Don't Hire a Home Stager Without Asking These 10 Questions

Don't Hire a Home Stager Without Asking These 10 Questions

Can a savvy home stager be the secret to selling your home fast—and for top dollar? Many real estate experts say yes.

Home staging entails hiring an experienced professional to bring in furniture, accessories, and art that will make your house look its best and appeal to the appropriate buyer. If you’re still living in the home, a home stager will rearrange your existing furniture to wow buyers.

“The goal of a stager is to attract the largest possible number of would-be buyers and get the home sold at the highest price, all in the shortest period of time,” says Andrew Sandholm, a real estate agent at BOND in New York City.

Of course, staging requires an investment upfront. Most stagers charge $300 to $600 for an initial design consultation, and then $500 to $600 per month, per room. But staged homes sell on average 88% faster and for 20% more than non-staged homes, according to industry data.

Still, if you're going to reap those rewards, you need to find a good home stager. You can start your search by asking your real estate agent for recommendations; then meet with each. The following questions will help you determine the best home stager for the job.

1. What training have you received?

You certainly don’t need formal training to have a great eye for interior design, but being accredited by the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) means that a practitioner is held to certain standards. To become a RESA member, stagers must pass an ethics exam, have home staging business insurance, and have at least one year of staging experience.

2. How many average days were your staged homes on the market last year?

Finding an experienced stager is important, but finding a successful one is paramount. “A stager can be great at getting contracts, but if their homes don’t sell, they’re going to be a waste of money,” says Sandholm. Try to find a stager whose homes sell within 30 days, since that's usually the point at which listing agents advise clients to make a price reduction.

3. What’s the typical price range of the homes you stage?

You want someone who specializes in staging homes that are similar to yours. For example, “If you’re selling a starter home, you wouldn’t want to hire a stager who specializes in luxury homes,” says Sandholm.

4. How do you stay on top of interior design trends?

The person you hire should be able to explain how he or she keeps up with the furnishings and decor trends that make buyers come running. Do they attend conferences? Do they actively preview new listings? Do they hobnob regularly with other stagers and decorators to learn about the latest and the greatest?

5. Can I see photos from your three most recently staged homes?

You can ask a stager to see their portfolio, but it may not be an accurate representation of their work. “They’re only going to show you their best work,” says Sandholm. But, looking at stagers’ most recently staged homes will give you a better idea of the quality of their work.

6. What are your rates?

Most stagers charge a monthly fee, but some charge a flat fee per room for the duration of the listing, says Chris Dossman, a real estate agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis, IN. You'll want to get quotes so that you can budget appropriately. If you’re tight on cash, consider only staging a few rooms, especially the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom—which make the greatest impression on home buyers, according to a recent National Association of Realtors survey.

Know that staging costs can vary depending on where you live. If your home is vacant, and you want the entire house staged, prices can range from as little as $975 a month (Indiana) to $5,500 a month (California), according to RESA. If the home has some furniture, you’re looking at between $700 (Iowa) and $4,800 (California) a month for a two-month staging contract.

7. How much time will it take you to stage my home?

“Usually, it only takes one to two days to stage a home, but good stagers are busy,” says Dossman. Availability may wind up being a determining factor in who you hire. If a stager says it’s going to take a week or longer, find out why. “If the person plans to stage your home with furniture that’s tied up in another listing, that’s a red flag,” says Dossman.

8. Is your business covered by insurance?

There’s a chance your home could get damaged when the stager moves furniture in and out, so make sure the business has insurance to ensure you’re protected. For due diligence, ask to see proof of coverage.

9. What can I tackle myself?

A reliable stager will be honest with you about what projects you can do yourself to save money. For example, if only one room needs a fresh coat of paint, that’s something you can take on. Once hired, a good stager will also offer tips on little things that you can purchase to make your home more inviting, such as candles and fluffy towels for the bathrooms.

10. What style would you recommend for my home?

This is a bit of a trick question, but it’s worth asking. “You want a neutral stager, since you’re trying to cast the widest net possible,” says Sandholm. In other words, you don’t want to hire someone who has an overly narrow design aesthetic.