When you walk into your local grocery or convenience store, every square inch of that space is planned, designed, and maintained perfectly. Real estate is expensive, and these stores have to squeeze as much profit as possible out of every customer they come across.

Signage is planned out to showcase deals, sales, and discounts. You’re pushing a cart you feel obligated to fill while walking past overpriced items to get your essentials like milk and eggs. Even waiting in the checkout line, you’re bombarded with impulse purchases and asked at every step if you want to give money to this or that.

Obviously, you don’t want to be this in-your-face inside a home, but your attention to detail needs to be the same. The way your home looks matters in whether it’ll sell (as well as for how much). Research shows staged homes spend 73% less time on the market and sell for 20% higher.

Nobody is going to buy a house with stained carpets, boxes piled everywhere and dirty dishes in the sink. You want every potential buyer to feel like they’re already at home. You put on a suit to go to a job interview. You clean up before someone comes over, so they see your home at its best. You need to make your house presentable while on the market too.

Of course, this is easier said than done.

You can’t have a turkey roasting in the oven every night in hopes that someone will come over. Placing plants around the house means you need to take care of them daily. Maintaining your home is part of a routine, and you can quickly waste money creating bigger problems.

Here’s what you need to know about the real costs of real estate staging.

What Is Home Staging?

What is house staging?

There are two versions of your home – there’s the way it looks when people come over and the way it looks when you’re living in it. Staging your home involves arranging and decorating to put your best foot forward and make your home appeal to the most people possible. For example, if you have a library with shelves, books are a simple addition.

Most apartment complexes and subdivisions maintain a “model home.” This acts as a showroom for potential buyers to represent what their actual home would look like. It’s handy when you’re selling in bulk, but most homeowners don’t own enough property to keep an empty model on hand for buyers. You must work with what you have.

Home staging is done all over the world, and the home-staging market is a big business in the U.S. You’ve likely seen TV shows featuring home staging, like Flipping Out, House Doctor, and Sell This House. Sophisticated companies grew at the turn of the century and formed the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP).

A house is a major transaction for the buyer and seller, and in today’s market, sellers are making great margins when selling. Prices vary on the size and price of your home – it’s more expensive to make a 10-bedroom mansion look good than a one-room trailer – but expect to pay up to 2% of your home’s sell price.

While you can find a cheap home stager, it behooves you (and your bottom line) to get a professional. The National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Home Staging Report estimates the average cost at $450. You’ll need anywhere from $250-$1000 for the initial consultation, and the home staging costs vary wildly.

To really get an idea of the costs, let’s dig into what specifically a home stager does.

Small Changes Make a Big Impact

You already know to do basics like landscaping, cleaning, and repainting that giant red accent wall. Kiplinger has a fantastic list of all the bad impressions your home makes to potential buyers. Everything from popcorn ceilings to wall-to-wall carpeting turns buyers off to a house that may have worked for them otherwise.

Home stagers move beyond installing hardwood floors and add all the finishing touches you wanted while you lived there. Seriously, it’s not out of the ordinary for couples to feel strong emotions when seeing their home redesigned, especially when their own items are used.

Keep in mind staging is done more for fashion than function. 

Fresh linens and towels, even a change of curtains, can all make a difference in how inviting your home feels. Even scented plugins in each room can evoke emotions to put someone in the mood to buy.

What you’re paying a professional stager for is to understand and take care of these touches you would otherwise have missed.

But the lion’s share of the cost of home staging (outside keeping your utilities running) is the furniture.

The Real Costs of Staging Furniture for Home Selling

Much of the show Arrested Development takes place in a model home. It’s a running gag throughout the series in which nearly everything in the house is fake. With all the corners the Bluths cut in their corrupted real estate empire, what’s real (for the most part) is the furniture.

Even they understood the value of furniture.

Furniture makes a small room look bigger or an empty space feel fuller. It’s an easy way to label a room as a bedroom, den, or work area. It’s one of the first things a person notices when walking into a room, so it can make or break a sale.

Sometimes specialty furniture is used to create optical illusions.

For example, props departments often use an oversized couch/chair to make a person look smaller on camera. They also use miniature furniture to make a person look bigger. This type of thing is too complicated for the average person – you’re certainly not going to cut 2 inches off your couch with a hacksaw.

A professional real estate stager knows all the furniture rental places in town and can always come up with the perfect piece to transform any room. Sometimes this means putting a full-sized bed where you had a California King. Other times, it’s as simple as adding an end table with a candle or electric fireplace.

Which Rooms are Best to Stage?

The NAR’s 2019 report dives deep into how realtors, sellers, and buyers feel about home staging. The two rooms that are most often staged are the living room and kitchen. It’s because the living room is the first impression when walking into a home. It’s also the last place you see when leaving.

Much of your realtor’s conversation will happen in either the living room or the kitchen.

Kitchens and bathrooms are high on everyone’s list when shopping for a new home. It’s important that both rooms are made to look as big and luxurious as possible. Of course, whether you choose to stage your house or not, these are the first rooms to focus on cleaning every nook and cranny if you want your house to sell.

After that, the master bedroom and dining room are also high on the staging list.

The other bedrooms are less of a priority, since those typically aren’t seen until much later in the tour. Yards are less often handled by home stagers, but you do still need to consider landscaping. The beautifully staged inside will be missed if your house looks haunted from the outside because of overrun weeds and dead grass.

Work with a Realtor to Save Money

Real estate staging is a mature business these days, and it’s about more than just looks. Commercial real estate brokers, retailers, property management, and even your realtor all use stagers.

It may be tempting to let your real estate agent act as a home stager (or even do it yourself), but you really should work with him or her to hire a professional for your first time.

Because it’s commission-based, some realtors take on more than they can handle. He or she may be a fantastic marketer, negotiator, and salesperson, but that doesn’t translate to designing skills.

Your realtor doesn’t have to be a jack of all trades.

Realtors have connections everywhere, and part of what you’re paying a commission for is expert advice. Make sure you have a licensed realtor, accredited home appraiser, and an IAHSP-certified home stager. Underpaying your team may “save money,” but it isn’t where you save smart money.

Where you save smart money is in using your own furniture and items as much as possible. If you don’t already have a second house, your personal property will mostly be placed in storage. Moving is a great time to consider the condition of your furniture.

If it’s not presentable, that’s the first thing people will notice.

Instead of renting furniture, it may be more worthwhile to have your existing furniture reupholstered or replaced. Even if it costs as much upfront as renting furniture, at least when you’re done, you’ll have that new couch or chair you wanted.

The hard way to save money is to try doing it all yourself or by skipping house staging entirely.

The return on this investment is worth the extra cost.

Home stagers are designers who can explain to you the monetary value of their creative choices. They’re not worried about function, just making your home awe anyone who walks in to browse.