Ask the Stager: The questions to ask before you hire

Ask the Expert
In January, sales of existing homes – or previously owned homes – dropped to their lowest levels in nine months, according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors.
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Selling your home can be an overwhelming, and stressful, process, but investing in staging before listing your property can reduce the time it spends on the market and increase your offers. So how do you trust what is often your largest asset to a stranger?

Ask your realtor

Real estate agents have the inside scoop and the connections. They know the stagers who not only have a keen design sense, but also know how to work with their clients to create a look that sells.

Google them

Before reaching out to those recommended stagers, review their websites and social media presence. Be sure to look at their before-and-after photos. This will give you insight into their aesthetic.

And as you review their portfolios, or photo galleries, be sure to evaluate:

■ The style of the furniture

■ The quality of the accessories

■ Their ability to achieve a cohesive look

■ What, if any, awards they have won

■ How their website is organized

■ Their testimonials or online reviews

■ How long they have been in business.

Interview them

The home-staging industry is, for the most part, an unregulated field — meaning anyone can print up a business card and call themselves a home stager. But the stagers who have invested in their education, and certification, show a dedication to their profession.

In addition, home staging is often mistaken for interior design. In actuality, home staging is interior marketing — it’s about understanding the real estate market and creating a lifestyle to which a potential buyer will aspire. For example, the strategy used to design and sell a suburban home is drastically different from the one employed to market an urban loft.

Ask your candidates:

■ Do you have any formal education or certifications in home staging or design?

■ Have you worked in this area before?

■ Do you have any photos of your work in this area?

■ What style do you think would sell in my market?

Find a team

Ideally, you’ll want to hire a full-service home stager who has policies, procedures, contracts, and a group of tradespeople he or she works with or can recommend.

Full-service home stagers with teams are a dream. They can recommend, and manage, painters, floor refinishers, re-glazers, and contractors, and they can order furniture and accessories when needed. Their trusted network will bring you peace of mind — and potentially better pricing on products and services.

Review the numbers

Seller beware: The lowest-priced stager is not always the best choice.

It’s critical that the stager you are considering provide you with a written proposal detailing the price, scope of work, design elements, and the number of furniture pieces that will be used in your home.

Sometimes your lowest-priced stager will not be delivering the full look. This is why it’s imperative that you review his or her proposal and before-and-after photos. The photos will illustrate how full your space will feel.

If you are furnishing a vacant home, ask for an inventory. While you don’t need to review the specific pieces, you will want a complete list of items. For example: one couch, two chairs, etc. Also, be aware that accessories such as pillows, art, area rugs, and candles are what create the “wow’’ in a space. Be sure they are high-quality and not too sparse.

Finally, an experienced home stager may keep company statistics, such as “days on market.’’ This is the average number of days the homes they stage stay on the market. These statistics can help you understand what you might expect in your market, and will help you evaluate how effective his or her work is. The Real Estate Staging Association has some helpful statistics as well.

Kara Woods, an award-winning home staging and design professional who specializes in the luxury market, teaches at the Academy of Home Staging and serves as Northeast regional vice president of the Real Estate Staging Association. Send comments and questions to