When we were selling our home a few years ago, our real estate agent strongly recommended that we have our home staged. Having heard that home staging could help us sell quickly and for top dollar, we decided to give it a try.
And the results? Just—wow. And not entirely in a good way.
Staging, my husband and I were told, involved having a designer come to our home and rework our space so that it would appeal to homebuyers. As is, we were warned, our home was woefully not up to snuff.
“You have a lot of stuff,” our real estate agent said diplomatically during our walk-through. She couldn’t help but note the walls of books (my husband’s beloved collection) and the kitchen cabinets packed to the brim (that would be my hoarding issue, accumulating enough dinnerware to serve 300).
The books would need to go into storage, along with most of our possessions, including all the clothes clogging our closets. We were also told, in the gentlest possible terms, that our furniture and possessions were dark, dated, and off-putting.
We lived in a Tudor-style house with dark wood paneling everywhere. Let the stager paint it white, our agent said. We grimaced.
She also said that the staging would cost a couple of thousand dollars (gulp), but that it would pay off.
To stage, or not to stage? My husband and I took the night to think about it and decided that as much as we hated disassembling our home, we had to trust our real estate agent.
She knew the marketplace and what our prospective buyers craved. It would be an additional stress and expense, for sure, but we forged ahead.
How home staging works
After our real estate agent introduced us to a stager, we met her and booked her—fast. Stagers, we were warned, got very busy in a hot market like the one we were in.
Our stager echoed our agent’s request that we put a ton of stuff in storage, adding that she’d tell us which (few) pieces she could put to use. She would charge us a flat fee based on the amount of furnishings she’d provide from her stash, or bring in from a rental company. We’d pay the rental company directly, and depending on how much we got and for how long, it could be several hundred dollars or into the thousands.
We’d also need to buy more things to jazz up our reinvented home. She’d select them, and we’d pay for them; afterwards, they’d be ours to keep.
The process would take a couple to a few weeks, so we dove in. She walked through the house with us and told us which pieces had to go, which should stay, and which rooms needed painting and in what color. She gave us our marching orders, began re-spinning our decor, and we were off to the races.
As we stripped the house of signs of our life, I received a flurry of emails from the stager. She sent links to items that I ordered for the house. Bye-bye to our elegant (or so I thought) Restoration Hardware table lamps. In came groovy, shiny midcentury ones from Target.
Our beloved dining table, the site of so many Thanksgiving dinners, was told to take a vacation, and in swooped a “light and airy” trestle table to open up the space.
In the primary bedroom, away went our block-print duvet cover and pillows. In their place, I ordered, as instructed, the motherlode of crisp, white, hotel-style bedding from Amazon. Our rugs were rolled up and stashed in storage; buyers would want to see the hardwood floors.
To be fair, I will say that the prices for the things we bought were eminently reasonable in the grand scheme of things. Most of what the stager selected was majorly discounted and had to be bought ASAP, before things sold out from their “final markdown” status.
Yet none of these purchases were to my taste. As a result, I felt like an impostor ordering them and putting them in my home. My husband and I ended up feeling like guests in our home, treading gently, with not much more than an overnight bag and our toothbrushes.
Once our possessions were trotted off to a storage unit we rented (we donated a ton of items as well, and filled two dumpsters to boot), the stager began rearranging. Our bed got flipped around so the headboard was in front of a large window. Who does that? we thought.
The stager saw our quizzical expressions and explained that when our house was photographed for the listing, our king-size bed would be shown to best advantage in this orientation.
Here’s why: Prospective buyers would look through the window and also see our beautiful dogwood tree blooming just behind it in our yard. Pretty clever, huh?
Did home staging pay off for us?
To cut to the chase, this home stager knew what she was doing. By the end of its very first day on the market, our house had multiple offers over asking price. Mission accomplished!
Still, our excitement was tempered by the fact that it wasn’t our home that was for sale anymore. It was a fantasy version of how a 30-something would want to live. It was bright and spunky and chic—and utterly devoid of our family’s personality. That’s what sells.
I knew, at least rationally, why home staging works: Had we skipped staging and allowed buyers to see our home as we lived in it, they would have been forced to make a huge leap of faith—to imagine what the place would look like without our suffocating wall of books, without our kids’ artwork, without the grandmotherly art deco rug.
This would have made it much harder for buyers to imagine themselves and their belongings in these rooms, and many would have backed off.
Some people, like my friend Nancy, loved seeing their home reinvented by a stager. As she told me after her home had been streamlined and staged for sale, “I almost hope no one buys it. I want to live in this sleek, sexy space. I love it!”
For my husband and me, though, the experience was heartbreaking. Where’d our home go? It had vanished even before it was sold.
During the final throes of staging, in fact, we actually moved out and rented an apartment. We had no interest in waking up and walking through a shell of our former home. But that’s about us, and nostalgia, and the pain of leaving a place you’ve lived in and loved.