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Faced with increased competition, more agents seek out training in dressing homes for sale

Authored by: Danek S. Kaus  -  Published in: Mercury News
Created on:

In a competitive market where every edge counts, some real estate agents are learning a skill that draws its name and its style from the theater: "staging."

Staging is the art of setting a home up to look its best, sometimes by drawing on borrowed ``props'' such as a stately piece of furniture or a soothing work of art. While some professionals stage for a living and contract out their services, more real estate agents are now taking staging classes so they can offer staging advice to their clients.

One such agent is Nancy Estill with the San Jose/Morgan Hill office of Prudential California Realty, who took a staging course in May.

``It sounded like something to put in my repertoire of tools that really few professionals have,'' she says.

The designation of ASP -- Accredited Staging Professional -- has increased her credibility with clients, she says.

"If I tell them to move a prized possession, they know that my accreditation means something more than if I was just another Realtor," Estill says.

The word ``stage'' in a real estate context has been trademarked by Concord resident Barb Schwarz, who created the company StagedHomes.com.

Schwarz started out as a real estate agent in the 1970s and decided to use her background in theater and design to help clients sell houses.

``I told this lady that selling a home is like setting up a Hollywood stage,'' Schwarz says. ``It clicked with her and it worked. So I did it again.''

Since that time, Schwarz has staged about 1,600 homes and taught her techniques to more than 500,000 real estate professionals and designers. The number of people taking classes is growing by about 30 percent a year, she says.

About two years ago, she created an extended two-day training program that earns professionals the ASP designation. Currently, there are about 2,000 ASPs in this country, about 15 in Canada and three in Hungary.

In some cases title companies and agencies hire Schwarz to sponsor the training. The cost for realty agents who do not plan to charge clients for advice is $295.

Agents usually give advice on staging and offer some hands-on help but for bigger jobs may bring in a full-time professional stager. Professional stagers charge in a variety of ways -- by the hour, square foot, room, etc. -- and cost from $50 to $150 an hour.

About a dozen of the agents at the San Jose/Morgan Hill office of Prudential California Realty have taken a staging course, according to General Manager Gary Culbertson.

Providing tips
Because all her recent clients have wanted to prep the house themselves, Estill did walk-throughs with them, pointing out how to make changes. If the clients are willing, she even looks in their closets for old items that may work for staging.

``Most people have a lot of little collections filling space,'' Estill says. ``I ask them to put the displays away. Then if the space looks bare, we go through the closets to see if there might be a vase, flower arrangement or painting that they have gotten tired of but might match the decor better.''

Estill does not believe that staging automatically increases the sale price of a home, though in some cases she believes it will. But she does think it makes a home more appealing to potential buyers.

``A lot of tract homes are very similar to one another,'' she says. ``Whatever we can do to make their home stand out over and above another home on the market just puts them that much ahead. In a competitive market it is probably the most important thing you can do.''

Impact evident
Ernie Chan, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Daly City, also decided to take a staging course because he saw the impact of staging on a buyer looking for income property.

When Chan was with another agency, he took a client to see a four-unit apartment. Three of the units were occupied, and the fourth was staged.

``My buyer, who is picky, was so impressed that he decided to buy the building without looking at the other three apartments,'' Chan says. ``He fell in love with it because of the staging.''

Chan's client authorized him to offer $50,000 over the asking price -- which was still not enough to get the place.

The experience persuaded Chan to take lessons himself. He thinks staging is a good investment, depending on the price of the property.

``If a house is worth $2 million, you don't mind spending three to four thousand (to stage it),'' he says. ``It's a good investment.''

Article entered in the Staged Homes System: 2004-04-01



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