The Politics Killing the Home Staging Industry

Real Estate Agent with Keller Williams First Coast Realty - The Marro Team

Yesterday, a thread on a private facebook group turned ugly. This isn’t the first time. For over a decade there has been an underlying dispute. Much like our nation’s current political climate, the polarization has become extreme and now threatens the growth and success of the industry, as a whole. 

My story. It started here on Active Rain. 


Because this blog is going to be L...O...N….G… I’m going to do my best to keep this part short. I think it’s important, for those who don’t know me, or don’t remember the old Stage It Forward, when Craig Schiller was an active member and owned the group. I was a fairly new stager. I had my own successful company, and had started a training company. I was training mostly because I needed help. I also thought my staging education through the now defunct IRIS association, was horrible. I would post about my classes, about my company, and about my personal staging principles. For the most part, I had to grow and build my own beliefs about staging. 


Enter my first encounters with Jennie Norris. Craig would post all kinds of posts discussing the variety of staging companies and training companies. The community would often discuss the lack of standards in the industry. Regularly Jennie Norris, who worked for, and was a bull dog of protection for, Barb Schwarz, the then-owner of (ASP) and IAHSP. With rampant enthusiasm, Jennie would tow-the-line of Barb’s company. The conversations usually ramped up, and degraded, starting off with philosophy that only ASP stagers are “really stagers”. Everyone else was a fraud. 


Needless to say Jennie and I regularly went toe-to-toe. Over the years we’ve had some seriously heated conversations. I have always been under the belief that followers of the IAHSP way were “drinking the kool-aid”. Because I’ve been to the last two IAHSP conventions, I can’t say that I have washed that thought from my mind. There are literally women who practically worship at the feet of Barb. They weep in front of her, when she speaks. It’s frankly very weird. It borders on cult-like. That’s not all of IAHSP though… not anymore. I’ll get back to this later. 


The history of CSP and RESA.  


I ‘met’ Shell via phone when I had considered starting my own association, after my encounter with IAHSP. This was before Stage it Forward went on the road. Christine Rae, owner of Certified Staging Professionals (or Canadian Staging Professionals, if you are in Canada), otherwise known as CSP, had started hosting summits with Terri Lynn Fisher, and Shell Brodnax. I attended most of these events as a speaker and had a booth, discussing my training programs. It was in dinner conversations after the events that I learned the background of Christine and Shell. Both had previously worked for Barb at StagedHomes (SHC). 


Both would talk about Barb’s narcissistic behavior and why they left. (The narcissism is pretty evident if you pick up any of her books and read the forwards.) They talked about the “Cease and Desist” letters that would regularly be sent to stagers, advising that “Home Stager” was trademarked and non-ASP members could not use it. At the time, this was a huge conversation in the industry. 


Christine Rae had been personally trained by Barb Schwarz. When Christine’s staging company was about six months old, she was asked to be a staging instructor for ASP. She closed her staging company and began teaching. After a many of years, as a teacher, there was a disagreement, and Rae left, starting CSP in Canada. This began an immediate affront to Barb and Jennie. Afterall, Christine didn’t have any experience as a stager previously, and she’s got her own training program, after teaching for ASP. A battle began to wage on this front. 


Shell Broadnax, also having left StagedHomes after a rift, knowing Rae from her time at SHC, began working with Christine to create another association. This is where the small events started, eventually, with the help of about a dozen other stagers, began. 


The growth of RESA over the last decade plus. 


RESA was started with the idea that it would allow stagers of all accreditations and backgrounds. At the time, the only organizations that existed were the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, owned by StagedHomes, for ASP members, and HSRA, the Home Staging Resource Association, owned by Audra Slinky, for her HSR members. If you didn’t belong to one of these large associations, then there was no association to join. 


The industry was budding. It really needed an organization that would represent everyone, not just training companies. CSP joined and sent their members to RESA. Audra closed HSRA and invited her students to join RESA, as well. Nearly immediately RESA became a large and important organization, backed by 2 of the 3 largest training companies. At that time, Shell reached out to StagedHomes and asked them to also join. They did not. IAHSP was a for-profit company, and they did not want to close the business. 


In the early years of RESA, IAHSP chapters and members were told that they could not belong to both associations. They must choose. Under Barb’s leadership, the line was clear. You were only a “real stager” if you were ASP. 


Then Barb sold StagedHomes


I would be the last person to have ever thought that I would attend, much less, be a speaker for the IAHSP annual convention. This happened because a few years ago, Barb sold StagedHomes to Jennie Norris, Lyn Spaeth, and Sandra Holmes. Each having their own successful staging company, realized that for the industry to grow, that we needed to unite. They opened IAHSP for all staging designations, IF they had taken an approved staging program. There are about a dozen listed. 


The IAHSP position is that they won’t join RESA because they believe that you should have to have had training in order to be a professional. RESA allows “naked” stagers, those with no training or designations. Additionally, their feelings on creating industry standards, including lobbying for state regulations are in opposition. IAHSP wants regulations, RESA does not. 

IAHSP, RESA, the conflict, and the inner politics.  


I was a founding member of RESA. I have served as leadership every year, until last year, since its inception.  Last year, after ending my Chairman of the Board position early, I stepped away from the Association and no longer participate in anything except the 3-hr CE Course. I’ve personally done this because of the things I’ve seen and heard over the past few years. Many of my most respected colleagues have done the same thing. This is because we’ve realized that for more than a decade of trying to build the industry, what’s holding us back is really a grudge, and EGO. 


RESA’s biggest regular complaint about convention is that it feels very “cliquey”. It’s like high school all over again. If certain people like you, you’re in. If they don’t, or don’t know you, you’re out. RESA has publicly, and privately said that IAHSP should shut down and join RESA.. At the last convention, Sandra Holmes, Lyn Spaeth, and Blair Hammity, a highly successful stager that teaches for StagedHomes, were greeted with, “What are you doing here, spying?” by RESA’s President. This kind of greeting doesn’t make anyone feel welcome. It doesn’t encourage the environment for the joining of tribes. 


The issue is that many, many times, I’ve overheard Shell say that she doesn’t trust Jennie Norris, “any further than I can throw her”. She holds onto the old feelings of her days at SHC, when Barb was in charge. I’ve heard both sides of the phone conversations between them, and I’ve also had conversations with both sides about the past. 


Recently, Jennie Norris, and leadership at IAHSP, Jana Uselton (HSRA) and leadership at HSRA, and Joanne Lenart Weary (DSA) met in Vegas, at market, and asked Shell to meet with them to discuss forming a new Alliance between all of the associations. One that was inclusive to everyone, and that would seek to lead the journey on regulating our industry, to rid it of the low standards, lack of proper education, and to reach out to the real estate industry, to push growth through alliance. Shell declined to meet, saying RESA already was that. Ryan Marsh, on the RESA board, did attend, however.


Unfortunately, having been Chairman of the Board, that’s just not true. This is the first year that RESA has had outreach to the National Association of Realtors. Shell will be speaking at the national convention. There has never been a plan to attend conventions, and what to do if/when they do. Even now, with paying for all of Shell’s expenses to speak, ask your leadership what the follow up plan is. Find out how they will be using this to their advantage to build YOUR home staging business. 


The goal of RESA has always been bottom up growth - the stagers join, pay, and do all the networking, in RESA’s name, and that will grow RESA. There is no plan for RESA to network, build and grow to raise awareness of the staging industry, then the stager benefits by association.  I fought this fight for over a decade and finally left frustrated. So did many of my peers. After we gave our time and reputations over to RESA, we were left high and dry, with doused dreams, and a big reality check. 


What you need to know to save our industry. 


None of the associations will help you gain business. Your training designations are completely and totally worthless. (When was the last time a customer cared about your affiliations or which class you took?) The point, for you, of joining any of the associations, is what you think you will get from them. Are you looking for education, camaraderie, a resource for discounts? Each of them offer about the same thing. 


RESA will tell you that only not-for-profits are really trade associations. Who cares? This is just their USP (unique selling position). It’s like when I say, in my market, that we are the only staging company that offers full home staging, all the rooms, and why it’s better. It doesn’t automatically negate the value in other staging companies in my market. 


Since the initial meeting between Jennie, Jana, and Joanne, I’ve joined their Alliance, but on one condition. The alliance will be run by someone who ISN’T already part of this industry. I don’t know if the alliance will be for-profit, or not-for-profit. It doesn’t actually matter. All of us will be putting in money, and time, to structure things in ways that will best allow us to avoid the mistakes of the past, including paying a CEO’s salary who knows how to build and grow a strong business, build a bridge between the staging and real estate industry, and squash any internal (or external) political rivalries of old. 


The focus will be on building our industry, setting standards, and getting in front of the regulations that are coming. After all, do you want the design industry to set them, or do you want the staging industry to set them? We manage people’s biggest investment, regulation will be coming. 


Does this mean that I shouldn’t join RESA or IAHSP or any other association? 


Actually no. We all believe that belonging to multiple associations and organizations makes you more educated and the industry stronger because of the bonds that it creates. If you are enjoying, and getting something from the associations you belong to, stay with them. Do more with them. Change the things that are wrong. 


The key thing here is to realize that what’s wrong, at the heart of all of the associations, is that the principle players were once all together, under one affiliation, and many went away with hard feelings. They used that anger to show what they could really do, and that created some brilliant opportunities for many people. It’s finally time to set that aside though, let go of the hurt feelings and ego. Let go of the need to be the best, or only. 


It’s time to all join together and build the industry. Together we are strong. The past is the past. Today is a new day.


Follow my blog at or Rave Home Staging



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 Author Bio: Melissa Marro, Home Staging Industry leader, Realtor, and entrepreneur offers a unique perspective on New Home Construction, Resale Residential Real Estate, and Home Staging

For more information on buying or selling in the Fleming Island, Orange Park, or Jacksonville, area, visit or call Melissa Marro (marro.melissa at, Keller Williams First Coast Realty, for more information (904-466-2093).


Comments (2)

Marie Graham
Owner, The Refreshed Home White Plains NY - White Plains, NY
Westchester County Interior Decorator, Home Stager

Thank you, Michelle! You had me at "For the most part, I had to grow and build my own beliefs about staging".  

I, too, have been ISO an organization focused on furthering the industry: a definition, and a strategy that included educating the public, and the RE community via courses that all states can easily approve for CE. 

Oct 30, 2019 05:45 PM
Melissa Marro
Keller Williams First Coast Realty - The Marro Team - Orange Park, FL
Jacksonville Real Estate and Home Staging

Unfortunately not all states WILL approve CE Courses. EX: South Carolina WILL NOT approve ANY staging course. Period. I think in Arkansas, you would have to have a 4 year teaching degree to teach any certification course. It's nuts. 

As for a staging definition, please feel free to use mine. "Staging creates a measurable, marketable change in the perceived value of the property."


~ Melissa

Oct 30, 2019 05:51 PM