While home staging is becoming an increasingly more popular aspect of the selling process, several important issues need to be brought to public awareness in this rapidly expanding “growth industry.” Professional home staging is an extremely effective proven method of making homes look more appealing to prospective buyers. Skillfully staged homes sell up to 87% faster and for about 17% more than non-staged homes (McGrady 2015). However, as valuable a service as this can be, those who are choosing a home staging company neglect, or, rather, rarely even know what vital questions to ask to determine the qualifications of their candidates.
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Overview of the Issue
The most obvious problem contributing to this dilemma is that currently, there are no regulations or statutes for the home staging industry. Astonishingly, it is not possible to ask to see a stager’s license since no licensing policies exist. Ancillary professions related to home selling, such as home inspection, appraisal services, and mortgage lending companies, require a license to practice. Their licenses are issued after the practitioner completes industry-specific, standardized course requirements and passes a personal background check as well as provides fingerprints.
Meanwhile, the home staging profession does not entail any of these professional qualifications. This is a rather serious issue since many people practicing home staging are not trained or qualified to engage in staging, nor do they merit the public’s trust. Until a process of licensing is implemented, it is very difficult to limit the pitfalls and problems associated with choosing the wrong person or company to stage a home.
The Major Problems and Their Evidence
Although regulations still do not exist, responsible home staging companies can and must be diligent when hiring employees. Standards should be followed even without laws or regulations. Stagers should be professionally trained and experienced in specific skills and challenges of home staging or have a degree in the interior design field. True competence is difficult to establish and impossible to ascertain with an inexperienced or “hobbyist” stager who is using stock photos as examples of work they hope to perform. There are only a few qualified organizations offering substantive accreditation or certification. It is recommended that home stagers hold at least one recognizable professional credential that requires training and education to obtain. One should note that a membership that is based primarily on the payment of fees should never be construed as a substitute for training or education.
Previously owned and used furnishings pose another highly worrisome dilemma. Regardless of their size or time in business, a significant majority of home staging companies operate with furnishings that have been lived upon and used. Pieces of furniture that have been used may contain mold, bed bugs, body fluids, and other contaminants (D’Aliesio 2011; Grayson 2011; Landsbaum 2015). Disclosure of how the staging company obtained their furnishings should be made in writing. If they were previously lived upon or used, then this information should be revealed to any potential client.
Finally, everyone knows to be careful of who you invite into your home or property. Without any screening or licensing, the home staging industry is particularly ripe for people with criminal backgrounds to set up shop. The accompanying problems that arise can range from shoddy work and diminished home value to pest infestations, all the way to the most catastrophic personal experiences imaginable. Thus, people should be rather cautious when choosing home stagers. It is unacceptable to let absolute strangers in one’s house without finding investigating their background.
Straw Solutions and Why They Are not Entirely Effective
The first straw solution is choosing a company based primarily on its time in business and/or their name. Frequently, customers decide to hire a home staging company whose history of operation is long. However, it does not guarantee that such an organization provides the best services. Without inquiring about its standards, one cannot be sure that the company is highly qualified.
The reason why this solution does not work is that even if a company has been operating for several years, it does not mean that it is working with unused quality materials. On the contrary, if it has been in business for years, an organization has a lot of old inventory and furniture that they bought a long time ago. Thus, the furnishings used for house staging by such a company may be not only outdated and unstylish but also quite dangerous due to having been used in many places for multiple times. Therefore, the length of time in business and a famous name can rarely be equaled to a high-quality service. Instead, there is a high probability that they built their business without the standards which they should have followed.
The second straw solution is giving preference to a company based on just a few testimonials and staging photos. Unfortunately, customers frequently disregard this factor and are not worried if there are only several feedback messages on the company’s website. The same thing concerns the photos of professional exhibits made by the organization’s employees for its customers.
The important thing is that all testimonials should be local and verifiable. Contact information must be recent, and clients should be able to reach the people who left their opinions about the firm’s services easily. Any business can have family and friends who will claim that the company is doing a perfect job. That is why one should be cautious about anonymous feedback. Home staging firms that want to be trusted should have several testimonials provided by reputable professionals in the real estate and construction industry. The same thing concerns websites owned by home staging firms. It is necessary to pay attention to the photos that are so easy to borrow nowadays. The company has to provide unique pictures and not the ones with logos from stock photo websites. Moreover, photos should also be accompanied by previous customers’ contact information so that probable clients could verify such information.
What Should Be Done, or Real Solutions
The mentioned straw solutions may be useful and deserve consideration but only in case if the following condition is kept: the stagers should disclose where and from whom they obtained their inventory. If the furnishings were previously owned or purchased from yard sales, Goodwill, Craiglist, of other consignment stores, such a fact should be available to the customers. If a home staging company fails to provide such information, it is a red flag. Most probably, it means that furniture is second-hand or stored in unsuitable conditions, or even both.
The suggested real solution is much better than the straw solutions mentioned earlier. The first straw solution was choosing a company based on how long it has been in business. The real solution emphasizes that no matter how many years a firm has been in business, it still has to prove that it is entirely customer-oriented. A company may be popular, but if it resists revealing where its inventory comes from, no popularity will save it. Moreover, not only should they say where they got the furnishings but they also have to inform the people where and in what conditions they keep their inventory.
The second straw solution was choosing a company that has an insufficient number of staging photos and testimonials. The real solution presupposes requiring the company’s experience and not trusting just a few pieces of feedback. The benefit of such a solution is obvious: the more you know about the company, the better chances you receive for quality services and safe cooperation.
Out of all furnishing components, the greatest danger is hidden in second-hand mattresses that may contain such contaminants as bed bugs and mold or even body fluids (D’Aliesio 2011; Landsbaum 2015). The regulations about mattresses are included in the US furniture and apparel and household textiles compliance requirements (Benson & Reczek 2016a; Benson & Reczek 2016b). According to these policies, the use of second-hand mattresses is extremely damaging to people’s health. Therefore, it is a must for house staging firms to exploit only unused mattresses or at least warn their customers about using second-hand ones. Unfortunately, there are no regulations directly demanding such an attitude from the companies.
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Other real solutions include the following suggestions. Customers should inquire not only about the origin of inventory but also about where it is kept and whether it is separated from other materials while being stored. This information is no less important than the employees’ credentials. Next, one should ask the firm whether it is surety bonded and insured for liability as well as whether they carry a workman’s compensation. Another significant issue playing a negative role in the absence of a background check, drug testing, and e-verification for the company’s contractors and employees. If a company neglects any of these aspects, it is a sign of unprofessionalism and unpreparedness to perform high-quality services.
Real Solutions in Action: Addressing the Major Concerns
The first major concern for those who want to hire a home staging company is not allowing any dishonest and unprofessional people to enter their house. With that in mind, people should only choose firms with reliable employees who have passed the e-verification procedure, drug testing, and background check. Clients have a right to know in whose hands their property is. It is unacceptable to trust a friendly smile and a few polite words and not inquire about anything about the home stager’s experience of certification.
According to Budnitz (2012), the public law of consumer protection in the US is far from being perfect. In such circumstances, people should be especially cautious about letting strangers with no appropriate qualifications to make any changes in their homes. The reason for such a conclusion is that it might be quite troublesome to prove any wrongdoing later. Therefore, the real solution is to demand detailed information about the company’s employees and experience. If none can be obtained, it’s a sign that one should not start cooperation with such an organization.
Another issue that has to be addressed is the problem of second-hand furnishing and its possible adverse outcomes for homeowners. According to the information from Centers for disease control and prevention (2011), bed bugs present a rather dangerous issue. Thus, home staging companies that do not pay sufficient attention to choosing high-quality furnishing put people’s health or even life at risk. If a firm uses second-hand mattresses, or even if it uses the new ones but stores them in unacceptable conditions, such serious problems as mold or bed bugs may spread. As a result, customers who make use of such a company’s services may end up having their property filled with not only unpleasant but also contaminating elements. To eliminate the danger of such occurrences, home staging companies should be obliged to reveal the information about when they bought their mattresses and where they keep them. If a client knows that the furnishing is second-hand and does not mind that, it will not be the company to blame. However, it is highly unlikely that anyone would like to engage in business with an organization that may cause harm to property or people.
The third major concern is that the house may get damaged by the staging company when materials are moved in or out of the property. That is why it is particularly essential to deal with the firm that uses clear, professional, and customized contracts. The clients should see from the very beginning the terms of the agreement and the dates when services will be performed (Collins, Jentzsch & Mazer 2011). Also, it is necessary to take into account the issue of fees. Customers should understand clearly what is included in the price and what will require additional payment. By asking for such a contract, people will eliminate the danger of their property being damaged. If a company cannot provide a clear-cut contract, it is a sign of it being a place of employment for “hobbyists” rather than professionals. Therefore, if such requirements become policy, it will be easy to identify the unprofessional companies who only aim at making money but do not care about their customers at all.
Advantages of Dealing with Professional Home Staging Companies
Along with making a profit for itself, any business should also care about making customers satisfied. When talking about the sphere of home staging, there are many ways of following or disregarding this rule. An essential feature of a good home staging firm is having professionally trained employees. Although there are only a few organizations that suggest training for future home stagers, such training is still possible and necessary. The educational establishment that offers accreditation for home staging professionals is the American Society of Interior Designers. Also, an employee may prove his or her professional readiness by owning a credential such as Certified Staging Professional or Accredited Staging Professional.
When you hear someone saying “I am good at what I am doing, it is just that there are no educational programs available,” do not trust such a person. A truly dedicated home stager will do everything possible to obtain the necessary education and credentials to please customers and bring success to the company in which he or she works. If a person could not earn any degree at least related to home staging, it is necessary to make sure that he or she has had at least two years of full-time working experience in the field. Only when you make sure that you are hiring a team of professional and diligent people will you be able to stop worrying about any possible adverse outcomes of cooperating with a home staging firm.
Another positive effect of approaching the choice of a home staging company with seriousness is that customers can expect the best services and the most favorable outcomes of their sale. When every aspect and step of the process is discussed and arranged properly, homeowners will not need to worry about anything anymore. They can simply relax and wait for prospective buyers who, according to the statistics, will much more likely purchase a staged property than unstaged ones. Asking about testimonials and other types of evidence does not take long, but the benefits will be immense. Home staging is worth trying, but one should be cautious when choosing into whose hands to put one’s property.
Finally, as it was discussed earlier, the greatest threat is hidden – both indirect and figurative meaning – in mattresses. Other inventory may also present some danger, but numerous regulations concerning mattresses make this issue the acutest one. Before deciding in favor of some home staging organization, it is necessary to check where they take their furniture and what the conditions of its stores are. Used mattresses may contain bed bugs and pests that make the environment unsuitable for healthy living (Soniak 2012). However, it holds not only concerning second-hand inventory. The mattresses may have been bought brand-new, and no one may have ever slept on them, but they may still be hazardous. Customers should not hesitate to inquire about the documentation about the date when mattresses were purchased and the warehouse or other places where they are kept. People’s safety, as well as security of their property, is in their own hands. Hiring a company that has been in business for many years may not be a bad idea, but it is still not the most effective one. Rather than paying attention to the duration of working experience, clients should check the attitude to work in general and the ways of picking and keeping the furnishing in particular.
Modern home selling is rarely unaccompanied by home staging. The industry that makes the property look more “livable” for prospective buyers is reported to be rather successful. Unfortunately, not all companies that suggest such services are diligent enough. Sometimes, their employees lack professional training or experience. At other times, firms do not have enough evidence of making the previous customers satisfied. Also, the greatest danger is hidden in the approaches to choosing the inventory for home staging. To make sure that their property is in good hands, customers should follow the following suggestions. First of all, they should not be ashamed of asking questions about the employees’ qualifications, experience, and background. Secondly, it is necessary to obtain a sufficient amount of evidence about the firm’s reliability and diligence. Finally, prospective customers should pay particular attention to the furnishing used by the company. If people follow these pieces of advice, they will get a chance of selling their property at the best price and not put their health in danger.
About the Author
Robin Leigh is an owner of a home staging company Staged to Sell. She is experienced in all aspects of residential real estate sales including seller and buyer brokerage, luxury properties, property valuation, financing programs, marketing strategies, new home sales and construction, brokerage management, coaching, and home staging. Before that, she worked for Intero Real Estate Services in Scottsdale, AZ.
Robin is also a member of a fund Childhelp-25 Men Who Thinks They Can Cook. Staged to Sell provides a full range of services that help to make your house look in the most attractive light.
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