messages to home sellers in a way that gets them on board & it helps everyone in the process. I suggested this for a feature worthy spot!

Apr 18, 2011 01:52 AM #29
Kate Talarico
Kates Home Staging and Interior Design - Goshen, NY
RESA, Top Orange County Home Decorator & Stager

Great blog!  I could not agree more, if we do not value or knowledge than  no one else will.  Walking into a home blindly and being able to give immediate staging advice on what needs to be done takes tremendous skill and finesse.

Apr 26, 2011 04:57 AM #30
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Karen: Thank you! I agree, it's OK, some might even argue, wise, to provide general information for free. But once we start drilling down to specifics, then a lot more knowledge & experience is required. Since I like food with my meals and a roof over my head, I charge for my expertise.

Kate: Many times, free information is worth what you paid for it - not much. And I agree...what we do requires skill and finesse.

Apr 26, 2011 05:23 AM #31
Ana Hitzel
AccentPositives Home Staging - Corona, CA
Professional Home Stager Inland Empire

Michelle this is absolutely the best written post I have read on this subject written by a Stager...great comments also. 

You nailed it 200%.  I took Debra Gould's advice about this early on and have never regretted it.  I never go anywhere for free.  It only took once to cure me (it was the day after Christmas and around the corner...never got the job either). 

I have always credited bid, estimate fees toward Staging or consultation fees.  All these activities take time and research to find the best possible price for my clients. Why would or should I be expected to give this for free.  We are a BUSINESS and how many businesses stay viable by giving away freebies on a full time basis?  I wish more of our peers would see they only hurt themselves by this practice.  It doesn't hurt me as I don't want that type of client anyhow.

I think Realtors get reemed and abused a lot by the same types; those who always want something for nothing.  Although an agent's payoff is larger the risk is also higher that they will not be rewarded.  I choose not to do business this way, it's why I never got a RE license like my husband keeps hounding me about LOL.

Karen, your comment is spot on also, as I have always said, if our profession is so easy then everyone could do it and there would be no need to call a Stager or watch HGTV programs for those ideas.

Apr 29, 2011 04:18 AM #32
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Ana: I'm glad you agree with what I've written here. Thanks!

Apr 29, 2011 03:46 PM #33
Brian Schulman
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, Lancaster PA - Lancaster, PA
Lancaster County PA RealEstate Expert 717-951-5552

I don't know why agents continue to give away their knowledge for free.  We could describe what we're going to do without actually doing it.  That's why our industry doesn't get enough respect from the public.

May 31, 2011 05:49 AM #34
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Brian: This is something I don't understand either. It lowers the bar for everyone.

May 31, 2011 06:11 AM #35
Kathy Streib
Room Service Home Staging - Delray Beach, FL
Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224

Michelle- well written, excellent and right on!!!  I do think that your suggestion of having a printed fee schedule not just for your clients but for YOU will help those who might feel intimated or at a loss when discussing fees.

Feb 01, 2012 03:41 AM #36
Pam Smits
Staging Fox Valley, LLC - Oshkosh, WI
Home Staging, Appleton, WI, Oshkosh, WI; Green Bay, WI

Thans for the reminder, Michelle!  I am a home stager starting out and it is hard to walk the line sometimes when you just want to get that job!!  I often wonder if I give away too much information even though I do charge for a consultation and if they book a service, the consultation fee is deducted from that.  


Thanks for the links--I will be taking a look!



Feb 01, 2012 06:41 AM #37
Kerry Lucasse
eXp Realty - Nest Atlanta Team - Atlanta, GA
Your Nest Atlanta Real Estate Consultant

Excellent post, Michelle!  I know that there are many of us who just have big hearts and want to be helpful.  As a realtor, I have to be careful of this too.

Feb 01, 2012 07:31 AM #38
McMurray, PA

Our services are valuable and we are the ones that need to start treating them this way!  Great post and I totally agree.

Feb 01, 2012 08:11 AM #39
Eric Michael
Remerica Integrity, Realtors®, Northville, MI - Livonia, MI
Metro Detroit Real Estate Professional 734.564.1519

I try not to give anything away for free, but it always happens at family and friend social events. Real estate is always a hot topic.

Feb 01, 2012 09:08 AM #40
RealSupport, Inc.
RealSupport Inc. - Schaumburg, IL
- Virtual Real Estate Marketing

Hi Michelle,

It's so important to emphasize the value of your services and to make sure that you're not giving away too much information for free! With that being said, there's nothing wrong with giving away some freebies, but the key is not to get too specific! Like you said in your article, giving people step by step instructions on how to do everything for no charge is essentially giving away your services for free, but if people approach you with some initial inquiries, it's not a bad idea to offer a free "mini-consultation" or "initial assessment of their needs." The idea is that if you tell people what they need to be doing without getting too specific, they will then turn to you for guidance and advice and you can start charging them for what you do.

Again, great post! It definitely gave us something to think about!

Feb 01, 2012 09:18 AM #41
Evelyn Kennedy
Alain Pinel Realtors - Alameda, CA
Alameda, Real Estate, Alameda, CA


Stagers in my area always offer a quote for free.  They also say that any consultation will have a fee. I think Realtors in our area understand that you have to pay for the excellent advice we receive from stagers.  Stagers are professionals and should be treated as such.

Feb 01, 2012 11:01 AM #42
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Michelle - this is very much an issue in the real estate industry, and a place in which we need to build value.

Feb 01, 2012 03:13 PM #44
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Kathy S: I have a fee schedule taped to my wall by my phone. I know it by heart, but it doesn't hurt to have the reminder.

Pam: The trick is to learn how to give just enough information that you leave them hungry for more. You need to figure out how to let them know that you are an expert, without "giving away the store". When I first started out, I made the mistake of giving too much information for free. You'll learn through trial and error what the right amount is.

Kerry: It's true for real estate agents as well. Its a tough balancing act.

Julie: We work hard to gain experience and knowledge. Its not something you can hold in your hand, but expertise definitely has value - and we have to learn to value it as well.

Eric: Its hard to draw the line with family. I guess if my brother was a doctor, I'd probably expect free medical advice, too :o)


Feb 03, 2012 02:20 PM #45
Michelle Minch
Moving Mountains Design Home Staging, Pasadena, CA - Los Angeles, CA
Home Staging Los Angeles and Pasadena, CA

Real Support: The important thing is to find that balance between giving enough info to build rapport and giving too much info and losing a potential customer as a result.

Thank you Evelyn! I will give a free quote for staging on vacant homes (within 20 miles) but charge if the home is occupied. There is no way to determine the cost of staging an occupied home without including a consultation.

Thanks for commenting Erica.

I agree, Christine!

Feb 03, 2012 02:25 PM #46
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