Home Stagers, Beware of the Free Estimate Trap

By
Home Stager with Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc.

moneyMany inexperienced stagers offer a free one hour staging consultation. It's a fast road to burn -out and business failure.

Imagine the number of tire-kickers you'll get!

Consider the time it takes to prepare for, schedule, travel to and attend these meetings, plus the inevitable phone calls you'd make after the fact to try and get the client to hire you.

Conservatively, I'd estimate the free "hour" takes you at least two or three hours when all is said and done.

As soon as you walk through the front door, you'll be giving them advice. They'll ask you direct questions:

  • "What color would you repaint the living room?"
  • "Do you think this room shows well?"
  • "What should I do with my family room?"
  • "Do you think I need to replace my appliances?"
  • "Does it matter that our dining room is being used as a playroom instead?"
  • "What would you do with the outside of my house?"
  • etc.


If you're there for a "free consultation," you'll have to answer these questions and more. Then why would the client feel compelled to hire you later? More often than not, they'll take all your advice and put it into action on their own. They may not do it as well as you would, but they don't necessarily see that. 

Not getting the job only to visit the house later on an open house, and seeing how they really didn't show it as well as you would have done is cold comfort when you've wasted a few hours of your time for no money. 

What about making a bid on a job? 

If you're telling yourself, I don't offer "free consultations" but I do go out for free to bid on a job. All of my above comments still apply. How can you do a bid without giving advice? As soon as you walk through the client's door you'll be telling them what needs to be changed, what you would add, etc.

I don't care if you're there to do an estimate on staging an empty home. You'll be figuring out what each room needs and telling them. That's valuable information and you should be charging for it if you are a professional home stager and not a hobbyist looking to fill your days!

When you're a professional home stager, you're in a service business. You have your time to sell. Every hour you spend in someone's house for free is an hour that you didn't sell to someone else. If your hourly rate is $100, that's how much this Free hour is costing you! It's only free for the client and that's no way to make a living!  

This is an excerpt from my comment in one of the many discussions currently taking place on the Staging Diva Network Online Discussion Group. We also discuss this and related topics in the Staging Diva Training Program, course 3, "Taking the Mystery out of Home Staging Consultations", a $199 audio course that you can have sent to you by email when you order.

 debra

Debra Gould, The Staging Diva
President, Six Elements Inc.

Discover the ONLY Home Staging Business Training Program taught by a seasoned entrepreneur who has successfully grown her own home staging business (not as a side-line to selling real estate) — The Staging Diva Training Program. With an MBA in marketing and hundreds of home staging clients, internationally recognized home staging expert Debra Gould, The Staging Diva, is uniquely qualified to train others how to start and grow a profitable home staging business.

You can become a Staging Diva Graduate with 10 hours of training by phone with Debra Gould from home, or you can do the entire program by listening to recordings which are emailed to you immediately after you register. 

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Rainer
1,712
Nana Rehem-Glover
Great Expectations Home Staging - Oakville, ON
This is one of the first blogs I have read since joining ActiveRain and I have to say that it has been very informative!   I am glad to know that I am not alone and the only one who has given away something for nothing.  I have since learned my lesson!  Charging for quoting on vacant is something I will have to think about though.  If you are charging, is it just for an hour or is more time factored in.  Or is it a flat fee regardless of time spent.  Not sure if I will be doing this but I am curious as to how it would work. 
Feb 07, 2007 02:30 PM #25
Rainer
54,034
Kimberly Uksik
Independent - Pickering, ON
Home Stager - Durham, Toronto, On.

I think this topic can be very confusing for us.  I guess there is no right or wrong answer.  I believe too that we should be paid for our time.  I won't do regular consultations for free but now wondering about the same issue most are.  What about when you bid on a vacant?  This is something I will have to consider.

 

 

Feb 07, 2007 09:52 PM #26
Rainer
24,076
Anne Vigneri
CASA VERO Staging & Redesign - Albuquerque, CA
Serving the Mariposa California

. I have also done several walk throughs and reports that ended there. Even though I get paid for this service, Debra has made me start to re think this whole process.

I am doing too many walk throughs and reports with no staging jobs !  And as we all know, even if you do get paid what the homeowner percieves as a large hourly amount, by the time you have put the report together , that "BIG HOURLY" shrinks ! 

I have established a wonderful relationship with a very busy local RE agent. She was the one who gave me my first job. She hires me to do walk throughs, and she pays for that service, not the homeowner .  And out of my gratitude to her I have kept my hourly charge very reasonable. But only two of her clients have hired me to do a full staging job. I am beginning to think that I am giving away too much info in my reports.  Time to put on a really big thinking cap.. 

YIKES.. 

Anne Vigneri www.casavero.com placitas nm

Feb 08, 2007 04:39 AM #27
Rainmaker
401,591
Debra Gould
Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc. - Toronto, ON
The Staging Diva

Anne, I think you've experience what many stagers do who have agents who pay their initial fee. It's probably not anything you're doing "wrong". The nature of the arrangement means that you often end up with clients who aren't that committed to the concept of home staging. It's something I talk a lot about in my marketing course... the pros and cons of building your business that way.

 

debra

 

Feb 09, 2007 02:05 AM #28
Rainer
24,076
Anne Vigneri
CASA VERO Staging & Redesign - Albuquerque, CA
Serving the Mariposa California

.. My husband and I had a late nite conversation about my biz.. and debra you have REALLY gotten me to realize that if the RE agent pays for my consultation, the homeowner has no vested interest in the project of staging. Why should he care ? He gets a nice written set of instructions from me, and he will or will not choose to implement the suggestions therein.  Basically not much is gained by any of the "team". I get a pittance when I actually count up the time I put in. The homeowner gets a report that usually freaks them out . And the agent uses the report as a guide for doing the basics ..i.e., declutter,,move the couch.. replace the carpet,, etc..  But overall, if I am not hired to go forward with the actual staging, then what have any of us gained !?

Anne Vigneri www.casavero.com Placitas NM

 

Feb 09, 2007 03:48 AM #29
Rainmaker
401,591
Debra Gould
Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc. - Toronto, ON
The Staging Diva

Anne, I'm glad I got you questioning some of the "conventional wisdom" about this business.

For more ideas you might want to listen to a FREE 90 minute conference call I hosted with about 80 aspiring and existing home stagers in January.

 

 debra

Feb 09, 2007 04:59 AM #30
Rainer
4,705
Adrienne Harris
A Lasting Impression Home Staging & Design - Vernon, BC

Debra, thanks for the advice on this area.

I think that being newer to the business and depending on your area, it's hard to tell how your services will be accepted.  I agree that having a real estate professional paying for your consult does not make the homeowner commit as much as them paying for the service themselves.

I believe that a client should know right up front about your service fees and what is offered, therefore there are no GREY areas to be unclear about.

Adrienne

 

 

 

 

Feb 09, 2007 08:04 AM #31
Rainer
12,180
Dawn Selman-Schwieger
Home Squad, LLC- Minnesota's Premier Home Staging Co. - Shakopee, MN
ASP, IAHSP, AARC, ids
Here in Minnesota every stager gives free estimates.  You can't compete with out it.  If you don't offer a free bid you won't get calls.  It is getting very competitive here.  I do charge for consultations and am very good about not giving advise at the free bid.  I usually explain that I do have a consultation service and that if they hire me to stage the property that a consultation is part of the package.  It would be nice to charge something for the bid time, I don't know who started this free estimate stuff here.
Feb 09, 2007 08:32 AM #32
Rainmaker
59,020
Patricia Ebrahimi
SHOW SMART! HOME STAGING & Color Consultant - Rockville, MD
Home Staging the Washington DC Area from Rockville MD

I'm thinking to work it both ways.  I was approached by a local realtor at his open house after I told him i was a stager to do up a flyer about my services, benefits to the seller, charges, my resume, facts & stats on staging $ gains, etc. for him and his partner to insert into listing packets. 

On the flyer I say Congrats your realtor has given you a free up to 2 hour home staging consultation - a $350 value!  I told the realtor I would charge him $200 for these.  I say I will tour the home, take pics (my befores) & notes, and give them 10 ways to enhance their house for sale.  But in the charges section I have 2 bullets 1) DIYers - $200 for a written rpt from the free consult, a check up visit and "after" pics.  2) Staging $100/hour.(which after calling around seems to be the going rate)  I also list 5 smart reasons to stage:  More money, Less time, More traffic, No price reduction threat, and AS IS sells your competition.  

As far as I have been able to ascertain, this realtor is rare, nobody but nobody seems to have heard of home staging, thinks it's valuable or gives a rat's heiny in my little part of the DC area, so education is important and I'm thinking this might at least get the conversation going.

PS These realtors have not responded to or accepted my flyer yet, but if they do I'm thinking of offering it to other realtors I know.

Thoughts? 

Feb 09, 2007 09:57 AM #33
Rainmaker
95,618
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Hi Debra,

Too true.  Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?  It applied to us when our mothers gave us advice about dating men - and it certainly applies in Staging!  I have new students who will come up with the brainstorm of "I'll just stage one room for free" or "I'll do a whole house for free, and then the agent will bring all his/her colleagues through and I'll get business."  I even had one gal I was Coaching ask me if she should offer to do a free staging for all 40 realtors in a presentation - and I was practically choking!  NO!!!!   I had her stop and think - imagine if they all say YES and all take you up on it - you will go broke.  You will make no money and be working really hard.  YES, I have given out coupons and promotional incentives.  I have been redeemed from a certificate only twice of all the dozens passed out.  I don't give away full consultations - if I do a promotion I am getting something out of it.  And when I donate things to Crab Feeds for Real Estate offices or Title Companies - I make sure the coupon says the staging has to be done on a house for SALE - not just someone who wants help fixing up the place they live in.

For bids - as Dawn wrote - those ARE free.  But you are not giving any ideas there are you?  For Consultations or written reports - you are providing written or typed instructions or some other format that you use - and the client is getting a specific list of what to do to get their house ready for sale.  That IS paid for - as the seller is receiving a product.

For Previews - on houses - we are viewing a property, then going home and putting pricing together.  There is no exchange of ideas, and it takes only 10-15 minutes.  IF you do give ideas, get paid.  I have done that - on vacant houses where people start to pick my brain and ask me what faucets should we put in?  What light fixtures? What paint color? What carpeting? How would I reconfigure the room?  What am I bringing in?  I stop the train - and let them know my ideas are part of my creative staging service and are fee based.  I am happy to provide them with all the info they want on their vacant house, but there is a fee for that - and I ask if they want to pay me?  This is not to say I have not given paint recommendations - but not a whole house full of remodeling ideas prior to the actual Staging.  Get paid for our ideas - our commoditiy is our creativity, expertise and knowledge of what works - and we deserve to be paid for that information.  If you are working with an occupied home and are asked to price out just coming and doing the hands-on Staging, then you are in and out - and price the job BEFORE giving ideas!  When the words go flying out of our mouths and we give it all away, and there was no agreement in place, who are we to blame when they don't hire us?  When they say, "Hey thanks for all the great advice!  We think we can do it ourselves!"  Who do we blame . . . I have been there and working for free is not fun!

Back to coupons - I don't think people in general value things they get for free - not unless they have already paid full price for it.  So, we have a three-peater program - I don't give anyone any kind of incentive until they have worked with me or my team 3 times.  Then I feel they are getting locked in and they get a little reward - maybe 10% off a service.  But never free, and not from the start.  Good topic that I hope the new Stagers will read!!  I hate seeing them give it away out of fear that no one will hire them. . .

- Jennie

Feb 09, 2007 12:17 PM #34
Rainmaker
95,618
Jennie Norris
Sensational Home Staging - Littleton, CO
Denver Regions Premier Home Staging Resource,

Also . . .  in response to Anne who feels that no money can be made with just writing reports - I can map out for anyone how to make $50K, $75K, and even $100K just writing reports for sellers.  Staging is fun - but income is a numbers game.  Whether a realtor is paying for it or the seller pays for it - you can earn a lot of money giving the written advice to sellers.  A lot of them do not have the money to pay for us to come and DO the hands on work, but they CAN afford $200-$250 for a report.  You do the math - if you were to write 4 reports a week - you'd make a nice mid 5-figure income.  If you went back to "fine tune" and help finalize the Staging and maybe add a little inventory (1-2 hours of time)- adding around $300 more to the picture per house - you are coming close to $100K.  How many Realtors do you have to network with to get 4 reports a week?  You have to determine that based on your own market, but numbers work - and I know of Stagers where all they want to do are reports.  If you want to do 2 reports a week, and then add in a vacant house, you are up to the 6-figure mark again . . . there are so many ways to make money as a Stager.  And the $250 - that is less than the average home inspection that sellers have to pay - so part of our job is to put our fees in terms that they understand related to the transaction of selling a HOUSE.  The fee is nothing compared to what they pay for other parts of this process, and we bring VALUE.

Have you ever heard of how Coca Cola became so much more successful than Pepsi?  It was because of the coke machines.  The philoosphy of:  "A lot of little bits add up to a lot." When they put those small coke vending machines all over the US and people dropped in quarter after quarter to buy a coke can, all of sudden Coca Cola was "in the money."  So don't disregard the income that can be made from the reports.  If we have a Realtor willing to include our services as part of their marketing package to list and sell houses - be thankful!  They GET it!  You just need to find about 10-20 more like that Realtor - as you know what - THEY are the ones that will get the listings because Sellers want ALL available tools to help them sell - and STAGING is a KEY one!  I know this to be true - my husband is a Realtor - and has taken over our neighborhood based on his reputation and marketing that has included Staging from day 1.  I have been Staging longer than he has been in real estate - I am his secret weapon. 

It's up to us to share how we work, so that we don't work for free - and whether we are doing hands-on work, Staging a vacant house, or writing a report, the money is there.  Thanks for letting me share!- Jennie

Feb 09, 2007 12:30 PM #35
Rainer
24,076
Anne Vigneri
CASA VERO Staging & Redesign - Albuquerque, CA
Serving the Mariposa California

Jennie!.. Where have you been hiding ?.. Thank you SO much for this advice re "reports'.. I have taken it to heart. .. My problem is that I am feeling rather stuck latley.. Too many reports and not enough staging.. And I LOVE the hands on work..

I also have to confess to not charging enough for my reports... I know this is the trap that many "newbe's" fall into.. We are so scared that we will never get any work , so we offer low prices for our services.. So, now that I have gotten my agents "spoiled" by my low prices.. how do I raise them ??

Anne Vigneri www.casavero.com Placitas NM

Feb 10, 2007 04:01 AM #36
Rainer
1,420
Anita Ericksen
Realty Showcasing Inc. - Edmonton, AB

I do and do not offer free consultations.  My approach is to charge $159 for a consultation, usually I am in the home for about 40 minutes, taking notes.  I then prepare a portfolio of every thing discussed and present it to my client.  This all covers my expenses and gives some income.

If the clients wishes to utilize my services, the $159 is taken off of their staging fee.  If not, then I have made $159.  I believe this is a win-win for everyone involved. 

 

Mar 14, 2007 04:50 AM #37
Rainmaker
444,176
Melissa Marro
Keller Williams First Coast Realty - The Marro Team - Orange Park, FL
Jacksonville Real Estate and Home Staging

Wow, this is one of the best topics I have seen on Active Rain so far.  We all do things differently, my business has been what I feel very successful from day 1 & I'm working as much as I want to most of the time (sometimes more than I really want!)...

If I'm doing an owner occupied property there is ALWAYS a fee involved.  If I'm doing a vacant that is being renovated or was lived in I charge a consultation fee and then will be apply that to my staging fees if hired.  If I am walking through a vacant then I do that for fee - but like Jackson, I am only there a few minutes, usually less than 15, and am building rapport and selling them on my services - not making suggestions. 

When I email quotes for vacants I am very vague, "Staging includes furniture, art & accessories for Living Room, Dining Room, Eat-in Kitchen and Master Bed/bath."  I also do a little bit of pre-qualifying agents/clients before coming to view the property.  I make sure they have a good idea of the general price structure and gather timeline etc.  If after prequalifying them I feel they probably are just checking things out, I do charge them a consult fee that will apply to their staging.

I'm fortunate that I do get about 75% of the vacants I walk through.... I do not feel that I would have as many opportunities if I charged for the vacant consults.  Since I'm not providing any information other than a quote I feel that this is just part of doing business and I often feel the face to face increases my odds of getting hired.

Mar 14, 2007 07:22 AM #38
Rainer
15,074
Mary Seferian
DIVA DECOR DESIGN - Montreal, QC

I am a graduate of The Staging Diva. Let me tell you, had I not learned the lesson of being paid for consultations, I would have gotten out of this by now!

I tend to make things real easy to understand when I visit a client, so I can just picture them saying, "Thanks now buh bye." This is why I don't work with contracts. Debra's way, "Get paid up front." works every single time. Every hour and purchase is accounted for.

Thanks again Debra, for simplifying the business side of staging. Care to copy this blog to "Rate Your Staging Training ? :)

Mar 14, 2007 07:59 AM #39
Rainer
9,640
Maureen Graziano
Third Eye Home Staging - West Islip, NY

I too, am a graduate of debra's staging diva program.  I am in awe of what a remarkable business woman she is.  Before taking her class, I had no idea what to charge (or when to charge) for my services.  The most valuable thing I learned is NEVER give free consultations!!!!! Time is money.  People in other professions are not giving their time up for free (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc), so why should home stagers? 

Maureen Graziano

Mar 14, 2007 10:40 AM #40
Rainmaker
401,591
Debra Gould
Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc. - Toronto, ON
The Staging Diva

I'm glad to see the dialog on this subject continue. Thanks everyone for your comments and contributions to this very important topic.

I work in a very competitive market as well. There are hundreds of home stagers and many of them do offer free consultations. I don't and I still have business. It's all about how you turn a prospect into a buyer over the phone. That's why Staging Diva Graduates aren't doing free consultations, whether they live in a competitive market or even one that's new to staging.

Christine, I'm curious... if you do a free consultation and the client doesn't go further and then owes you because of that, how do you collect after the fact? 

 

debra

 

Mar 16, 2007 03:20 PM #41
Rainer
70,071
Minnesota Home Staging Firm, Minnesota
Minnesota Home Staging Network~ MN's Top Home Staging Firm - Inver Grove Heights, MN

Ha...I don't want no stinking "tire kickers". 

Love your post Debra.

All the best,

Beth

Apr 18, 2007 06:50 AM #42
Anonymous
jeannene edwards

Debra,

 

Great post!  I absolutely agree with you . . . if potential clients can get "free" advice from you . . . then they are no longer potential clients.  They're long gone!

Apr 18, 2007 02:51 PM #43
Anonymous
Isabel Gomes, Gomes Design. London, ON

I am just starting out in staging and still studying interior design.  In my area staging is still fairly new.  There are more stagers now than when I finished my course in January and there will be probably more coming in the end of May because there is a course coming to town.

I have been meeting with realtors since the middle of March and have had 2 consults.  Even though I am  fairly new I wouldn't consider doing free consults.  Every new business can take up to 5 years to buildup and you actively have to market yourself and get your face out there.  Meet people. Jobs won't come knocking on the door. You are not only trying to sell your service but sell a fairly NEW IDEA.   When the idea catches on then the work will come.

Something was pointed out to me by a number of friends who are realtors.  There are many agents but only a few actually do well.  All of my friends do well.  They spend time and money in marketing and networking.  In a good market or certain areas, there are houses  that sell themselves.  Do they need help porbably not.  Then their are those times when the market is not good and houses are not selling.  They continue to market themselves but I am sure they are not going to  sell their services for free.

When the "idea catches on" and it becomes a buyers market then it will happen but it will take time.

I have been home for 15 years raising my kids.  I don't work outside of the home, if I did I certainly wouldn't quit until the idea catches on.  But I am actively networking, meeting  with agents so that the IDEA CATCHES on.  But, I won't do consults for free so that it does.

Apr 19, 2007 01:43 AM #44
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