Sellers are turning to home stagers to help close the deal
By DANNY KING
A blank canvas, the theory goes, is harder to appreciate than a fully realized painting.
And because prospective homebuyers are often too distracted to focus on the potential of a vacant house, a cottage industry has sprung up to supply imagination for them.
Hundreds of mostly high-end homes for sale throughout Los Angeles are sporting rented furnishings to spruce up their appearance and boost the sale price.
“Home staging” is growing, with sellers paying anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $150,000 to fill homes with furnishings, accessories, linens and anything else that conveys taste and luxury all for the sake of getting a higher sale price amid a housing market that remains robust.
“People cannot appreciate a vacant house,” said Murray Weisberg, associate manager at Coldwell Banker’s Brentwood Court office. “And most people’s furniture doesn’t look that good anyhow.”
In the past three to four years, the stable of home stagers in Los Angeles has grown from a handful to about 20. High-end home stagers Ginger Atherton & Associates and Meridith Baer & Associates, each of which handled over 40 homes last year, began staging homes within the past four years. Chicago-based Brook Furniture Rental Inc. has tripled its home staging revenues in Los Angeles over the past five years.
Temporarily furnishing houses is not necessarily a profitable venture. The real money, stagers said, is in selling the furnishings.
Ginger Atherton, who also runs a Robertson Boulevard furniture store, said she broke even last year on home staging revenues of $500,000. But the staging led to $1 million in furniture sales.
Meridith Baer projected revenues of $2 million this year from staging and furniture sales, with staging accounting for 70 percent of that.
There are various lengths to which a house can be staged.
Brook rents single pieces of furniture to home sellers for as little as $100 a month, according to district manager Marilyn Walsh. At the other end, Atherton’s staging rate starts at $25,000 and can reach up to six times that figure, all for stocking a home with up to $500,000 worth of furniture and such niceties as fresh flowers, candies and monogrammed towels.
“There’s no rhyme or reason for the prices people get for their homes,” said Atherton. “There’s a lot of new, fast money and people want to buy a lifestyle.”
Behind the activity is a robust housing market and an image-conscious entertainment industry that fuels much of the high-end home sales activity. “As prices have escalated so rapidly, buyers want to feel they’re getting value for their money,” said Bob Sefton, who founded West Hollywood-based Homes Dressed to Sell two years ago. “And ‘dressed’ properties feel of more value.”
Sefton added that with more homes being shown via the Internet, agents view home stagers as bringing “added value.”
There’s no way to quantify the effect of staging on a house’s sale price. But Baer, whose average staging last year cost $20,000, estimated that between increased sale price and decreased carrying costs as the result a quicker sale, staging pays for itself several times over.
“We’re trying to get the clients the most money we can,” said Coldwell Banker Estates Director Judy Handler, who staged nine of the 12 homes she sold last year. “And home staging does that.”
As with most aspects of a real estate deal, the buyer, not the seller, ultimately foots the bill for the temporary furnishings, according to Carla Hayn, a professor at the Anderson School at UCLA who is advising a field study group analyzing the home staging industry.
“The buyers don’t seem to think the cost has been passed on to them,” said Hayn.
Whether the industry extends beyond the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” category remains to be seen. Both Baer and Atherton pegged the minimum price for a home to be a candidate for staging at about $1 million. But Sefton believes a home priced at half that can be properly “dressed” and still more than cover staging costs. Walsh said Brook Furniture has staged condominiums in the $300,000 range.
While Brook Furniture has expanded the business nationally, Hayn believes the concept to be a local phenomenon. “You have a clientele that wants to visualize themselves within a splendid setting,” said Hayn.