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What Homeowners Can Do With All Their Stuff

January 23, 2023

Working With SellersSales Tips & TechniquesDesign & Architecture

By: Barbara BallingerWhether selling or staying put, most homeowners could benefit from a little decluttering.

Garage full of trash, old things and clutter

Key Takeaways:

Decluttering makes moving easier for everyone—and less costly, too. It is also helpful for those who want to live more simply in their current residence. In fact, homeowners who have less clutter and are more intentional about what they bring into their space find that a positive for both their mental and financial health.

Many saw the wisdom of doing so during the pandemic when they were stuck at home, looked around, and wondered: Why do I have all this stuff that I never use?

Now, in the dead of winter when many again are indoors for long stretches, can be a good time to encourage clients to begin. Advise them to think of it as an adventure they pursue gradually rather than feel pressure to tackle all at once.

Truly effective—and lasting—decluttering represents a multistep process that varies according to each person’s situation. Those who have inherited a roomful of brown furniture from the 1950s and ‘60s and stacks of books, photo albums, crystal, and more may feel overwhelmed if they don’t want or can’t fit these furnishings into their home or apartment or find consignment shops interested in selling pieces, often because they have so much that’s similar from others hoping to unload possessions.

The following toolbox is offered up as a resource so that anyone can get started on their decluttering journey.

Share What Experts Advise

Marie Kondo became a world-touted expert on the benefits of decluttering with her first book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. It extolled the virtues of owning fewer belongings to have more space to display belongings that spark joy. Kondo went on to write more books, including one for children(link is external), and developed two Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” and “Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo.” She also opened an online store, KonMari, and started a certified-consultant training business(link is external).

If the Marie Kondo method doesn’t quite spark joy, there are alternatives, such as the “Swedish Death Cleaning,” which involves getting rid of anything not needed, in order to relieve others of the task of discarding a loved one’s possessions after they’ve died. Margareta Magnusson, author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives More Pleasant, says the practice offers an underlying message of caring for our heirs.

For those who want more than decluttering and are interested in a minimalist lifestyle, resources(link is external) abound as well.

Cheer On the Downsizers

Decluttering, even if moving isn’t on the immediate radar, is a great idea for many reasons. First, you never know when a move might be necessary. An intentional approach to decluttering well before moving ever becomes a question takes a lot of stress out of the moving process when it finally happens. Doing so can save time packing, slash moving costs and help reduce the amount of new living space someone might require. Even before it’s time to move, there’s the listing process to think about. Decluttered settings help present a better visual, which helps maximize sales, says Christopher Matos-Rogers, AHWD, GREEN, associate broker with Coldwell Banker Realty in Atlanta. 

While many find it tempting to put off the difficult decisions about what to keep and what to toss until after they move, gently explain the wisdom of being realistic about what can fit in their new home, says Barry Izsak, an Austin, Texas-based moving and relocation expert and founder of PackingMovingUnpacking, an online service(link is external) that helps those moving find movers in their area. “This is especially important for those moving long distances.,” he says. “Remind these clients about their new climate. They might be able to ditch most of their winter clothing and that snow blower, too,” he says.

Know When to Suggest Professional Help

Homeowners who can’t handle the task on their own should consider hiring a certified member of the National Association of Professional Organizers or the National Association of Specialty and Senior Move Managers, ideally a professional with years of experience, says Izsak. As a former president of NAPO, Izsak says the national hourly rate professionals typically charged ranges between $50 and $100, depending in part on their locale.

Rhea Becker—who, as the Clutter Queen(link is external), offers organizing services for homes and offices in Boston—says many of her clients appreciate how professionals speed up the process by keeping them focused on maximizing profits and avoiding digressions over each object’s history. “With a professional, you have the best chance to cut the time and get some money on the table since they know what will sell,” she says.

Group Items Into Categories

Whether your clients decide to bring in a professional or go it alone, it helps to have them categorize each item in a given part of their home into one of five groupings: keep, store, sell, donate or toss. Izsak says the litmus test he uses and shares with clients is to save an object only if it fits one of these three criteria: It’s useful, beautiful or loved. Becker suggests homeowners snap photos of favorite items that are difficult to part with to give them a visual memory they can retain rather than keeping the item itself. Here’s specific help you can offer them for each pile:


Midcentury modern furniture and contemporary art both appeal widely to buyers of all ages, especially if they’re of good quality and in decent condition. Create a list of estate sales specialists and consignment shops in your area that are known for fair dealing. However, be aware that many services that do the work of selling take a big cut, often half the sales price. If your clients are inclined to try to sell items themselves, suggest they try eBay for the best prices. However, if they’re not willing to go through the trouble of shipping sold items, encourage them to post goods on local online sites, such as neighborhood Facebook groups or Craigslist.


Remember the adage, “One person’s trash is another’s treasure.” Suggest to older clients that they first ask their children to claim beloved items from their childhood. Becker says it’s important to set a time limit for those who are interested to pick up what they want. Donations is another area where you can be a hero by compiling a list of trustworthy sources in your neighborhood for your clients. Take note of what charities will accept and when, and even which ones will pick up donations, saving your clients time and hassle. Some charities have gotten choosier about what they accept. For instance, many won’t take mattresses, box springs, pillow cases, or sheets. Real estate salesperson Christopher Flores with Keller Williams Larchmont in Los Angeles suggests a local halfway house that helps troubled young adults stabilize their lives as a great destination for used goods. “That way, they provide furniture and clothing they don’t need to those who may have nothing,” he says. Remind sellers that they may be able to secure a tax donation from the IRS if they contribute to a qualified tax-exempt organization(link is external). Because of recent changes in the tax code, it’s best for clients to keep detailed notes of what they donate and to consult their tax adviser for the exact percentages they will be able to write off.


Clients may save themselves some work by calling a local trash-hauling company or 1-800-GOT-JUNK(link is external), a REALTOR Benefits® partner, which operates nationwide. Have information on pricing and what haulers won’t take on hand. Homeowners can also consult HomeAdvisor’s list of trash-hauling service providers by ZIP code. Also, it’s important to be aware of laws governing trash. Some municipalities allow homeowners to leave stuff by the curb with a sign that reads, “please take me,” while others levy fines for such activity. A more organized version of this idea comes in the form of local Freecycle(link is external) chapters, part of a grassroots nonprofit where local people post stuff for free pickup in their own towns to help keep usable goods out of landfills.

Store Off-Site

It may be tempting to store certain household items off-site, and one in three Americans do, according to StorageCafe(link is external). There are numerous reasons why. Aside from apartments getting smaller, people are unwilling to part with stuff permanently. The pandemic required a bit of a shuffle as well, requiring work-from-home space that didn’t exist previously. Some families moved in with one another and needed a place for the extra stuff.

Picking self-storage requires homework. Advise clients to consider units that are locked, insured and climate-controlled and that offer access whenever they want. Prices can vary widely. Also remind clients that self-storage isn’t a great long-term solution, as months can extend into years and beyond. “Often storage is a matter of postponing the inevitable. It’s better to get rid of whatever you don’t need,” Izsak says. “If you know you’re storing something for a granddaughter who will use it in a year, that makes sense. Otherwise, get rid of it now!”

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling.

Hot Home Trend: ‘Wetroom Bathrooms’

Learn more about this open-concept trend.

February 6, 2023

Design TrendsKitchen & Bath

By: Melissa Dittmann Tracey

You’ve heard of the open-concept kitchen. How about the open-concept bathroom? It may sound slightly scandalous, but the idea centers on creating a private, waterproof space. It includes all the elements of a luxe bathroom, according to Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery’s 2023 Trends & Influences IX(link is external) report.

The report called out “wetroom bathrooms” as a hot trend for 2023. The trend has been popular in Europe for years, but is now taking hold in the U.S.

Some characteristics of these bathrooms include an open-concept layout; a frameless, zero-entry shower; floor-to-wall shower tile; freestanding tub; floating vanity; and an ADA-accessible design, such as with the hardware and lighting, according to the report.

See some examples below of the wetroom bathroom from Ferguson’s report.

Wetroom Bathroom
Photo credit: Signature Hardware and James Martin Vanities at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery / Linear Vanity and Lentz Faucet
Wetroom Bathroom
Photo credit: Kohler at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery / Kohler Statement Wand Handshower
Wetroom Bathroom
Photo credit: Kohler at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery / Kohler Veil WH Toilet
Wetroom Bathroom
Photo credit: Kallista at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery / Laura Kirar Freestanding Tub

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, editor of the Styled, Staged & Sold blog, and produces a segment called “Hot or Not?(link is external)” in home design that airs on NAR’s Real Estate Today radio show. Follow Melissa on Instagram and Twitter at @housingmuse.

5 Reasons This Isn’t a Repeat of the 2008 Housing Crash

December 15, 2022

Challenging Markets

By: Melissa Dittmann TraceyNAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun draws the distinctions between today’s real estate market and that of more than a decade ago.

Businessman pulling Jenga puzzle pieces from underneath house model
© BrianAJackson – iStock/Getty Images Plus

Many homeowners are still haunted by the 2008 housing crash when property values collapsed and foreclosures spiked. The memory of sudden catastrophe at a time when the real estate market had been riding high may help explain why 41% of Americans say they now fear a housing crash in the next year, according to a new survey from LendingTree.

Are their fears well-founded?

“It’s a valid question,” Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of REALTORS®, said Tuesday at NAR’s Real Estate Forecast Summit. “People are remembering the crushing and painful foreclosure crisis. So, it has become a key question: Will home prices crash after the strong run-up in prices across the country over recent years?”

At the virtual conference, where leading housing economists offered their 2023 forecast for the real estate market, Yun offered assurance that current dynamics are nothing like during the Great Recession. He pointed to several key indicators of how this market differs.

  • The labor market remains strong. In the last major housing downturn, there were 8 million job losses in a single year. Now there are virtually none. Though layoffs in the technology and mortgage industries are occurring, they haven’t accumulated enough to form a net job loss, Yun noted. A strong job market bodes well for housing’s future.
  • Less risky loans. Yun also noted the subprime loans that were prevalent during the 2008 housing bust are basically nonexistent today.
  • Underbuilding and inventory shortages. New-home construction prior to the 2008 crash was amounting to 7.65 million units annually. Today, it’s 4.6 million. Yun points to “a massive housing shortage” from a decade of underproduction in the housing market.
  • Delinquency lows. About 10% of all mortgage borrowers were delinquent on their loans in the previous housing bust. The mortgage delinquency rate is now at 3.6%, holding at historical lows, Yun said.
  • Ultra-low foreclosure rates. Homes in foreclosure reached a rate of 4.6% during the last housing crash as homeowners who saw their property values plunge walked away from their loans. Today, the percentage of homes in foreclosure is 0.6%—also at historical lows, Yun said. He predicted foreclosures to remain at historical lows in 2023.
NAR 2023 home price chart

Overall, the fundamentals don’t point to a housing market that is operating similarly to the 2008 cycle, Yun said. While home sales are slowing, prices remain up nearly 6% as of October sales numbers compared to a year ago. Also, inventory remains low, which will keep home prices elevated, Yun said. “The chance of a price crash is very small due to the lack of supply.”

Melissa Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey is a contributing editor for REALTOR® Magazine, editor of the Styled, Staged & Sold blog, and produces a segment called “Hot or Not?(link is external)” in home design that airs on NAR’s Real Estate Today radio show. Follow Melissa on Instagram and Twitter at @housingmuse.

2023 Home and Design Trends to Watch

December 8, 2022

Design Trends

By: Barbara BallingerSustainable design and warm, cozy spaces are on the rise in 2023.

Modern living room

While homeowners compile their holiday wish lists, we’ve compiled a list of 12 home and design trends experts think will be next year’s stars.

Architecture and design experts weigh in on what’s emerging in 2023. As the new year emerges, lifestyle changes due to the pandemic continue to hold strong. Cutting home expenses and conserving resources are top of mind for many. Move over, granite: These new countertop materials are coming in strong, and cozy comfort is taking the place of stark, minimalist design.

Home Office Updates

For many, hybrid work is here to stay, so home offices make the list, though changes are in order. Many crave some interaction, says Priscilla Holloway, a salesperson with New York City–based Douglas Elliman.

Architect Liz Peabody of Boston-based The Architectural Team says that open, partially open and glass-walled spaces are seen in houses as well as multifamily buildings’ common spaces and individual apartment units. Another change is that some offices are larger and have a window for a nice view, according to designers at The Plan Collection(link is external).

Why now? The pandemic changed how and where we work, and people are still figuring out what works best at home.

Home Office
Home Office

Induction Cooking

Though the change will be gradual, many homeowners are expected to switch to induction cooking from natural gas. Many are finding that their cookware is induction-safe, despite previously held beliefs, says Chicago kitchen expert Mick De Giulio of de Giulio Kitchen Design. Induction has many benefits: Water boils faster, food cooks quicker, and homeowners have more control of heat level calibration, he says. Additionally, the smooth surface is easier to clean.

Why now? Many cities are outlawing natural gas hookups in new homes and buildings to reduce fossil fuel emissions and better control environmental and climate challenges.

Kitchen Induction

Eco-friendly Design

More real estate sites list eco-friendly design as a priority, from solar panels to energy-efficient windows, stronger builds that better resist severe weather, more tech features like programmable thermostats, gardening apps(link is external) and smarter, more environmentally friendly, hygienic toilets like Toto USA’s Washlet and bidet toilets. TOTO also manufactures domestically, reducing its products’ carbon footprints, says Bill Strang, president of corporate strategy, e-commerce and customer care. 

Why now? More homeowners know the importance of sustainable design due to climate change reports, how fossil fuels damage the environment and the importance of preserving resources.

Eco Design Toilet

Cozier Comfort

Tough times call for an antidote, and many are seeking a dose of comfort within the walls of their homes. The ebb and flow of COVID-19 in conjunction with other stressors has people wanting to feel as though they’re wrapped in a warm hug, says Chicago-based designer Tom Segal of Kaufman Segal Design. He suggests doing so with patterned wallpaper on both walls and ceilings. A tactile touch also works, he says. Think big, upholstered headboards; ’50s and ’60s lounge-style sections to sprawl, watch TV or eat; and colorful tufted or handwoven area rugs that resemble art.

Why now? Collective stress levels are at an all-time high, and people are finding they need a respite from the constant barrage of information available because of the digital age.

Cozy comfortable bedroom
Cozy comfortable living room

More Natural, Personalized Interiors

The biophilic, natural look prevails in appeal because of the benefit nature provides. Homeowners want organic furnishings, live plants and warmer colors in the clay palette, says Gena Kirk, vice president of Design Studio at Los Angeles–based homebuilder KB Home. The latest iteration reflects interest in embracing memories through personalized design aesthetics that display mementos and heirlooms, Kirk says.

Why now? During the pandemic, homeowners opted for cleaner, minimalist interiors to set a clear boundary between personal space and the outside world. They now want to return to a new form of nesting, through an accumulation of textiles, warmer colors, new hardware and fabrics for a welcoming, natural environment to live, work and play, Kirk says.

Natural-looking kitchen

Dekton and Neolith Surfaces

Every few years, a new countertop surface takes center stage as the best in terms of durability, sustainability, color or novelty. The latest “it” surfaces are newer “sintered” stones, a combination of minerals that form a solid surface that can’t be etched, scratched, burned or stained. Dekton and Neolith appeal because they resemble marble and other high-end surfaces and are resistant to fading, says Boston designer Jodi Swartz of KitchenVisions. Milwaukee designer Suzan Wemlinger adds that because the slabs are large, there’s less need for seams, and they can be used in outdoor kitchens without cracking in extreme temperatures.

Why now? New technology processes have led to the development of these stain-resistant, strong surfaces, and kitchen counter durability is nearly always top of mind for homeowners.

Neolith Kitchen

Affordable Design Choices

Instead of tempting buyers with fancy cabinets, finishes and appliances, more homebuilders are turning to affordability as a feature. “Good design is not about spending the most money but offering well-designed homes, sometimes without bells and whistles,” says Mary Cook, founder of Mary Cook Associates, a Chicago-based commercial interior design firm. Builders are displaying predesigned packages of cabinets, countertops, appliances and flooring that keep costs down. They’re also cutting square footage to show that buyers can live well in smaller homes, Cook says.

Why now? Higher interest rates have put a pause on buyer frenzy. “We went from crazy busy to crazy slow,” one homebuilder says. Now is the time to see how affordability and quality design come together.

Zero Emissions

Master-planned developments are taking the guesswork out of emission-free living. Developer Marshall Gobuty of Sarasota, Fla.–based Pearl Homes shows how with his 18-acre Hunter’s Point development, the first LEED Zero–certified community in the world, he says. “There’s no energy cost associated with the 86 single-family houses except for a $35 monthly maintenance fee from Florida Power,” he says.

Why now? With the pandemic and overall inflation, energy costs continue to soar. Also, sustainable development helps communities adapt to challenges posed by climate change and protects natural resources.

Zero emissions home

In Multifamily: More EV, Fewer Additional Amenities

Few multifamily buildings are constructed without an EV charging station, says architect Peabody. Developers are including a handful and leaving infrastructure available to expand the number. At the same time, they are devoting less square footage to amenities since younger generations are less inclined to pay for features they may not use, especially after seeing how the pandemic shut down facilities. What most still want are lounges, coworking spaces and outdoor areas to exercise and unwind, Peabody says. Pet parks and spas still make the list as well, says Cook.

Why now? EV stations are essential as more people switch to electric vehicles. Just over half of passenger cars sold in the U.S. will be electric vehicles by 2030, according to Bloomberg(link is external).

EV charging vehicle
Eco-friendly Lounge

Walkable, Affordable Boomer Living

More efforts are underway to create more options for the enormous boomer cohort as they age(link is external). Many want to give up owning a car, live where their location has a high walkability score and cut living costs by living in smaller, energy-efficient homes. One example is developer David Fox’s Passive House building in Northampton, Mass., to be completed in 2024; it will eliminate 80% of typical energy needs to heat and cool and be built with sustainable mass timber construction, solar panels, a community garden and a bicycle shed. The building’s 70 apartments will average 1,200 square feet; share a gym, lounge and roof area to exercise; and limit rent increases.

Why now? Boomers are the largest aging community to date, and as the country ages, more emphasis on how elders live is needed now.

Fire-Resistant Modules

On the east coast, building structures to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and floods are in high demand. On the west coast, however, San Diego–based modular builder Dvele focuses on manufacturing fire-resistant steel modular houses. The company started with 500-square-foot homes constructed from a single module design and now offers 4,000-square-foot homes from seven module designs. All are also highly energy-efficient due to self-powered solar panels, says Kellan Hannah, the company’s director of growth.

Why now? The National Interagency Fire Center statistics show that as of last October, almost 60,000 fires burned 7 million acres, above the 10-year average of 48,000 fires and close to 6 million burned acres. Fires are only worsening, meaning construction must adapt.

Fire-resistant home

What’s NOT Hot?    

Several once-popular design choices are losing appeal, primarily because they require high maintenance or aren’t functional for today’s busy routines, says Gena Kirk with homebuilder, KB Home. She suggests letting go of these four in the year ahead.

High Pile Carpet 

While soft, shaggy carpet styles make a statement, they are difficult to keep clean and aren’t practical, especially in households with kids and/or pets. 

Gray Cabinets 

Gray cabinets have been popular but are cooling off as more homeowners shift to warmer hues to make their spaces more welcoming. 

Standard Subway Tiles 

Standard-size white, horizontal subway tiles are still popular, but many now prefer larger 4-by-10 inch or 4-by-16-inch tiles that run vertically to draw eyes up and give an age-old design a fresh look.

Open Shelves 

Most struggle with clutter, so even though some love the open look above, others are opting for the traditional closed cabinets since they find it easier to keep stuff concealed. These days there are countless custom interior organization systems to arrange contents in a neat fashion.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling.


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Help Buyers Decide: New vs. Existing

October 26, 2022Explain both the pros and cons of new-home construction versus existing-home construction.

A picture of a newly constructed house that remains incomplete.

New-home Construction


  • Modern floor plan (open space, flex rooms, larger windows)
  • Delayed major maintenance costs (such as roof or HVAC)
  • Lower utility bills as a result of stricter building codes and newer energy-efficient products
  • More upfront personalization Builder warranties on materials, workmanship and structural items


  • Higher upfront costs
  • Special financing, such as construction loans, often needed
  • Longer wait times
  • Often farther from amenities, jobs
  • Sparse landscaping

Existing-home Construction


  • Lower-priced options available
  • Established neighborhoods
  • Mature landscaping
  • Move-in ready
  • Value add-on potential with remodels and cosmetic updates


  • Outdated floor plans
  • More repairs and maintenance
  • Higher utility bills if products and materials are less energy-efficient
  • Less personalized
  • Competition from other buyers

Small Upgrades that Make your Home Sell Faster

If you’re thinking of selling, you’re probably planning to do a few minor improvements to make your property more appealing to buyers. That’s a smart idea.

So, what are the best small improvements to make? Here are a few ideas:

• Cabinet hardware. Upgrading the hardware on kitchen and bathroom cupboard doors and drawers can have a surprising impact on the look of those rooms. The best part is, this improvement is about as DIY-friendly as it gets!
• Cover plates. If you have older light and electrical switches, replacing the cover plates with something more stylish can make a difference. It’s probably the simplest way to give a room a more modern look.
• Countertops. Replacing kitchen or bathroom countertops isn’t cheap. However, it’s substantially less expensive than a full-on kitchen or bathroom renovation. And, new countertops make those rooms look refreshed.
• Kitchen sink and faucet. If your current sink is old and stained, replacing it is a fairly simple improvement that will have a big impact. Also consider updating the faucet to further enhance the look of the space. There are hundreds of styles available.
• Carpeting. Of all the types of flooring, carpets are the easiest and most affordable to replace. New carpets also create a clean and upgraded look. If you have old carpeting on the main floor or stairs, consider replacing it when selling.
• Lights and fixtures. If you have old light fixtures in your home, especially in key areas such as the foyer and kitchen, your lighting may be dim. New fixtures will not only make those spaces more modern-looking and appealing, but the lighting will probably also be better too.

Finally, don’t forget one of the simplest and most effective improvements of them all: painting. A freshly painted room almost always looks more attractive to buyers.

Should your Home be in “Move-In” Condition when you Sell?

Imagine you’re shopping for a car. You find one that’s a suitable model – a recent year and hasn’t been driven a lot. The price is right, too.

But, there’s a caveat.

The paint is worn off in several places. The driver’s seat upholstery is torn and requires repair. And, the tires needed to be replaced… a long time ago. Would you still buy it? You might. However, unless you enjoy fixing up cars, you’d probably hesitate to make the purchase. After all, in addition to seeing the car itself, you’re noticing the work that needs
to be done to fix it.

The same holds true when selling your home.

The more “move-in” ready you make the property the more likely buyers are to become interested in buying it. Like when viewing a car, you want buyers to focus on all your home’s wonderful features, not on the repairs and updates that need to be done.

That being said, how important is it that your home be “move-in ready” when you sell?

That depends, in large part, on the market. If it’s currently a seller’s market in the neighborhood — lots of buyers but comparatively few properties for sale— getting your home move-in ready is less important. There is already high demand for your property. (However, getting all repairs done and staging your property effectively will still provide a significant advantage.)

In a buyer’s market, where there are more homes for sale than buyers, you’re in a competitive situation. So, anything you can do to give your listing an advantage is worth the effort. That includes making it as “move-in” ready as possible.

A side-by-side comparison of a virtually staged living room with floor-to-ceiling windows

Will Virtual Staging Replace Traditionally Staged Rooms?

The business of home staging is under transformation. Though physical staging has long dominated the market, virtual staging is quickly becoming a go-to option, but whether it’s the better option depends on several factors.


June 8, 2022

by Barbara Ballinger

Key takeaways:

  • Staging helps highlight a home’s space and architecture and appeals to the broadest buyer market.
  • Virtual staging is coming up quickly, offering a lower cost, more flexibility, and a shorter timetable than traditional staging.
  • Help sellers decide which option is best for them by looking at factors like budgets and timetables.

When Barb Schwartz introduced the concept of home staging in 1972, inspired by her background in theater, the idea was novel.

Instead of having buyers view rooms as homeowners had lived in them, salespeople removed any contents—from art to furnishings—that cluttered, dated, or personalized spaces. This purging made it easier to see a home’s architecture and scale. New buyers, it was thought, would have an easier time envisioning themselves in the space.

A bright living room and dining room staged with mid-century furnishings
Traditional staging is a costly but effective way to showcase the architecture and potential of a room.

The concept gained a following, as well as sophistication in process, and led to a profession of trained specialists. With their arsenal of furnishings, baubles, and art, these specialists made a job of staging homes to sell. Sellers usually paid for the service, since many staged listings sold faster and for higher dollars than those not staged.

Staged homes continue to sell well, and the service is in great demand as a result. In the  National Association of REALTORS® 2019 Profile of Home Staging, one-quarter of buyers’ agents said that staging increased the dollar value offered by between 1% and 5%.

When Demand and Competition Increase

Nowadays, staging has become almost de rigueur, and professionals with the skills are experiencing an uptick in business. Professional organizer Amanda Wiss of Brooklyn-based Urban Clarity added staging to her repertoire and has seen her business grow by 80% over the prior year.

A staged kitchen featuring cherrywood cabinets
A traditionally staged kitchen

An increase in the demand for staging also translates into an increase in higher expectations from the clients. To stay relevant in a competitive market, stagers have come to spend more time and money to fashion staged rooms that outdo one another. What’s more, stagers must have a well-rounded and working understanding of what’s necessary to fit a property’s architecture, location, and trending decor. From clean contemporary to mid-century modern, and farmhouse, stagers need to know it all, says Beth Franken, broker-associate with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in Chicago, who earned staging credentials from industry trainer ASP.

The increased competition has also spurred stagers to charge more, sometimes 8% to 10% of a listing price, though this varies based on the work involved.

Wiss recently staged a listing in the New York City area with multiple bedrooms and charged in the mid-$20,000 range, and just like when the staging trend originally picked up steam, sellers are still paying for the service.

The Rise of Virtual Staging

Of late, staging has evolved to include the digital realm. Now, rather than physically staging each room in a home, virtual staging allows a company to use a program to map out the home and choose proper furnishings for the space. The increase in the virtual option is due in part to a few factors, including:

  • Advances in technology that produced more realistic results
  • The influx into the marketplace of millennials, who are more comfortable shopping online than any previous generation
  • The pandemic, which made looking at homes online more popular to keep everyone safe

More companies specialize in virtual staging nowadays, allowing salespeople or homeowners to pick from an expanding library of design choices. Want a mid-century modern room with Herman Miller furniture? Check. How about a modern Italian look? No problem.

Close-up photo of a couch with warm-toned pillows and matching window treatments behind

In some cases, stagers digitally remove furnishings or decor like wallpaper. To make it clear to prospective buyers that the space might not look exactly as it does in the virtual staging, however, salespeople attach a “virtual design” disclaimer, so there’s no misunderstanding.

Cost-Friendly and Adaptable

Virtual staging offers flexibility new to the industry. The time saved over using a truckload of furnishings also makes it more sustainable, says Atlanta-based salesperson Christopher Matos-Rogers with Coldwell Banker. The price skews far lower than physical staging, spurring more practitioners to pick up the tab as part of a marketing budget, says Ilaria Barion, founder of Barion Design.

Since 2005, Barion has staged more than 50,000 properties and is focused on the luxury market. She switched from working as a physical to a virtual stager in part because of the specific needs required in the luxury space.

“Unless you’re going to spend a lot of money, the rental furnishings may cheapen a property’s look. The cost of luxury home staging has skyrocketed. It also takes time to assemble the furnishings,” says Barion. The sheer number of people searching for homes online—95% of home shoppers, according to a report from Properties Online—makes virtual staging a useful option.

An empty room with windows and brown built-in bookshelves flanking the windows
Before virtual staging

Also, on the plus side, she’s found that virtual staging allows “you to do amazing things and fast—move in a baby grand piano, for example.” Her company charges per photo, taking into consideration the size of the room. Clients can expect prices from $49 to $399. If furnishings need to be digitally removed from the space, it charges between $20 and $90 per image. Additionally, and unlike in physical staging, Barion’s company typically delivers within a few days.

Thanks to virtual staging, Barion also offers a special custom staging service from scratch. With this service, she offers renderings, and she can offer an express service that’s less expensive for small dwellings.

A room with two queen size beds with white comforters and gold throw blankets, la
After virtual staging, an Australian digital staging firm that also performs photo edits and redraws floor plans, charges even less—$24 per virtual image with a turnaround of 48 hours for a new design. It will remove images within 24 hours. The firm, the pitch battle winner at NAR’s inaugural Investment, Opportunity & Innovation Summit in 2018, also has a large inventory of photos in different styles, says Tabitha Thomas, general manager.

Some companies work both ways, as does Atlanta-based No Vacancy Staging. The company charges $39 per virtual photo if the salesperson or homeowner opts for self-service. If they seek advice, the cost is $60. It also offers a two-business-day turnaround and can provide an online quote and contract within 15 seconds, says co-founder Krisztina Bell. As different spaces in a home take on greater importance, it stages them, too, such as more outdoor areas, Bell says.

Virtual staging also offers the advantage of presenting variations on the same space to show flexibility. Throughout the pandemic, buyers have wanted to see that a space might function as a home office, classroom, or gym.

Choosing the Right Staging Option

While its popularity trends upward, not everyone’s convinced that virtual staging is always the best choice. Some experts recommend studying a potential hire’s portfolio to see if they offer adequate digital choices and professional quality software and photos that accurately portray dimensions, perspective, and scale, Franken says. “Some images look fake,” Barion says.

Photo of a bedroom with a queen sized bed, large window and chair. The bed is decorated with maroon, white, and beige linens.
Traditionally staged bedroom

Conversely, some digital versions are so persuasive that, after seeing photos online and later entering the home, buyers are disappointed by seeing empty rooms or the seller’s furnishings instead.

“It may initially raise buyers’ expectations and set them up for a let-down when they see rooms in person,” says Kristie Barnett, whose Nashville firm, The Decorologist, runs in-person and online staging seminars through her Expert Psychological Staging firm.

In contrast, she feels that traditional staging makes spaces appear larger and more valuable. “Done properly, it puts the emphasis on the selling points (the architecture) rather than the decor, and helps buyers know how their furnishings will fit by seeing how comparable items look,” she says.

Which route to go may also depend on the age of potential buyers and how they like to shop, says Chicago commercial interior designer Mary Cook of Mary Cook Associates. Cook has merchandised thousands of model homes and apartments for discerning builders and developers of residential properties.

An empty dining room and kitchen
Before virtual staging

“Many millennials are very comfortable shopping for a home or apartment using virtual reality, digital renderings, or virtual walk-through renditions online, and even buying without stepping foot inside. But that’s very different from how many boomers like to purchase. They want to see rooms and furnishings in-person to know what works,” she says.

For example, she cites the repurposing of the Tribune Tower in Chicago, which transformed from offices to condominium residences. “Initially, the developer opened for sales before the model units were complete. Potential buyers were interested, but once furnished models opened, sales quickly accelerated. It made a huge difference for the older age group buying to see how rooms might be used, including turning a massive foyer into a gallery,” she says.

A dining room and kitchen staged with bright furniture and abstract art in gray tones
After virtual staging

Salesperson Franken had a similar experience taking over a condo listing in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. It was virtually staged and sat unsold. Franken decided to use contemporary furnishings she collected to physically stage the home. “I charged the seller $2,700 and dropped the listing price $6,000. It sold within four days,” she says.

But those like Bell of No Vacancy Home Staging say there’s room for both approaches. “Virtual isn’t meant to replace home staging but [to] offer another option. Both have evolved and will continue to do so,” she says.

BONUS: Starting the Conversation

One of the toughest parts of the staging process is starting the conversation with sellers. It’s not easy to ask that they remove all or some of their objects to make space for new furnishings, especially if they’re still living in the space. “Many are still reluctant, and you have to be careful never to say anything that’s insulting or seems a putdown of what they own,” says salesperson Beth Franken.

Staged dining area with full back chairs in cream colors and a white table
Traditionally staged living space

Instead, she suggests using stats and stories to share how staging can help before listing a house. “You can’t put something on the market twice,” Franken says. Staging expert Kristie Barnett agrees. “First impressions are felt, not thought, and take place almost instantaneously when someone enters a property.”

Both also suggest pointing out simple staging ideas that a salesperson or homeowner can do on their own:

  • Get rid of what won’t be moved to the next home.
  • Use hangers that match.
  • Remove about 60% of the items from closets and bookshelves.
  • Declutter glass-fronted cabinets and counters in full view.

“The eye needs to have an uninterrupted take on a room, and too many things, patterns, and colors distract,” Barnett says.

Showing photos of staged homes makes a significant difference, says salesperson Christopher Matos-Rogers. He uses his area MLS to pull up examples of other listings in their neighborhood that demonstrate how much better a well-staged, well-photographed home presents and performs. “Helping people see the difference is everything,” he says.

More ideas to share are in NAR’s 2019 Profile of Home Staging:

  • The median dollar value spent on staging was $400.
  • Twenty-eight percent of sellers’ agents said there were slight decreases in the time on market when a home is staged.
  • All rooms don’t need to be staged, but the most common to stage are the living room, dining room, kitchen, and owner’s bedroom and bath.
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).