Staging Luxury Homes: an Interview with Edi Keech
This interview originally aired as a podcast episode. If you would prefer to listen, you can find it here.
Cindy: Edi, thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about your business and what your real estate market is like?
Edi: My business is called Staging Puget Sound. Puget Sound is the greater Seattle area. I have been in business for about a decade, staging in different degrees for that time. I started out assisting another established stager, and learned a lot of what to do and what not to do from working with that person. Finally, after about nine months, I started to get projects on my own.
I do predominantly vacant staging, although I do a little bit of occupied homes, but most of my work is vacant staging. I have a 4,000 square foot warehouse. I can do up to about 25 homes simultaneously.
Cindy: You have such an interesting background throughout the years. Can you tell us a little about the services that you provide? I know you also have a background as an architect.
Edi: I use the fact that I have a degree in architecture to great advantage. I have a group of about 20 realtors and investors that most of my work is generated from.
Over time, I have made arrangements with the investors so that as soon as they get a property, they invite me to come and look at it, and I give them my opinion on what things they need to develop or change from an architect’s point-of-view. They have lots of experience in finishes and fixtures, and all of that, but if they’re going to rearrange any of the walls, or anything within the structure, I provide that as part of my service.
As soon as they call me, we have a tentative staging agreement, not with amounts, but they guarantee that when they’re finished, I will be their stager.
Cindy: How long did it take you to get this group of consistent clientele?
Edi: It’s really funny. When I started, there is a company here that works with the foreclosure auctions. The company is a group of realtors and they train people how to purchase in the foreclosure auctions, so I went and introduced myself at the beginning of their meeting and got a lot of foreclosure investors.
Over time, I gradually raised my prices and those folks kind of fell away, except for the high-level. I worked with a couple of luxury realtors and then, it’s just word-of-mouth. Some of the firms, the different real estate companies, have a preferred list of people, and I’ve gotten onto those preferred lists. That’s really been the most productive way for me.
Cindy: Was it difficult for you to get out of the foreclosure market and move into a luxury market? Where it’s a much higher profit margin and you can afford to do smaller volumes?
Edi: There were about two years when I was trying to move from one type of client to the other, where I actually turned down work because I didn’t want to keep working with the really low-ball investors. Not have a lot of work, and to be turning down high-volume, low income work, but it’s necessary if you really want to switch from investor to luxury. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I finally managed to do it.
Cindy: When you do a lot of certain types of project — let’s say you do all foreclosures — you, in a sense, get typecast as the type of stager who does the starter-home market, or the foreclosure market. How did you manage to make that transition into luxury market?
Edi: I looked up properties in my area that were for sale at a certain price point or above, and made a note of who the realtor on those projects was, and I targeted those realtors. I just went to talk to them. Every time I did a really wonderful project, I would just email them the link to that project, so they could look at the work that we had done. I picked who I was marketing to very selectively. It was a very narrow funnel.
Cindy: When you take on a new staging project, how do you decide what will work for the home? Is your approach different between vacant and occupied home staging projects?
Edi: It’s pretty easy for me, because I’ve purchased everything that I own in my warehouse. It’s not like some people who are stagers, who work with a rental company or work for someone as a stager. I stand in the space. I get an essence of each room. I take photographs, and then I know which of the things that I own are going to look good in the space, going to be the right style.
Proportion is really, really important. So many people in occupied stages have huge pieces of comfortable furniture, that just make everything look small. Knowing how to select a focal point, and then emphasize it is really important. I don’t have necessarily a checklist. This is one of the reasons why, unlike some of my colleagues, I insist that I go and preview walk the space myself, before I come up with pricing.
Cindy: When it comes to starter homes and luxury homes, do you approach them differently, because of their price point, or is it about the same process for you?
Edi: The process is the same. The product, what I put in, is different. Luxury homes also tend to be much more expansive, many more rooms. What we’re trying to do is define how someone might live there. How they might use that space. It’s easier to do that in a starter home, because they tend to have sometimes not even an entryway, a living room, an eating space in the kitchen, a master bedroom, a hall bath, a master bath.
The process that I go through, previewing it, working up a quote, then I email that off, and then, we go through the whole process. That’s the same for a luxury property. I have a questionnaire that I submit to the realtor and the homeowner of a luxury property that asks if there are any specific aspects of room that they want shown. Sometimes the big room in the basement, they want that shown as a media room.
In smaller properties, I do not afford the client or the realtor the option as to how it’s presented, because they’re pretty straightforward. For luxury properties, I do allow and encourage input from my realtor and my homeowner.
Cindy: In your experience, what are some common misunderstandings about home staging?
Edi: I think the biggest one is that people think home staging is decorating, when it’s really visual marketing. I tell people we’re not decorating your home. It’s visual marketing. We are defining the space. We are creating a feeling of what the essence of living there would be, and I try to select an accent color and have it flow throughout the house, so that one room isn’t green, and one room isn’t red. When I explain this to them, that it’s visual marketing, they get it.
They think when you see the shows on HGTV and there’s the reveal, everyone is like, oh, that’s so beautiful, you decorated it so nicely. I’m sorry, I’m not a decorator. I’m there to sell the place, not have everybody go, “Oh, look at that piece of art.”
I try very hard to not have anything be too spectacular, or too bland. There’s a middle of the road that’s really important. Once people understand that I’m helping the realtor market their project, it’s much easier. I think that’s the biggest thing that people need to understand about staging, that’s not discussed.
Cindy: I’m really glad that you brought that up, because I think it’s really not talked about enough. A lot of times, most sellers just think that home staging is a way to make a house look pretty, and there’s really nothing else that gets involved to it.
Edi: There can be aspects of a home that are beautiful to look at, that you want to show off, and you don’t want to bring in too many things to draw the eye down to whatever staging item you’ve brought in. You want to have people feel and look around the whole space. I’m thinking of some of the houses I’ve done, that have beautiful wood on the ceilings, either beams or just an entire wood ceiling, equally beautiful wood floors. I try not to bring in too many carpets, not to bring anything that is too dramatic, so that you get the whole essence of the space and appreciate the beautiful finish of the ceiling and the floor, and not cover it up and have people concentrate just on an item of inventory that you brought in. I want them to feel the space.
Cindy: What is your one top tip that you would give to home sellers when it comes to staging your house?
Edi: Actually, it’s three sentences. Number one, use a professional, don’t call up your next door neighbor’s cousin, who happens to have some extra furniture that she’s trying to get rid of. Use a professional. Number two, invest in your marketing. You have to spend a little money to make a little money and investing in your marketing is an important thing for a home seller to understand. Number three, trust your stager. They know what they’re doing. They are a professional. Don’t try to micromanage them. Let them do what they’re good at.
I loved chatting with Edi, and I hope that you learned a lot too!
Did you learn anything new about staging luxury homes?
Let me know in the comments below!
Edi Keech is uniquely both a graduate architect and an award-winning home stager, with over 40 years’ design experience, located in the Seattle area. Her many talents, education and experience elevate her as one of the most gifted and prominent home stagers & interior stylists in the industry. She trained at Syracuse University and the Architectural Association in London. Her design portfolio includes commercial properties in Philadelphia, offices in California, and innumerable private homes throughout the United States.
Throughout the greater Puget Sound, Edi works with homeowners, realtors and investors to provide extraordinary visual marketing & design for each and every project, be it house, condo, apartment or manufactured home.