“Your Job Sounds So Fun!” – The Reality of a Home Staging Career by Jennie Norris, ASP Master, IAHSP
“Your Job Sounds so Fun!” If I have heard that once, I have heard it 100 times. “Your job sounds so fun!” and to be fair, I suppose from the outside looking in, it DOES seem like a “fun job.” Most recently as I was boarding a plane the flight attendant spied my carry on that promotes my Staging business and exclaimed how fun my job must be . . .
What the public sees is the transformation of a house – room by room – where we use creativity and skill to enhance what the public sees when buying a house. What they don’t see is all the work and planning that went in to that successful transformation.
Seems that most people believe that Home Staging is a “fun” job . . . probably ranking up there with Genie, magician, dolphin trainer, or some other “job” where a person appears to get to do something others perceive is lots of fun but don’t really understand all the work behind the result. I haven’t asked, but I think they believe that we just move a bunch of decor around and diddle with fabric or bedding, and tossing pillows is the most labor intensive thing we do.
To most, they probably figure we have an army of “workers” at our disposal, like those people on TV – that work for free, and make magic happen with their saws, lumber, and materials they just pull out of their magic trucks or vans. If there are Stagers that do this, it is a very, very small percentage. Most of us are the ones doing the work, moving the stuff, and lifting the furniture.
What they don’t realize is that although Home Staging is “fun” it is also a lot of work. Home Staging itself is very physical too, or it can be. Home Stagers sweat. Home Stagers strain. Home Stagers can even stress out.
The reality of Staging is that it is not glamorous and the “fun” is not about the ease of what we do, but about the reward of a job well done. Most professional Home Stagers I know that actually work a business, and don’t just preach about it, are in the trenches getting sweaty and schlepping stuff from point A to house B.
The days when I Stage, I show up in my “uniform” which is comfortable shorts and a tank top, sandals or tennis shoes, and my hair up in a clip. To be brutally honest, on days when I wake up and know I am Staging a vacant house, I don’t bother with makeup, except maybe some lipstick, and – shocker here – don’t even bother to style or comb my hair. Why bother – I am going to sweat – and I am not going to see a client so vanity goes out the window. I just stick my hair up in a scrunchy or hair clip – and off I go to “work.” Where I live, the temps can reach over 110 degrees in the summer, and just loading up for a Staging project brings a workout. We don’t “perspire.” We sweat.
In the winter, we bundle up and deal with the cold temps and freezing weather – and hope that our projects “beat the rain” or other bad weather, but we’ve Staged during near hurricane winds, and with fog so thick we can hardly see to drive. God bless those Stagers that deal with hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, sleet, and any other weather related challenges. Like the mailman, come rain, wind, snow or shine, the show must go on!
I have been physically injured numerous times from Staging. I have broken toes, injured my foot, pulled muscles, gotten bruises, cut myself, gotten tennis-elbow from lifting furniture, and had a bungee cord snap back in my face, splitting my lip open. In that case, the show went on, and we Staged a house because we needed to get it done, with my lip bleeding for 9 hours. Good news is it was my lip – a few inches higher and it would have taken out my eye. I have had sore back, legs, arms and neck from Staging – and over the years have gotten smarter about how much physical labor I personally do, opting to hire movers and manual labor help whenever the budget allows. There are “tools” we can use to help minimize some of the physical strain – furniture lifters, movers, and such, but the bottom line is that we cannot escape the physical nature of Staging. Even if we are just pulling inventory and loading our truck, that is physical.
Home Staging is fun because we are helping others, we do get to see the transformation of a space happen relatively quickly, and we get the reward of accomplishment when the house sells faster than expected – compared to the marketed un-staged competition. But it’s not “fun” in the sense that it’s easy to do.
Working with clients and providing Staging reports is not physical, but it is mental. We may not sweat while preparing the Staging report (unless the homeowner does not have their air conditioning on), but the mental side of coming up with a plan of action on the spot, and then having the ability to convey that plan with compassion and kindness to a Seller that may or may not be ready to hear the suggestions, or be excited about moving, can be a challenge and be somewhat stressful. The emotional aspect is something we have to be prepared for each time we work with a client. We never know what response they are going to have to our plan, and much of the time we act in the role of compassionate counselor, encouraging them to make changes that will ultimately benefit them the most in the sale of their property.
The longer we engage in business, the more confidence we get, and the better prepared we feel going in to work with a client, but I don’t believe we ever fully get over that feeling of pressure to perform Staging magic, using what a Seller has or bringing in some “WOW” factor, with the hopes that everything will turn out great. We have a vision, we work to carry that out to the best of our ability, factoring in what the seller has to work with, any limitations we may have, the necessary timeframe, and budget.
My last Staging report was done late one afternoon, and the next day we showed up to do hands-on Staging to finish it off, with the clock ticking from a Realtor that wanted to get the house on the MLS – ASAP! Of course, the Realtor was thrilled and the seller got a real kick out of seeing how we used her things, combined with some basic inventory – to get her house show ready. She even said, “You were not like those people on TV – you treated me very kindly and I appreciate that.” Working with pressure is not something every person can handle, and yet professional Stagers do it every day.
My greatest satisfaction comes not just from seeing a room come together with my ideas that transfer from mind to reality, but from the reaction of a client that cannot believe how nice their house looks, and from a Realtor who is thrilled at a tranformation of their listing. And it comes from a part of me that feels great joy at using my talent and creativity in a way that helps someone else.
Ultimately, when I finish a Staging project, there is a part of me that just wants to high-five someone, or do a celebration dance. As I have shared with colleagues – having a “theme song” is important and keeping the actual Staging fun – by sharing it with other professional ASP Stagers is what make it fun for me as well. As I learned from my mentor, Barb Schwarz, “having a party with myself” is half the fun of Staging - and that happens when I do something unexpected with Staging, when my creativity comes out and we use something in a new way, or make something out of “nothing” in order to achieve a goal. I love that feeling.
However, the “work” behind Staging never ends. Any successful Stager will tell you that getting the business is always on our minds. We are managers, marketers, and workers. Besides the physical labor that leaves us sweaty and tired, there is the constant marketing that has to occur. We can never just sit back and “wait” for business but must constantly find ways to reach our target audience with our message of how we can help them achieve their goals of selling faster and at the best price.
As a markets change, we have to change our strategy for getting business, so we are also adjusting to economic trends that impact our business. Any successful Home Stager will attest to the reality behind reinvention, and carving out market niches to stay viable.
Yes, our “job is fun” but it is also a lot of work – mentally and physically. We have to have endurance to make it through the tougher times, we have to have optimism to keep our hope alive when the going gets tough, and we have to rejuvenate our creative spirit by continuing to find new ways to test our skills and transform houses and spaces that truly need our Staging touch.
So those of you out there looking from the outside at Home Staging – and believe it is one of those “fun” jobs – what it is really is a passion that we have turned into a career. Despite the physical, mental and even emotional work it takes, we love it because it feeds a part of our soul or spirit that nothing else meets.
THAT is the real “fun” behind Home Staging.