Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Your Job Sounds So Fun!" - The Reality of a Home Staging Career

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.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

New Tiny URL

Visit the URL to view blog posts about Home Staging, and business.

- Jennie

Monday, August 17, 2009

Our ASP Staged Houses are SELLING in RECORD TIME! - By Jennie Norris, ASPM, IAHSP

We are so excited! In our tough market where average days on market can be 100 - we have seen nearly all our ASP Staged properties SELL within 30 days or LESS!

Our We Stage Sacramento success stories are part of the national statistics that are tracked by and of course as a savvy business owner, I also prepare my own company stats to share with clients locally. Our graphic representation of our success (below) speaks volumes.

Not only are the ASP Staged houses we have Staged selling, but they are getting multiple offers, selling for MORE than list, or selling AT LIST price, and in one case at 92% of list. Getting multiple offers in this market is something we have not heard about for over 2 years - and it is happening with the ASP Staged properties!

It is exciting to be able to help Sellers and Realtors achieve their goals of selling in the shortest time and at the best price!

- Jennie Norris, ASPM, IAHSP - Owner, We Stage Sacramento


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Virtual Staging – Selling a House is not the Time to Air Brush for Perfection

Virtual Staging – Selling a House is not the Time to Air Brush for Perfection

by Jennie Norris, ASP Master, IAHSP President

In the world of fashion, models, Hollywood, and the media – much of what we see is not real. Lighting, clever stylists, and make-up can drastically alter the appearance of the model or subject. Then add in the common practice used in print media of air-brushing out flaws, and the person that is featured in the photo spread often does not resemble that at all in real life. In recent years, we have all read or seen actresses criticizing magazines for doing everything from altering their size, elongating their legs, deleting scars or cellulite, and adding things like abs and muscles.

All this is done with the magic of the computer, software and clever person with the mouse.

We know when we look at a person in a magazine that 99% of the time they don’t really look like that in person. We love to see the tabloids actually catch these models or actors in real life with their messy hair, real bodies and flaws. It reminds us that there are many clever things that can be done with a computer and software specifically designed to alter photographic images.

Although we accept this action in the world of fashion and Hollywood, we should not accept this as an acceptable trend for Real Estate and Home Staging.

Virtual Staging. This is where vacant rooms are “Staged” using images of furnishings and décor that are not real. The rooms are not truly Staged – as they are done by a person at a computer, not by a trained expert in the house. For some they may feel this is an alternative to having to invest in real Home Staging. However, the savings they get may actually end up costing them far more in legal fees or reputation than if they Staged it properly in the first place.

Photos do help sell a house, but how do we know that the images and dimensions in a “virtually Staged room” are accurate? How can we be sure that certain flaws have not been removed? Since Buyers are not imaginative, can we trust that they can translate what is in a little photo to a large empty room? Most importantly, editing out flaws or altering the appearance of rooms in houses for the sole purpose of selling the house is bordering on deception. In the opinion of professional Accredited Staging Professional® (ASP®) Home Stagers everywhere, the photos of the house should be of the real house – not a virtual representation of the house.

Another problem is that Buyers will eventually go and see the house in person, and imagine their disappointment when the photo they saw online is not the representation of what they see in person. Their energy will drop, and they will not be able to translate the excitement of nice furnishings found in a virtual photo to a droll, empty room that echoes. Buyers need to experience a real Staged house with real furnishings and décor to not only know if their own furnishings will fit, but they need it in order to have a real emotional connection. That connection is what sells the house and makes it a home.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR®) Magazine came out with an article (July 30, 2009) admonishing agents and Sellers to not give credence to the idea of virtual Staging. It is a risky proposition that could find itself being worked out in a court of law with disgruntled Buyers who felt deceived by a clever computer tech with some slick software.

The link below contains the full article and there is an excerpt below.

“However, there are some potential pitfalls to virtual staging, including liability issues. There is the chance, for example, that a buyer will challenge whether the digitally altered photos provided an accurate rendering of the space. After moving in, the new owner could make a case for misrepresentation of the property against the real estate practitioner.

Another problem is the lack of control that sellers and practitioners experience in terms of color schemes and accessories. Virtually staged properties tend toward neutral tones and commonplace art and window treatments that could turn off some prospective buyers.”

(Virtual Staging: Brilliant but Maybe Dangerous? Daily Real Estate News -July 30, 2009)

The moral of the story is virtually clear. With Home Staging, ensure an honest and accurate representation by entrusting your house or listing to a trained professional ASP® Home Stager, and not the clever skills of a computer jockey equipped with a mouse. That mousetrap could prove fatal to the purchase, the Seller, and even a Realtor’s career.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Staging versus Design - More on the TRUTH about Legislation

As I write this, I am wearing the hat of the President for 2009-2010 of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP) that for over 10 years has been serving the Home Staging industry with integrity. We have members in every state in the country as well as in Canada and Europe. I have been a proud member of IAHSP since 2003. We were the first association to provide educational forums, conventions, and local chapters to support our members. Our "model" of success has been emulated by other groups that have popped up recently. They say "imitation is the greatest form of flattery." IAHSP should be really flattered.

That said, I am amazed at the continuing misinformation being spewed by associations intent on recruiting membership. Two in particular have coupled up on the "supposed" legislation that they say will harm Home Stagers. They have stated in writing that our IAHSP association has put its head in the sand because we do not agree with their fear mongering and claims that legislation that targets interior designers will harm Home Stagers. They scoff at the notion that we actually went and asked the ASID organization about the legislation. And because the information we found does not agree with their fear-based claims, now everyone is a "liar" - except them.

When will this posturing end?

If you are reading this - the only thing you need to know is that there is always a motivation behind people asking for "support" for an issue. In this case, they want your dollars. They want to legitimize their reason for existence and they do this by deliberately striking fear in to the minds of business owners everywhere. Imagine how excited this interior design advocate group must have been when they realized there was a whole new profit center they could tap into with Home Stagers? And they gained access to this group through an association that is supposed to be serving Home Stagers. How is dragging Home Stagers into this issue serving them?

I am sure these groups provide value to their members in other ways, but wtih regard to the issue of legislation and how it will harm Home Stagers, they are way off base. The facts speak for themselves.

We are not disputing that this is a real issue of concern for interior designers everywhere.

The issue is of great concern for INTERIOR DESIGNERS. They do have reason for concern as if they do not want to fall under the auspices of what constitutes an interior designer as defined by this legislation, it could cause them to lose their business. By all means - fight the good fight. We wish you luck and we support you in your endeavors. But dragging Home Stagers along into the trenches will not help your cause at all. It only muddies it up.

Anyone with a semblance of intelligence can read the legislation and see that it does not target anyone in the Home Staging industry.

Our position paper on this issue tells the reader to investigate for themselves. Do NOT rely on aritcles written by those with a clear bias, or those that take the issue to the extreme. Unless you are not solely a Home Stager. If you are someone that does Home Staging AND Decorating AND Interior Design - the legislation could apply to you only in your Interior Designer capacity. But we shared all that in our thoughtful position paper we send out and posted recently.

The bottom line for IAHSP is that Home Staging is NOT decorating or interior design.

This person actually admits that in her blog post. They are NOT the same - and yet she and another association are trying diligently to meld all forms of decorating-design-Staging into one amorphous blob. WHY? They are all stand-alone business entities. Their goals are not the same. Therefore, any legislation targeting one group - i.e., interior designers, does not automatically target the other two. However, in their world, all 3 are at risk. How can this be? On one hand they acknowledge that they are all different and then in the next breath are telling readers that legislation applies to all? Huh?

I took the time to contact the President of this design advocacy group, and did not receive a reply back. She completely ignored my attempts to reach out and better understand why she felt that Home Stagers should be part of this "battle." Never heard back. I have emails to prove I did reach out and my intent was to cooperatively understand the issue and how it pertained to Home Stagers. The interior design advocacy group is right to be concerned about this issue for their Interior Designer members. But jumping into bed with a fledgling Home Staging association and then directing the fear towards Home Stagers, to me, is not a responsible action.

I also do not appreicate the repeated attempts discredit IAHSP - the top Home Staging association that has set the standard for excellence for over a decade. IAHSP is the only association that is based in EDUCATION first, as well as Ethics and Excellence. We actually have standards for membership - starting with being educated by a reputable company in Home Staging.

People that have hands in both interior design and Home Staging - it is hard to find an association that truly serves your interests. My advice is to belong to a Home Staging association, and then belong to an Interior Design association. Two separate memberships to serve two separate business facets. That way when and if you do have issues with legislation, you will have proper represenatation with a group that truly has your interests at heart.

What is important to know for all our wonderful IAHSP Members is that we will continue to print the truth - and we do not have a hidden agenda. Our sharing the facts responsibly with our members and the Home Staging community at large is not about increasing membership or having people give money to "fight" an issue that is not really about us at all.

This is NOT about "us versus them" - it is NOT about which Home Staging association is better, etc. It IS about not putting Home Stagers into a place of fear over an issue that is not about Staging. It IS about ensuring that we keep the lines of our industries clearly defined. IAHSP understands this. We hope that others see the light as well.

The members of our IAHSP International Board are ALL VOLUNTARY! No one is paid to serve. In that way, we are not tempted to latch on to an issue that could bring profit to our association. The "rebuttal" from this advocacy group insinuated incorrectly that IAHSP was for profit. That is not true. And as we shared in our position paper - think carefully about who you want to associate with - when deciding membership in an association that is there to truly serve you as a Home Stager.

Ask the Presidents of these other "associations" if they get paid to do what they do - I bet the answer will confirm what I and many others believe. It takes money to pay for salaries - that money comes from memberships. IAHSP dues pay for websites that give our members added exposure, as well as for our IAHSP Chapters and the coordination it takes to help support over 100 chapters in North America. That is it. No salaries are paid to IAHSP Board members or chapter leaders.

I serve IAHSP because I value my association and believe in what we stand for and how we serve our members.

I hope that these other groups can agree to disagree - and show some mutual respect for what we each strive for in serving our members. Only time will tell the truth. Until then, Home Stagers should not live in fear of being "shut down" by legislation that is clearly not about what we do in our Home Staging businesses nor be told by associations that are supposedly serving Home Stagers that they should be concerned. To me that is irresponsible.

For more information please go to and link to the following information: "Myths and Facts about Proposed Legislation"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Art of Appreciation

"Thank you." Two simple words that hold the power to elevate another's attitude and validate a relationship.

Why don't we hear these words more often? When my children were little, it was one of the first things I taught them - to be appreciative and say, "Thank you," when someone did something for them or gave them something. It is something that has to be taught as it is not an automatic, and it is something that shows good manners from childhood forward.

Why then as we enter the business world, does it seem so rare to receive a "Thank you" for a job well done? Showing appreciation to our clients should be on the top of our list, but somewhere along the ines, it seems that the "loyal client" is forgotten or taken for granted in the quest to add more clients to our roster.

When I work with a client, of course I like to be appreciated for how hard I work, the services I provide, the extra effort I put in to a project, and how our whole team wants to make the client happy and have a success story to tell when our Staged houses sell. We make sure to appreciate our clients, and I am always shocked when I am not treated respectfully or with appreciation when I have the "client hat" on. I often say to myself, "If I treated my clients the way I have been treated by this company I would be out of business."

Showing appreciation is vitual for the longevity of a business.

A saying or adage I really like is "It is easier to keep a current client happy than it is to find a new one." How true.

So how can we show appreciation for our clients? It's as simple as 1-2-3.

1. Send thank you cards - handwritten. Never under-estimate the power of the pen! The written word is powerful - the sentiments we can share in a short amount of space when we sincerely express gratitude goes miles in locking our clients in to us for the long haul.

2. Give little appreciation gifts. This is not about spending a lot of money on things - it's about giving little tokens of appreciation. One of my favorite things to give to my clients is a Starbucks Gift Card with a note that says, "You're a Star in My Book." The gift cards is usually about $5 - enough for a cup of coffee and a pastry, but the thought is what counts and I have received "Thank you cards" for my thank you cards!

3. Give Referrals. One of the best ways to show appreciation is to give a referral to your client. Remember what they do for a living and send business their way. Make sure that whoever you do refer mentions your name - so that your client knows that you want to help them succeed too.

Follow these simple suggestions for showing appreciation to your clients, and you will have a loyal client base that does value your relationship, send you referrals, and is with you for many years to come.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sellers - Are you READY for your Close-Up? by Jennie Norris, ASPM, IAHSP

“All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" - Gloria Swanson, Sunset Boulevard, circa 1940.

Those famous words helped immortalize the great Cecil B. DeMille. And it got me thinking. How many times have you had photos taken of yourself where you really were not prepared for that “close-up?” Or worse, been on television with a camera inches from your face showing every pore? It reminds me that there is nothing like preparation – lighting, makeup, positioning – that allows us to take that great photo or be on television without fear of looking “bad.”

When applied to Home Staging we have to ask . . .

How many Sellers are ready for their Close Up?

My experience as a professional Home Stager tells me – not many. Even with the glut of television shows on Home Staging that should help educate the public to do SOMETHING to their houses before putting them up for sale, the fact remains, most Sellers are NOT prepared for their close-up.

However, when Buyers come in to a house, they notice EVERYTHING – and they do get Close-up. They notice not only the floor-plan, but how well cared for the house is. They notice smells. They look at grout, window tracks, windows, sinks, toilets, carpet stains, caulking in the tubs or showers – and if there is mildew, dirt, or debris, the assumption is that the house is not well-maintained. This causes a Buyer to be hesitant about purchasing a house – because they assume that they may have deeper issues to deal with should they purchase a house that is not “Show Ready.”

Why aren’t Sellers ready for their Close-up?

In most cases, it’s because Sellers believe that their house is “fine the way they have lived in it” – and don’t fully understand the WHY behind prepping it for the Buyer.

In other cases, the Seller allows emotions to cloud the need for prepping their house – feeling slighted or insulted when suggestions regarding cleanliness or de-cluttering are made.

And in some cases, it’s because the people involved in helping sell the house lacked the courage to tell the Seller the truth about their house.

Telling the Truth can be Tough

It can be tough to tell someone the truth – but are we truly helping a Seller when we refrain from letting them know about key issues or concerns we KNOW will impact the Sale?

NO. We have an obligation to help Sellers – and the key is to use proper timing and couch it in kindness. This is where someone that is trained to handle Sellers – stands out from those that use criticism and sarcasm (like on television) to tell the “truth.”

How do we get a Seller ready for their Close-Up?

Sellers need an HONEST assessment of their house – and independent third party that is able to be subjective in the house and come up with a plan of action for the Seller.

Sellers need to be willing to implement the independent suggestions – in order to make their house appealing to ALL Buyers.

Where do Sellers get an Honest Assessment?

Sellers can hire a professional Home Stager who will come in and prepare a detailed Home Staging Plan – that addresses how to prep the house room by room, inside and outside. The Home Stager can also help implement the Staging Plan based on how much time and effort the Seller has.

The best place to locate an individual who can provide accurate recommendations is through the directory of professionally trained Home Stagers.

Clean is a Relative Term

We need to help Sellers put aside their feelings and realize that Clean is a relative term. But when it comes to Selling, there must be a high standard of CLEAN applied to the house, and a Seller that truly wants to sell will be willing to put added effort into the preparation of their house so that the house stands up to the highest level of Cleanliness.

How much does it Cost?

Typically, a Home Staging Plan ranges from $150-$450 nationwide for an average size house (2,000-2,500 square feet), and is based on the size of the house and the time it takes to prepare the Plan.

Hands-on Staging could be an additional $200-$2,000 or more – again, depending on what is needed. What you want to stay away from is the “Stager” that tells you to remove everything from your house and replace it with trendy, costly decorations and furnishings – a tactic employed by those intent on Selling their “stuff” and not your house. Around the country, these “Stagers” charge in the tens-of-thousands of dollars to Stage a house – which is a disservice to Sellers.

Vacant houses do require a higher investment than when a Seller has things to work with in the house – furniture and décor. However, the statistics show that even having to rent furnishings and décor to Sell a house in most markets costs less than a price reduction.

Ask for Credentials and Insurance Policy

As a Seller – you can ask to see a Home Stager’s credentials – and ask them what they mean. An Accreditation is the highest form of training for the Home Staging industry. Only one reputable company offers this form of training, and is linked to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) to provide education on Home Staging. The Accredited Staging Professional® (ASP®) Course has been around for over 10 years and has nearly 40 years of experience behind it.

Also - be wary of Stagers on blog sites that have a lot of “points” – this does not make them an expert Stager – just someone that blogs a lot online. Think about it - if they are online blogging all the time they could not be “out there” actually Staging. Ask for references and referrals. A quality and qualified Stager will be able to produce both.

Lastly, make sure the Home Stager is INSURED. Without a valid insurance policy, YOU are at risk when you invite this person in to you house. If something is damaged or broken, and the Stager has no insurance policy, the repair costs will be on you.