It is telling that these days the majority of calls I get for Montreal home staging come in the form of home stagers looking for work. I know home staging in Montreal has yet to really kick off. We Montrealers are not at all impressed with, nor do we feel the need to follow, what our fellow citizens in other parts of the country nor the continent are doing. It's part of what makes us unique.
But it's also part of what makes it tough if you're a Montreal home stager looking for work.
I went from being a Montreal home stager to a Montreal real estate broker who stages for my sellers...and I have not regretted the decision for one moment, though during the transition the pocketbook was very lean and my energy reserves completely depleted.
Having just completed my second full year in real estate, however, and having reached my lofty business goals for the year, I humbly offer struggling Montreal home stagers the following suggestions:
1. Get a website and a professional-looking business card.
These are your "credibility" essentials, and you can't go anywhere without them. Make sure you've got loads of befores and afters on your website. If you need some work to get these befores and afters, ask your friends and family if you can transform their spaces for free.
If you're a Canadian Staging Professional (TM) or CSP like me, as part of your training fee and CSP membership, you have pages on the CSP website that you can use as your own personal website. I did this for the first two or three years with great results. The CSP website has truly awesome SEO power for google searches related to "home staging" and "home stagers." This alone is worth the price of the training, truly.
2. Do consultations with real, live results.
When we start out, often our biggest source of business will be in the form of staging consultations for homeowners getting ready to put their home on the market. Sometimes when I'm doing these consultations, there comes a point where I can see the homeowners' eyes glaze over. It's just all too much, and up to this point it's been all talk - good, important talk, but still talk nonetheless.
It is at this point that I roll up my sleeves and say to the homeowners, "How about we transform a room right now?" I get them to help me (if they are physically capable), and together we transform one space such as the master bedroom, the entry or the living room. I declutter, open curtains and blinds, move furniture around to create a better flow, and I rehang art -- and all the while, I am talking to my clients, educating them on why we are doing these things and doing them in this way. They are truly amazed at the end of the process and they end up taking my recommendations for other areas of the house a lot more seriously.
3. Get to know your local real estate agents, and be flexible in your offerings to them.
I got to know many Montreal real estate agents by going to their open houses and making some simple suggestions related to the home, respectfully presented of course, and always out of earshot of potential buyers. Most important, I explained to them why I was making these suggestions in particular.
One agent had taken on a hardship case. I did a hands-on staging for her, using the client's belongings. And then I came back and lent to them a few key pieces from my inventory at no charge. The goodwill this generated was astounding.
I was once hired by a real estate team for four hours: "Tanya, we've got a $400 budget for staging. Go to the house and do what you can please." That was enough for me and an assistant to work for four hours. What an adrenaline rush! And the results were amazing. We went in, sight unseen, and transformed every room using what they had. Both the agents and the homeowners were delighted, and the house sold quickly.
The key is to be open to working in different ways and to working quickly.
4. Build your own inventory.
OK, I know this is hard to do when you're struggling, but you can gain a lot of credibility and a lot of traction with the words, "I have my own inventory of accessories, art, lighting and bedding."
5. Leave your staging perfection at the door.
I know this one will raise some flak, but the fact is that I became a better Montreal home stager after I became a Montreal real estate agent. I just became more realistic and had more experience in terms of what buyers expect...and what they don't really pay much attention to.
Kids' bedrooms, for example? Unless the rooms are extremely small, buyers don't really care if there are 30 stuffed animals on the bed. A home office? Again, unless the space is really small and cluttered, buyers will forgive you the full shelves.
The key is to do your craft justice, but at the same time to do what you can to ensure the homeowners aren't so overwhelmed and find your suggestions so over-the-top that they end up ignoring everything you've said.
Good luck to you. It isn't easy, but when you find what you love and get to make a living at it, it's heaven.