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How staging a home can attract a buyer and bump up the sale price

Home stagers in the Philadelphia area charge between nothing and $275 for a one- or two-hour consultation. The actual staging costs vary, depending the number and sizes of rooms. Most stagers charge on average $500 to $600 month per room.

Details such as kitchen stools, plants, place settings, and jars of dried pasta help a house look lived in, yet elegant. This Point Breeze house was staged by Lia Rogers of Reinvention Intention.
Details such as kitchen stools, plants, place settings, and jars of dried pasta help a house look lived in, yet elegant. This Point Breeze house was staged by Lia Rogers of Reinvention Intention.Read moreSYDNEY SCHAEFER / Staff Photographer

As much as you love them, your great aunt's old brown armoire and the gold leafy wallpaper you couldn't live without could be  stumbling blocks for a potential home buyer.

If you want to sell your house faster and snag more money, according to real estate professionals and design experts, hire a stager to make it a showstopper.

Home stagers dress up a home on the market with the hope their creative touches will dazzle prospective buyers.

Staging has become a vital part of selling, said Francis Mangubat, a real estate agent with Advance Philly of Keller Williams in Center City Philadelphia, who handles condos and houses in the city's gentrifying areas. Most of his clients are 25 to 40 years old.

"Recently, I took clients into an unstaged house in Brewerytown. They weren't interested. Later, we went back when it was staged, and they made an offer," Mangubat said.

The National Association of Realtors reported last year that 62 percent of 1,894 sellers' agents who participated in a survey said they believe that staging a home decreases the amount of time it is on the market.

Ten years ago, home staging might have involved a new tablecloth, some greens in a vase, and a couple pieces of wicker furniture.

Not anymore. Today, stagers create glamorous rooms, with Lucite tables, low-slung chairs, and geometric artwork — designs that could fit into the Million Dollar Listing television series.

Driving the trend, industry experts say, are the expectations of the Pottery Barn and West Elm generation, who prefer minimalism over Victorian.

Millennials, now secure in their careers and looking for their first houses, "want turnkey. They want it to look like something they've seen on HGTV or on Houzz. They want to walk into a house and say, 'I could live here,' " said Lia Rogers, of Reinvention Intention, a home-staging firm in Sicklerville.

Rogers entered the industry professionally 20 years ago after giving decorating tips to friends and family who were selling homes. She works with Realtors, investors and developers, and has staged houses in Germantown, Manayunk, Point Breeze, and University City. She also conducts workshops.

Like other stagers, Rogers maintains an inventory of sofas, chairs, tables, and accessories in storage units and hires movers to transport furnishings to a house she's working on. Depending on the home, she may decorate with an industrial vibe or a mix of modern and transitional.

Some stagers combine their own furniture with hand-selected pieces from such rental companies as Cort.

Home stagers in the Philadelphia area charge between nothing and $275 for a one- or two-hour consultation. The actual staging costs vary, depending on the number and sizes of rooms and how many months the staging will last. Most stagers charge, on average, $500 to $600 a month per room. The bigger the house and swankier the decor that's used, the more it will cost.

Living rooms, kitchens, and master bedrooms are the main rooms suggested for staging.

Rogers has outfitted fix-to-flip houses, big old twins, and sleek condos. She's also been tasked with installing furniture, such as a split queen-size bed, into a trinity to prove that the master bedroom can accommodate it.

She's had home buyers become so enamored with her designs that they ask to buy the furnishings and accessories.

When home owner Mike Kanuika listed his 2,000-square-foot bilevel home in Downingtown last year, he didn't expect it to move quickly.

"It was listed a few days after Thanksgiving. Plus, similar houses to mine weren't selling well," said Kanuika, a futures trader living in West Chester.

He hired Sherry Castaldi, owner of Organized by Design in Downington, who instructed him to remove the furniture except for a dining room set and TV console. At a rate of $2,500 a month, she decorated with neutral furnishings and accessories, which gave the premises a fresh, modern look.

The house was on the market only two days when Kanuika received two offers, one for $325,000, which was $10,000 over the asking price.

Home staging originated in California, where practically every house is staged before it hits the market, according to Shell Brodnax, chief executive officer of the Real Estate Staging Association in Valley Springs, Calif.

"If a house isn't magazine-ready, then buyers will swipe left," she said.

Today, nine out of 10 home buyers, across all generations, look to online sources when seeking a house, according to a 2016 study by Zillow Research.

The organization, which has 1,800 mostly female members across the United States and Canada, reported that in 2016, unstaged homes spent an average of 184 days on the market compared with staged homes, which sold in 23 days.

This month, RESA released its latest data, showing that 250 staged homes (with asking prices up to $1.5 million) in varying markets across the country, all sold between 1 percent and 9  percent over list price.

Castaldi and others contend that in today's market, the cost of home staging is usually less than the first cost reduction, which, on average, is $5,000 for a house listed for $100,000.

"This is your home's big chance," said Castaldi, who has been in the business for 18 years. She stages 150 houses annually, some as vast as 10,000 square feet, and also provides home makeovers and organizing. She has led home-staging webinars and taught classes at Delaware County Community College.

Occasionally, during a consultation, Castaldi will run into a homeowner who is reluctant to spend extra cash for staging.

"It's usually someone who's a little older and has already, in their lifetime, sold two or three homes without staging," she said. "But after I explain that in today's market, your home only has so many seconds to make a good impression, they understand."

Before a house is staged, it's recommended that the premises be decluttered and rugs be clean. Some pros will suggest emptying the house of photographs and doing minor repairs.

That's the advice Valerie Christ's home stager had for her.

When it came time to list her house in Franklinville, Gloucester County, in February, Christ was told to paint all the rooms one neutral color and install wood flooring in the living areas and tile the kitchen floor.

"Even though I have a real estate license, I needed help with a vision," said Christ, an admissions recruiter for Rowan University.

Christ couldn't afford to have the premises physically staged. So she uploaded photos of 10 areas of her house, including her front porch, and paid $200 to Virtual Staging House Media in Chicago, who virtually furnished her property. Virtual staging companies provide digital photographs to the client that can then be uploaded to sales listings.

Christ said she had a sales commitment within seven days for $285,000, which was $5,000 over her asking price.

Although virtual staging is less expensive than a physical job, experts say, buyers often show up at the house and are disappointed that they can't see the space decorated firsthand.

Tiffany Fasone, owner of Voila Design Home in Philadelphia, stages 400 homes a year. About 70 percent of her business is in Center City, but she has worked remotely with clients as far away as Baltimore.

"My job is to create a vision for people," she said. "In five or 10 years, I think home staging will be the norm."