Cindy Lin, Founder, Staged4more

Hi, Welcome to Our School of Home Staging!

After a successful, 12+ years run as a home staging company in San Francisco Bay Area, STAGED4MORE is now an online school that focuses on home staging education for home stagers, home sellers and real estate agents.

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Don’t Get Screwed, Here is How to Vet and Hire the Right Home Stager

Don’t Get Screwed, Here is How to Vet and Hire the Right Home Stager

On today’s episode, I talked about some recent issues I’ve observed from a lot of new home stagers entering the market without proper business training, and what are some of the right questions homeowners and real estate agents can ask to make sure they are hiring someone who is a professional home stager that will be ethical and do a great job to help them sell the property.


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TODAY’S SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Hey guys! Welcome back!

Today’s episode is sponsored by EcoJoe, the eco-friendly St Joseph statue home selling kit. In real estate, there is a tradition to pray and bury Saint Joseph statue in your yard for good luck in selling your home. And we had designed and made an eco-friendly one that is made with 100% clay. You can find our EcoJoe products at www.ecojoekits.com.

If you are a home stager or a home design professional listening to this show, don’t forget, the registration for our November Napa Valley retreat is closing. You can find more information on our website as well.

On today’s show, this is a bit of a sensitive topic, especially it has to do with a lot of new home stagers entering into the industry, but I feel like it is something that needs to be said and addressed, especially for those of you who are homeowners and listening to our show. I feel very passionate and strongly about the industry moving forward in a positive direction. I also don’t want to discourage any new stagers who are listening to this show, because we all have to get started somewhere, but some of the ways people are going about it can actually be detrimental to our industry.

I think it’s a problem when new stagers coming in the industry and have zero training. They don’t necessary have to get home staging trainings like Accredited Staging Professionals or Certified Staging Professionals, or whatever alphabet soup they can get behind their names. But not having a business sense and a strong sense of ethics and business practice, it is a problem. It is not only a problem for other stagers working in their areas, it can be a huge one for the consumers.

I have been in the business for close to a decade and I have seen a lot of stagers come and go. I have seen people price themselves out of the business by undercutting in pricing and offer poor quality staging, because they were eager to get the projects and the only way they could was undercutting other professional stagers. It is a very unhealthy business practice. I have also seen other professionals like cleaners offering staging services for $200 for an entire 3-bedroom house. And the home sellers think they are getting a great deal, instead, they get a few fake plants on the countertop for $200. Unfortunately a lot of times, home sellers don’t know what they are exactly paying for, so they just thought, oh okay, I’m paying for staging here. As long as it is staged then it’s fine, so the quality of the staging is judged by pricing instead of the portfolio. It is actually a huge disservice for the homeowners.

I get emails all the time from people who are getting into the industry and asking for advice. Which is fine, I’m all about paying it forward and trying to help a new stager as much as I can, because I was once new in the industry. But I am getting a lot of inquiries from people who are looking to enter into the industry without learning how to run a business or how to stage homes properly, and just want a shortcut and free information without investing in their business. And sometimes these encounters feel like hit and run, because I’d spend time that I could be doing work or hanging out with my family on answering these emails, and people don’t even say thank you. So I do get a little worried for these clients that they would be working with. This is something I’ve personally experienced, and some of them have been a bit unpleasant. I am also not alone in it, since I talk to stagers around the country regularly and other senior stagers have also experienced this.

I have also encountered home sellers who have been burned with unethical stagers, which turned the homeowners against the idea of staging. And that’s heartbreaking to see, because they really needed to stage their house. But because they had a bad experience working with a stager, they feel that it is something they don’t ever want to do again.

So on today’s show, I’m going to talk about how to vet a home stager, and questions to ask to make sure you hire someone who is legit and will do a great job for you.

SO HOW DO YOU FIND A HOME STAGER?

You can ask your real estate agent, who may have someone they work with regularly, or someone they found online or by asking around in their office. You can find them yourself, usually by Googling or checking Yelp or social networks like Houzz. Before you meet them, you can usually get a good gauge of their style and the way they conduct their business on their websites. You can also check out their portfolio to get a sense of what type of homes they usually work with, what kind of staging that they do. It is important that you hire a stager that will be able to deliver the lifestyle your target buyers want to buy into. Staging is about creating a lifestyle that buyers want, not necessary what you personally like.

You may also know someone in your social circle who does staging here and there and will do it cheap for you. I hear that a lot actually. I still remember once I was depositing a check, the bank teller told me, “oh yeah, I occasionally stage people’s houses for fun.” You want to keep in mind that you need someone who is really going to accentuate the positive of your house and someone whose work will really help you sell. Don’t leave money on the table just because you wanted to save a few bucks. So choose the most qualified person for the job that you think will be able to target your home buyers. The ideal stager for you will be someone who is experienced, knows your market, can answer all your questions, addresses your concerns and acts in an ethical manner.

SO HERE ARE A FEW QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO VET POTENTIAL HOME STAGERS:

1) How many projects have you worked on?
Are those projects done by you as a lead or while you are assisting a stager?

This is a bit of gray area here. I know some stagers let their assistants use the work they assisted on as their work, but some are not. I used to let assistants use my photos as part of their portfolio for them to get styling work, but I no longer do because there are a lot of gray areas there. First, someone who see those photos, without explanations, they will assume that the whole thing is done by the assistant. It can be very misleading for the consumers. My assistants, when they are on site, they clean, steam the bedspreads and make beds. They don’t really participate in any styling decision. So for them to use the photos as part of their portfolio like they have styled it, it can be misleading for their potential new clients. Second, I’ve been burnt by unethical assistants, so I stopped letting my assistants use any of the photos that they have assisted on.

I had an assistant who worked for me for 5 months. I had to let her go because she worked for a client of mine behind my back and then got really drunk at a client’s party where the client had to call for a ride for her. And then 6 months later when I went on her website, I saw my own portfolio photos with watermark cropped off on her website and the descriptions of her involvement was she was a stylist on the job, which was a very eye-opening experience. And on her LinkedIn profile, she gave herself a raised and said she was a stylist and home stager while working at our company.

For anyone who have been on project sites, they can easily talk a good game and tell you what they did and why they did it, even when they are assisting someone.

So you want to ask specific questions to try to see if their stories match up. Or if something strikes you as kind of odd, like when you look at their portfolio photos online and they are all in weird shapes, not the regular 4×6, chances are they had copied and pasted someone else’s work and claimed as their own. Unfortunately this happened more often than we would like to see. I have also had this happened where a new stager who had gone through one of a major home staging training school, who copied my entire website’s color scheme, my business name and my tagline word for word. So sometimes by just looking at their websites and portfolio is not enough.

2) You want to ask questions about their business practice, like how do they charge, what kind of pricing package they offer, how do they bill, etc.

My staging company is very transparent about it. I put it all on our website. There is no reason not to be transparent about the business practice. I even put what company processes our credit card payments on our website. Once someone has been in the business for awhile, they should know their numbers very well. It is their livelihood. They may not be able to give you a specific number right on the spot, like me, I can’t do math on the spot anymore. But they should be able to tell you roughly a ballpark for pricing or how long it will take to stage your property, etc.

3) What neighborhood do you primarily work in?
Have you done a project like my house before? Can I see sample photos?

I am a firm believer of niche selling, especially in real estate. I have never met a top producer who does everything under the sun. They always specialize in something, usually a neighborhood or a price point like the luxury market. Once they have developed teams, then they will take on a wide range of projects because they can delegate to other team members who specialize in that niche. I am the stager who specialize in staging houses that are starter home, under 2,400 square feet. While I can do big projects like 5,000 square feet one, it will be more expensive for me to take on those projects because I need more lead time to get the right inventory for you since I personally don’t stock bigger furnishings.

4) What is included in your pricing package?
Can you tell me a little bit more about the way you stage houses?

I believe that as a business owner, when a potential new client questions your business practice and how you price your packages, you should be able to stand behind your pricing decision and prove that you are not making numbers up in your head and slap it on a proposal. I had actually blogged about this on my home staging blog. Generally it takes about 75 hours per project for an average 2-3 bedroom house in San Francisco bay area, give or take 5-10 hours. So if the client comes back from the proposal wanting to shave off the price, I can come back and tell them either we can change some of the planned pieces, downgrade, or we can’t do it at all. It is the same with my design decisions.

5) Do you work full time or part time as a home stager?

I included this question because I feel that it is important to talk about how seriously someone takes their business. I know the number of hours per week you work doesn’t determine how successful you are as a business owner. But have you ever watched Shark Tank? They added Ashton Kutcher this season which I thought was very fascinating. Anyway, they always turned down business owners who still have a day job. When you are part timing, it is difficult to run a business full time and concentrate your effort. I also know this because for a period of a year and a half, I was doing a lot of freelancing work on top of running a home staging business. I was burning on both ends, and it can be a lot and very distracting. If I didn’t have a team during that time, I would not have been able to do it.

6) What kind of experiences do you have? 

More experience and education typically make better professionals. This is not to alienate newbies, because I was once a newbie, but the longer someone has worked in the field, the more situations or ideas they would have to problem solve. Experiences is an important consideration, especially if you have tricky floor plans. A good stager will know how to troubleshoot that.

Picking the right stager for your home is an important decision. I know it’s very tempting to get three proposals and pick the lowest prices. You also want to take into consideration the quality of the inventory, their portfolio and their experiences. It is your home’s equity on the line, so you want to make sure you are hiring the best qualified professional for your home.

So that’s it for today’s show! Thank you so much for listening! If you enjoy today’s episode, please leave us a review and a rating on iTunesSoundcloud, or Stitcher. As usual, feel free to ask any questions on the show notes or our private Facebook group. You can find the show notes by going to www.staged4more.com/podcast. That’s is, have a wonderful week and happy staging!

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