By Jennie Norris, ASPM®, IAHSP®, Chairwoman, International Association of Home Staging Professionals®, President & CEO of Stagedhomes.com, and Owner of Sensational Home Staging – We Stage Colorado
Real estate agents are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. Some Agents invest their own dollars to prepare and market properties, paying for services on behalf of their seller to ensure the house is ready for buyers to see prior to hitting the market. One of the key value-added services is home staging. Statistics provided by both The Profile of Home Staging (NAR®) and The 2020 Home Staging Industry Report (IAHSP®) both share staged houses sell for up to 20% more than the non-staged competition. Sellers need to make sure their house is show ready and throughout the years, the home staging industry members have seen a steady increase in the number of agents providing this as part of the marketing services to prepare and successfully sell a property.
Realtors hire a professional home stager to provide a staging consultation for the sellers where they receive detailed information on what to do room by room to prepare their house for sale. A consultation costs about $250-$500 around the country and agents consider it part of their marketing strategy and pay for it on behalf of the seller. When compared to other services agents will often pay for to prepare and sell the house, such as carpet cleaning, window cleaning, professional house cleaning, landscape clean up, photography and virtual tours, staging is a the only service done in preparation of the house for sale that bring measurable value proven by the statistical surveys conducted by NAR® and IAHSP®.
But what happens if the property needs more than a consultation? Many houses need the addition of furniture and décor brought into empty rooms in a house or added to supplement homeowner’s items to fill the gaps and provide a more updated look for buyers. Sellers may not have the available cash flow to pay for professional staging, so agents are offering to pay for the hands-on staging and inventory fees because they know the staging will help the house sell faster and at the best price. It is a win-win for the agent-seller team.
The challenge is the market can be unpredictable. A Realtor is not in charge of the market and cannot guarantee a house will sell in a certain timeframe, although they approach every listing with the strategy of getting the house under contract quickly. There are external factors that impact the market including interest rates, the economy and other properties that are for sale. When a REALTOR® offers to pay for staging services, they need to make sure to protect their commission and offer creative solutions to their sellers.
Here are seven tips to keep in mind when incorporating home staging into your listing process and protect your commission:
1. Get an estimate for the staging BEFORE you establish your commission.
The Staging should be an add-on service that is covered by the commission. If you don’t get a price first and then agree to lower your commission in order to secure a listing, you are now receiving less money for the sale. Most agents who incorporate this strategy of paying for staging use the staging as a way to validate being paid MORE than another agent who is not bringing staging to the table. Depending on what pricing you received from the stager, you would increase your commission percentage by 0.25 or 0.5% to pay for the initial Staging and could increase by 1% or more if the house is luxury property. In most markets, this small increase in commission earned will cover the initial Staging investment. Contact your stager to get a price for staging the main rooms of the house and use that as a guideline when negotiating your commission.
2. Do not pressure your stager for “the price” to stage when they have not seen the property yet.
You want to know what the costs will be to determine how you will structure your commission but a stager usually needs to see the house to provide you with accurate pricing and this is ideally done in person but can also be done using photos. An experienced stager can give a price “range” – but even with that it could be inaccurate when they have not really seen the house. Some stagers provide pricing based on list price, square footage or number of rooms being staged, and with this type of pricing, you need to ensure you are getting the appropriate style, volume of furnishings, and quality that is appropriate for the type of property you are listing. When an agent does not get an accurate estimate, they risk their commission because they do not own the staging business and do not know how a stager prices their services. When the Stager provides the estimate, the listing agent can be in a tough position because they agreed to pay for services that are more than planned. This means the Staging could be scaled back, or the agent has to pay more than planned. Getting the estimate UP FRONT before negotiating commission ensures agents do not end up getting less than they deserve for selling the house.
3. Make sure to cap the amount you are contributing toward the Staging.
If furniture and décor are provided, there can be an ongoing fee paid for inventory supply or rental. The items ideally need to stay in place until the house is under contract and it is safe to remove. This could be in a month or it could be several months after the initial staging, and when an agent does not cap the amount they are contributing, the ongoing inventory use fee is added to the amount paid by the agent, which means you are making less and less commission. You are not able to re-negotiate your commission at this point, and so the ongoing fees are coming out of your earnings. This could add up to thousands of dollars, and when the seller is benefitting the most from the sale, they need to be the ones paying for the ongoing staging investment.
4. Share what, if anything, you are willing to pay toward the staging and put it in writing.
What we recommend is you share with the seller, “I will contribute up to $___ towards the Staging, and then any fees beyond that will be your responsibility.” If the seller is not able to pay up front, you can share, “I will cover the costs associated with the initial staging and will be reimbursed at the successful close.” There is a risk involved as the client could decide to cancel the listing. Make sure to protect your money in the agreement sharing, “If for any reason the house is removed from active listing or other changes occur (you) will be paid in full for the Staging investment paid on behalf of (client).”
When you are willing to pay a portion of the staging, ideally have the seller pay up front and you reimburse them at the successful close for what you want to contribute. “I will pay $___ towards the staging cost and it will be paid to you at the successful close of the sale.” That is the ideal scenario as you are not having to come out of pocket for any of the staging service, and if anything happens to the client or sale, you are not risking leaving money behind. If you just want to provide a consultation, you would share, “I pay for the services of a professional staging consultation where you will receive detailed recommendations on what to do to prepare your house for sale. Any additional staging services would be paid by you.” Always make sure the terms are in writing in your contract and clearly understood by the homeowners.
5. Do not quote pricing for the staging unless you received pricing from your stager.
Your clients may ask what the staging will cost, and if you have not received proposals and pricing for staging, please do not guess at what you think it should be. You may end up setting false expectations for the sellers, and the pricing could be way off – either too low or too high. There are other factors to consider with the staging, and it is best to put the emphasis on the results they want versus putting the focus on the price. Lastly, let the Stager negotiate any price adjustments and be the one to explain the services and how they work. One key point to share is, “The investment in Staging is always less than a price reduction or a lower starting price.” And Staging is a tax write deduction (IRS Publication 523) and a price reduction or lower starting price is a loss of equity.
6. Always quantify the value of any services you are paying for on behalf of the Seller so they understand upfront your commitment and contribution to help them sell their property.
When a person gets things for free, it is human nature to not really assign any value to the service or item and a nonchalant attitude seems to prevail. Let them know you are investing in the sale of their house – give them the value – and reinforce your quality reputation and standards. This applies for staging and any other preparation services such as cleaning, carpet cleaning, window washing, landscape touch up, photography and virtual tours. When there is no value, there is no appreciation or understanding of the benefits you are providing versus other agents.
7. Be creative with options for staging and needed home improvements and connect with companies that provide this service.
There are companies, such as ZoomCasa,that will pay for any improvements needed for a property and require the house to be staged. They pay for all the services up front and get reimbursed with an added fee for loaning the funds. They evaluate the property, make sure there is enough equity or margin in the sale to cover all the closing costs, agent commissions, their fees, and provide all the financial resources for whatever work needs to be done prior to listing. Your professional stager will be vetted by them in advance and can share the names and contacts for the company. This option helps protect and preserve your and your sellers’ money as you are not having to put out any up front for the prep and staging of the property. If you decide to contribute a portion toward the staging, you can put that in your contract and have it paid at closing. One of the great aspects of this program is the companies providing the services to repair, remodel, improve and stage the house are paid when they do the work and do not have to wait for the house to close. You won’t have to ask anyone to wait to be paid, which can be a hardship for these affiliate companies.
Use these 7 Tips to help you protect your income while being seen as a Realtor that does more for your sellers than the average agent. Staging adds value to the sale and it should not break your bank.
Want to know the 2020 Statistics for Home Staging?
Go to www.HomeStagingStats.com and download our 34 page report with statistics on vacant, occupied, regular priced, and luxury priced properties, plus infographics on the process for consultations to help you better educate your clients.
About the author: Jennie Norris has been staging professionally since 2002, and to date she has Staged over 5,400 properties. She has yet to meet a house she could not help and she stages all properties from modest to multi-million dollar. Jennie runs the world’s largest home staging industry trade association, and the largest real estate home staging training company. She is passionate about the industry she serves and is committed to helping partner in education with real estate agents, sellers, builders and investors. Jennie resides in Littleton, CO with her family.