Start a Home Staging Business

How To Start a Home Staging Business (The Ultimate Guide)

First, read everything you can about staging. There are several great books available. My favourite is a book and DVD by Peggy Selinger-Eaton called Peggy’s Corner The Art of Staging. It shows her going into homes, figuring out what to do, making a pretty bed, etc. It is nice to see her in action, but if you’ve got experience moving things around until you have it “right,” decorating, or staging you may not need the DVD. The more you read, the better, since everyone explains things a little differently. And not all stagers agree on every single point, so you can pick and choose and have a great basis for your own staging bag-of-tricks.

Also, look at lots of houses for sale. Every time you see an open house, jump out of your car and take a look. It will help you sharpen your eye for real estate quickly.

You do not need to be certified (although our home staging certification courses are among the best recognized in the country and have helped hundreds of people start their own staging businesses). What you do need is to read, to practice, and to have confidence. Examine catalogues like Pottery Barn and Ikea. Ikea does some great living room and bedroom photos. They’re loaded with suggested activities, using a minimal amount of props. They also have good ideas for kids’ rooms. Familiarize yourself with the basic concepts of interior design. That will be covered in this guide.

The best quote I’ve heard lately about learning something new is this one from Mark Twain:

“The best way to learn to do things is to do things. The way to learn a trade is to work at it. Success teaches how to succeed. Begin with the determination to succeed, and the work is half done.”

So, read and then practice. Stage your own home, then do it again a little differently. Stage the homes of friends and relatives. You can do one room at a time since you’re doing this for practice to build confidence. And for the photos!

Make thorough before and after photos of every room you stage. You simply cannot take too many photos when starting a home staging business. Don’t be like so many of us who start something and then realize we forgot to get that crucial “before” picture.

First Steps to Starting a Home Staging Business

Get a business card made. You don’t have to have fancy graphics. Just make it simple and use a quality card stock. Spend the money
on a real print job rather than Kinko’s. If you don’t have a business name picked out, get a card with your name and what you do: “Home Staging Services” or “Home Staging Consultant.” Put your contact info as well as a tag line like “Staged homes sell faster and for more money.”

When you have a portfolio of before and after shots, you will be ready for more marketing materials. Start with a large postcard. I like these better than brochures because they’re more striking and I find them to be more versatile. You can fit a lot of text on the back.

Pick out one or two sets of your best before and after photos for the front. I like to use Modern Postcard since they will work with you whatever your computer design skill level may be, and they make top quality cards. You can opt for brochures if you prefer. But the postcards are flashier if you get nice large ones. In addition, you can mail them to the realty offices and they won’t have to open an envelope to see what you do, it’ll be right in front of them.

You will need to be insured. You can start off doing consulting only without the insurance, but when you’re doing actual work in clients’ homes moving items around, etc. you’ll want to be fully protected. If you’re leasing furniture and decorative items, you’ll need insurance for that as well. Some stagers count on the homeowner’s insurance coverage but I would not suggest that. Call the insurance agency that handles your current homeowners and/or auto insurance policies. Tell them what you do in your business and see if they can offer a suitable policy. Large companies most likely will be able to help you. If not, they can most likely tell you who to call.

If you’re running your home staging business as a sole proprietorship, you do not necessarily need a business license right away. However, they are not difficult or expensive to obtain. You can probably print out the application form from your city’s web site. If not, they often have a voice mail system you can navigate through where you can record your name and address so they can mail it.

Since you most likely are running the business from your home, you will need to make sure your county/city will allow home businesses. The rules vary. So far I haven’t heard of a jurisdiction that would not allow you to run your home staging business from home, but I cannot say that is true in every case. Some places allow you to run any legal home business you want as long as there is no traffic (customers, lots of deliveries) generated. Others would allow you to have clients come over but not more than 10 in a day. You won’t be seeing clients at your home, of course, but the point is that the rules are different everywhere.

Home staging should not present a problem as a home business, but find out the laws just so you know. However, I am not an authority on this matter I can only tell you what I have come across. Please check into your local ordinances.

You can set up a web site without too much trouble. If you have the budget to hire a designer to build you a custom site, go for it. I will discuss this in greater detail later on.

Getting Home Staging Customers

With business cards and postcards in hand, you’re ready to get out and introduce yourself.

Start out by watching the homes on the market for a while. Go to some open houses and check them out. If they could benefit from staging, tell the agent you’ll do it for nothing up-front and will accept payment only when the home closes. Agents do business this way often so they won’t be surprised. If they’re hesitant, start rattling off a few examples of what you think would help the home look more polished.

For example, if you have some ideas on opening up the kitchen, tell them. Don’t tell them exactly what you’ll do. Or you can say, “I see several problems that I can fix for you in two hours.” By all means, let them know you can help it sell faster and for a better price. Another option is to stage the home for free in exchange for a small display of your marketing materials on the kitchen counter or mantle.

Keep watching the market for homes that are just sitting there getting stale. Call the agent and tell them what you do. Say, “I noticed your house on 47th has been listed for more than six weeks, do you think it would benefit from staging?” and see what they say. Believe me, real estate agents are used to having to sell themselves. They won’t be bothered by your call since it’s the nature of the business for them.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to take photos of everything you do. Carry a book of your work around with you in your car or purse. You don’t need a fancy portfolio. A nice photo album with quality plastic sleeves will work fine. You can always upgrade later on if you wish. When you get testimonials, put them in the book, too.

When you’ve gotten used to dealing with the agents (and they usually have excellent “people- skills” so it should be a breeze), start calling realty offices. Ask the receptionist who to speak to about coming in to do a brief talk about staging for the agents. 15 minutes is all you need, and bring your photos and your postcards.

If you’re not up to doing a short talk yet, see if there is a time when you can come in and introduce yourself casually around the office. Either way, be sure to leave your marketing pieces

Repeat this process with every real estate office in your desired market. If you do a short presentation for the agents, you can have a drawing for a free one-hour consultation. (Actually, you can make the drawing for a free full-service staging with vignettes, furniture, etc. if your business is running at that level). Have them drop their business cards into a hat (or some other container which you bring), and at the end, you draw the winner. This is a great
marketing tool because agents are fantastic networkers. When they win the drawing, they’ll call you. When they’re happy with your services, they’ll tell other agents.

If you have a neighbourhood newspaper that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to advertise in, you can try a small ad. Use a great grabber headline. Write out lots of headlines until you’ve got it. You can use a straightforward “Sell your home faster and for more money” or you could personalize it to your area like this, “Important Information for Westminster Homeowners: Staged Homes Sell Faster and For More Money . . . ” We will cover writing good copy later on.

You can make a press release about staging and your new business. Make it informative and interesting, and tell about how you got into it and why it benefits home sellers. You can fax it to as many nearby newspapers as you like; the small to mid-sized ones may bite. You have permission to use any of my copy to flesh out your press release. You’ll receive a guide to writing press releases in this package.

What Should I Charge for Home Staging?

When you catch homes that are new on the market, knock on the door or leave a short letter with your postcard and business card. Do this as a habit,  constantly. They may not call you right away, but if the home sits for a while they just might.

Fees that stagers charge are all over the map. It depends on your market. San Francisco charges more than Boise, of course. Even the smaller cities now have stagers making at least $75 an hour. Where I live, in a moderately expensive city, a stager charges $150 just to come over and list what you need to do. They don’t do anything. They just tell you what to do. This is just a guideline. They charge extra to come and do it for you, of course. See the hourly rates below. Once you’ve done your practice homes you’ll get a feel for how quickly you work. Based on that, you can decide how much your time is worth. You’ll get faster with experience. It takes practice to be able to see through all the clutter and disarray many people have in their homes.

You can also decide if you’re interested in leasing furniture as part of your business. People selling vacant or semi-vacant homes would use this service. Also, if someone just doesn’t have much nice furniture, they might rent some for show. It is optional; not all stagers do this. If you do, you have to consider the moving expense and build that into your rental fee. I’ll give you another example. Where I am, a staging company charges about $1500 for a month’s rental of some basic furniture: love seat, coffee table, dining set, small breakfast nook dining set, bed, and some art prints and other accessories like candles. They include the set-up fee in the $1500. They don’t do much else since the homes are vacant when they start, so there isn’t any de-clutter or organizing to do. If they have to clean there is an extra charge.

The price range for home staging services, from consulting to full service, is generally $70-$125/hour. You can do consulting only, or you can do the actual staging work yourself (have the homeowner do as much cleaning as possible, and have them put away clutter, small items, and valuables before you start working). Not every hour of every workday will be billable time, so keep that in mind and make a goal for yourself: how many billable hours would you need each day to make the income you want?

You can add furniture leasing to your services at some point, but you do not have to. You can choose to do vignettes only, with no large pieces of furniture. For example, in a vacant house, you can set up a small bistro set in the kitchen or breakfast nook. Set the table as “tea for two.” Then put some pretty towels in the bathroom with a luxurious basket of bath items. Put some fruit and flowers on the kitchen table. Place an air mattress on boxes with beautiful bedding in the master bedroom. Place a beautiful book on the bed (a Sherlock Holmes novel or classic literature) with a nice pair of reading glasses.

The idea is to set up in the buyer’s mind all the wonderful experiences just waiting for him or her in this house. You can accomplish this with vignettes such as the scenes I mentioned above. This way you don’t have to use very large pieces to get the job done. You can rent the vignette pieces to your client and since its smaller scale, you can most likely move the items without hiring movers. In addition, storage will be easy.

When you meet clients, look them in the eye and give them a solid handshake. Remember that you are what you think you are. Remember to listen carefully and be warm and compassionate. (Selling is stressful for homeowners and may be due to divorce or financial problems). Have confidence and the rest will fall into place.

Be tactful yet firm when telling homeowners what they need to correct. Put yourself in their shoes. Selling a home is a tough time especially when there are kids involved. Nobody wants to have someone tell them that their home has an unpleasant pet odour or to keep their shoes in the closet. You have to practice being gentle but decisive and businesslike with home sellers. You don’t have to say, “Your house stinks.” Instead, try to figure it out without saying anything that might be deemed offensive.

When you think you have pinned down the source, just say, “Remember to keep the cat box spotless, some buyers will walk out if they can smell any pet odours” and put it in your report if you’re making one (I’d recommend a report or checklist of some kind for the sellers to keep).

Or tell them some vanilla scented candles or plug-ins are needed in some areas. Or it could be diapers; many new parents get used to this smell and won’t notice it as a visitor will. Say, “I know it’s terribly difficult with a baby when you’re selling your home, but the diaper pail must be emptied for all showings.”

Let them know you fully understand all the minor inconveniences they will have to endure while the home is listed. Then tell them clearly what needs to happen. Repeat the process of marketing yourself directly to agents. They will call. Especially when the market gets tougher for sellers, as it already is in many areas.

We have another blog post that answers the question of how much do home stagers make?

Testimonials

When people write thank you notes about your service, ask for permission to use some of them in your marketing. Testimonials from thrilled clients work better than anything else you can do in your advertising.

Photos show the drastic transformations of the homes you’ve staged, but testimonials tell people what they really want to know: that staging worked for them, you’re easy to work with, the process was quick and easy, the house sold for asking price in four days, they’d use you again, etc. Of course, you can transform the house.

You’re a stager. But your testimonials will help set you apart from your competitors. When the phone rings, smile and be confident. They say smiling on the phone helps you convey “your best self” through your voice.

Remember: You have a financially valued, in-demand skill.

Should I Form A Corporation?

Helping you choose the right legal structure for your home staging business is out of my area of expertise (I am not a lawyer or a business consultant). So please, get legal advice. I’ll explain some of the pros and cons of some of the most likely legal structures for your business to take:

In a sole proprietorship, you do not need to file separate taxes. They are simple and work well for most home-based businesses. You have total control over every aspect of the business. However, since you and the business are basically the same entity, you would be personally liable in a lawsuit against the business. Also, when you die so does the business.

Partnerships require a partnership agreement between the two or more owners of the business. Partners share all expenses, profits, debts, and liabilities. Partnerships can be just the ticket when you lack an essential skill and your partner makes up what you feel you need to be successful in your business; however, many partnerships that start off ideal can end up with the partners having major disagreements that eventually lead to the break up of the business.

In a limited liability company (LLC) you have many of the same characteristics of the partnership but with limitations on the personal liability of the owners (called principals). They are less expensive to form than corporations but more so than a sole proprietorship. This type of company dissolves if one of the principals dies.

Regarding insurance: if you get an insurance policy for “interior decorating and consulting” it should do the trick. Interior designer policies are different but an insurance person said the keyword is to say “interior decorator.” You might have to call lots of places since staging is a relatively new concept.

As for being licensed and bonded, Google the phrase “surety bonds. These are the types of bonding that you should know about:

  • A performance bond is a guarantee that you will perform work according to the terms of a contract.
  • A bid bond is a guarantee that if you “win the bid” you will perform the work.
  • An indemnity bond is a guarantee to reimburse any loss incurred if you fail to perform or if you do not pay other contractors/others. You don’t need any special license as in “licensed contractor” and the like, which refer to state licensing for certain occupations.

If you are a partnership you should form a legal entity as such, get a business license with your city or county, and have a business bank account. If you were a sole proprietorship, you wouldn’t need quite the legal structure since you could get by opening a bank account with your social security number rather than getting a federal tax ID number.

Home Stager’s Contacts

You’ll be ahead of the game if you get to know some good contacts for services your clients are likely to need.

If you’re starting from scratch (no personal experience with a good lawn service, for example) call companies listed in the phone book, or in a community newspaper. Tell them right off the bat that you consult with people preparing their homes for sale; they may not know the term staging.

Let them know that you are someone that can potentially bring them lots of business. Say you’re looking for someone excellent to refer clients to. Ask for information on the company to be sent to you; many companies offer packets for new clients, usually including testimonials, services offered, info on the products they use, etc. Tell them you may need their services on relatively short notice, and see what they say. The minute you don’t like their answers, tell them thank you and hang up. If it is a company that has you leave a message, pay attention to how quickly they call you back. It should be a prompt response, within the same day for sure; or first thing in the morning if you left the message late in the day.

When you think you’ve found someone good, dig a little deeper. It is relatively easy to check with your state’s contractor licensing board (if applicable) for any complaints against the company. Search for them on Google and see what turns up. Believe me, when you find someone excellent to recommend to clients, it will be worth the research.

When you have the contacts you like you can just leave a list with your clients so they can figure out what projects they want to tackle on their own and what they want to hire a pro for.

Turning Yourself Into A “Presenter”

This is one of the toughest aspects of this business for many people. The key is practice. I get asked about this all the time since it is a common problem.

Some people may be natural presenters, but more often you just have to work at it. Many times you think you’re bad at it because you’ve never really done it and it seems scary. Then you do it and you realize, “I’m better than I expected!”

Don’t think negatively about your speaking skills, whatever happens. Practice your presentation/speaking skills in front of a mirror. When you’re pretty comfortable with the mirror move on to presenting to your friends and family.

You’ll want to have gone over a basic presentation at least twenty times. You should cover your services, some examples of what you can do for your “made-up” client’s home to maximize its appeal, what they can expect from the staging process, how you usually work with clients, success stories of homes you staged (but be careful not to promise them anything specific with regards to price or speed of sale). The more practice you have the better, especially if you have little or no experience in presenting yourself professionally.

Practice doing your walk-through of homes, too. Use your friends for this and have them role-play it with you from the start of the meeting (greeting you at the door) to ending the meeting. It is helpful to practice ending the meeting because there is some potential for awkwardness in knowing when and how to wrap it up.

You want to be smooth and come off like a seasoned pro, and it will come with practice. People are very forgiving since something like 95% of the population has a fear of speaking in public.

Remember, even John F. Kennedy started somewhere: he developed his powerful speaking skills through practice and learned to get through slip-ups with humour. He could get the crowd to like him even more with his ability to laugh at himself.

Hey, we’re all just imperfect humans anyway. If you mess up, you’ll survive!

Meeting the Client

If you are doing a “consulting-only” job, then you would do a walkthrough of the home, make notes, take photos if you wish, and then put all of your recommendations into a report or “to-do list” format for the client.

If you are doing “hands-on” staging in the home, you would walk through the home with the client and give them feedback about what you can do/how much you can improve each room, without giving specifics. You want to come across as an expert that can help them, but obviously, you don’t want to give away your expertise in detail at that point. Give them your bid for doing the staging. You can do this on the spot, preferably, or if you need to think it over you will need to let them know your bid within a day or so.

Only stage the home when it has been properly prepared. If they do not want to clean then you can recommend a service. Do some research to have a name and number ready for them.

If you are letting them use your accessories or furniture you would have them pay you a fee for use of the items; don’t sell them anything. You can arrange to have furniture rented by putting in an order in your name at the rental place but get paid for this upfront from the client. Whatever you bring in, it would be your job to set up/arrange everything during the staging.

If the client calls you and does not know if they want to hire you for consultation only or for hands-on staging, you will have to play it by ear. Walkthrough the home telling them what good features of the home could be brought out more, and that you have a lot of ideas for every room that would make a major
improvement, which is probably the case.

Don’t give specifics. Don’t spend more than 15-20 minutes without getting them to decide what services they want from you. You will need to decide what kind of sale you want to make in this situation. For example: do they need you to make a “to-do” list (consultation) only, or would this home benefit immensely from a full-service 5 or 6 hours of your hands-on staging?

You should make a recommendation to them and lead them in the direction you want them to go in terms of what you’re selling them. And try to get it done without spending too much time there – like I said, 15-20 minutes should suffice. If they need to think about it, leave your card and any other marketing materials you may have. Give a follow-up call the next day.

When you have landed the job, you will tour the home again, taking notes. This could be right at the first meeting or days later. Ask them if you can take photos. If for some reason they say no you can make sketches. You may want to sketch out a rough floor plan. If you’re bringing in the furniture you’ll need measurements. Don’t forget that tape measure!

What next?

Ready to get started? Our home staging certification courses are among the best recognized in the country and have helped hundreds of people start their own staging businesses. Browse our range of courses and decide which one is best suited for you, and you can get started instantly!

If you would like to further inspired to start a home staging business, read how Meridith Baer started her home staging business on Entrepreneur.com. It’s a great read!

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