How Much Should A New Home Stager Charge?
If you’re new to home staging, or are considering home staging as a career path for the first time, you’ve likely been wondering how much a new home stager should charge.
I receive so many emails like this one from new home stager Kathryn:
I’m very grateful to have found your website. I’m very new at staging. A month ago I did some light staging for a friend of a friend who is a broker. It was a 3 bedroom/2 bathroom vacant condo. I had so much fun (it was a complementary job). Yesterday she called to refer me to a friend broker of hers for a 4 bedroom/2 bathroom soon-to-be-vacated home double the price of the previously mentioned condo. I think this one will entail more staging as far as the bigger furniture I didn’t do on the first one.
I’m excited, but feeling some fears if I can really do this. I also haven’t purchased any inventory (outside of a few items from the first condo), so this will be a big jump financially to purchase the furniture and use movers, etc.
My question is, as a beginner, I’m not sure what I should charge, how flexible I should be, and how much investment is wise at the beginning as I don’t want to waste money I don’t have. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much for your time!
To Kathryn, and anyone new to home staging, I’d kick off my reply by saying there’s no specific dollar amount for how much a new home stager should charge.
There’s lots you can consider to help you decide how much to charge as a new home stager, and I’m breaking everything down here to help answer one of my most frequently asked questions; “How much should a new home stager charge?”
Let’s dive in!
1. DON’T EVER OFFER YOUR HOME STAGING SERVICES FOR FREE
You can’t command the price you want if you are giving it all away for free (or next to nothing). The issue with working for very little monetary compensation is that you won’t be able to sustain yourself and your business in the long term. You’ll get bitter about how little money you’re making. You’ll get stressed that you’re not making enough income to support yourself. You won’t be able to grow your business.
It is more difficult to raise your home staging prices later.
If you are planning on charging the rate you really want after offering home staging for free, it will be a significant price increase the next time you do the project for the same client.
Let’s say you charge $10 now (for easy math — that’s not what you should be charging), and eventually you want to charge $150 per hour. How will you make the jump from charging $10 to $150 per hour? Clients are sensitive to major price changes, and this is a big jump! On average, people receive about a 4-5% bump when they get a raise. Anything more than that, and, frankly, the clients will walk (trust me, I learned that the hard way!)
If you don’t charge a rate that’s on par with the market average now, you won’t be able to charge a rate you want in the future. Once your business starts to grow, it will be a significant price increase the next time you do another project for the same client. Plus, working for free is not a sustainable business model. Imagine you purchased inventory for home staging jobs you did for free (i.e. money out of your pocket)... Offering your staging services for free is not a solid foundation on which to build a profitable home staging business.
Home staging tip: People will always call you to see if you will stage for free for any business opportunity, exposure, charity, blah, blah, blah. DON’T. Even when HGTV comes calling or asks for a discount. Clients always want to pay the least amount of money possible. It is your job to defend your pricing.
I will take on projects with a pay cut if I think I can use it to boost my portfolio. If there is a unique project — like when I was approached to design and install holiday decorations for the San Francisco Union Square Ice Rink — I will take a pay cut. The decision to reduce your fee for a project should always be an exception, not the rule. I NEVER work for free and you shouldn’t either.
2. BUYING HOME STAGING INVENTORY IS NECESSARY (EVEN IF IT’S SCARY)
I was very scared when I first started my home staging business and I was not sure if I should buy inventory. My mom (who had her own dental practice), however, was very decisive about it. She was quick to advise me that a home staging inventory is a tool to generate business and I had to invest in an inventory if this was the type of business I wanted.
3. WHEN YOU START TO INVEST IN A STAGING INVENTORY, INVEST WISELY
Okay, so here’s the thing: what kind of stager do you want to be?
I used to want to stage these giant, grand projects all the time in this town called Hillsborough, where homes start at $1.5M. In fact, I even had it on my vision board. The catch? When I started getting booked for those Hillsborough projects, I realized I actually didn’t enjoy doing larger projects.
From the moment I decided on my home staging niche, I was able to be very specific about the type of inventory I bought, which subsequently lowered my cost of doing business.
My warehouse is set up for storing smaller furniture for the starter home market. A market where I can have a faster turn around, buy smaller and less expensive pieces, and turn over more projects. So, I got clear on what type of home staging business I wanted. I now only do projects within a certain square footage. Consequently, my business boomed after I chose my niche of the starter home market. I’m no longer wasting my time on appointments with clients that are not a good fit for me, have little chance of getting, and are a major time and money suck.
4. DON’T PUT YOURSELF IN SIGNIFICANT DEBT WITHOUT HAVING A SOUND BUSINESS FIRST
Debt is healthy for any business, however, I will never advise you to put yourself in debt (especially in the early years of your home staging career, before you have a sound business).
Home staging tip: I still remember this very clearly. A stager who was going out of business called me and wanted to see if I was interested in buying her inventory. She had racked up $40,000 in credit card bills and had done zero jobs as a home stager for 1 year. I didn’t buy any inventory until I got the deposit payment for my first job, then I went shopping.
5. BE SMART ABOUT HOW YOU INVOICE YOUR STAGING CLIENTS, FROM DAY 1
As a new stager, you’ll spend a good amount of time figuring out what works for you. But, you should still have a baseline for the minimum you want to make per staging project and what your professional policies are. As you build your home staging business, you will be charging on the lower end of the spectrum. Once you start building up your client base, then you can adjust your pricing and policies accordingly.
Regardless of your hourly rate, bill for everything and everyone that is involved in your business. For example, if your friend helped you out on the job for free, still bill for their assistance in your fee.
Home staging tip: Bill for free help. Let’s say you didn’t bill your client for your friend’s help. When you are hiring actual assistants who are billing you for the day, and expect payment, you will have to add that into your pricing. This can become a significant increase for your clients, which may cause you to lose them for bumping up your pricing too quickly.
Side note: Clients won’t care that it’s a tough economy and you’ve got to pay rent. They just care about the money they need to pay you. So make price increases as painless and transparent as possible to your clients, and raise prices in increments. SMALL increments.
6. DECIDE WHAT TYPE OF HOME STAGING BUSINESS YOU WANT
You should also try to figure out what kind of home staging business model you want.
There are stagers who have a warehouse and inventory, like mine. There are stagers who have bigger business operations, who own trucks, have a whole crew and a million dollars worth of inventory. There are also stagers who only do redesign projects or consultations. So, decide what kind of stager you want to be. This will help you determine how much to invest in your staging business.
When you carry inventory, you will need storage and movers. There is no escaping this. If you don’t want to deal with that, look into renting or only doing consultations or redesign work where you won’t need to carry inventory (at least big pieces anyway).
Now back to the original question…
How much can you charge for home staging?
While there’s no hard and fast rule to pricing (I know, I hate that too), here are three key questions I use to figure out my pricing:
What are my hard costs? (Materials, movers, etc.)
What would I like to make on each job? (% of profits? $X per project?)
What are the people in the market roughly charging? Can I stand behind my pricing? Does my pricing make sense? Am I undercutting the market? Will I be able to support myself on this income?
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF MY ADVICE? DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING TO ADD? SHARE IN THE COMMENT SECTION BELOW — I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Looking to start your own home staging business?
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Whether you’re brand new to the business or have a few years under your belt, 6-Figure Floor Plan will push and challenge you to go to the next level.
Think of this course as a giant Q&A session. This course is designed to build and refine your business systems and strategies that take the kinks and guesswork out of creating a profitable, book solid home staging business.