Selling a Vacant House? Staging is a Must

by : Monica Soberman

There was a time in the not so distant past when there were far more home buyers than sellers, and sellers had the luxury of not having to pretty up their place to sell it. Often their property would sell before the listing ink was dry. Rather than replacing the hideous blue carpet, they might offer a credit. If the buyer didn't like the orange paint, then THEY could repaint after the close. The idea of having the house professionally staged - prepared for the market - seemed frivolous and a bit unnecessary, but for those who did, their house often sold over the listing price with multiple offers.

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last few years, you are painfully aware that those days are long gone. In the Orange County real estate market of today, there are over 17,000 properties on the market, and home sales are way down.

While some folks have the luxury of waiting for market conditions to improve, many homeowners are forced to sell their property now, for a variety of reasons. Some are carrying two mortgages and need to eliminate one of them, some have relocated to Orange County due to business, some overextended during the credit boom and can no longer afford their mortgage, and many homes have been foreclosed and are being unloaded by banks.

There are buyers out there. There are always people who are relocating into the area, and there are also locals looking to upgrade and hoping to take advantage of falling prices. True, many buyers are waiting for prices to come down more, and some cannot get the financing they need, and others are ready and able to buy but can't sell their own house. But buyers are out there; there's just an imbalance between supply and demand.

With so much competition out there in housing inventory, it is crucial that your property stand out. It all starts with the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). More and more buyers are searching for new houses on the internet before they ever even contact an agent, so sellers have to grab their attention with great photos just to get them interested. Then when they visit the property, they have to be impressed right away. Like speed dating, buyers will decide within the first thirty seconds if they are interested in pursuing the relationship or if they want to look elsewhere. It's important to make a favorable first impression.

Does staging really work? Statistics say yes. Common sense also says yes. That's why home builders spend thousands on professional design services to trick out their models with high-end furnishings and expensive upgrades. It is an overt marketing strategy to get prospective buyers to fall in love with their model, to see its potential, and to envision themselves enjoying a particular lifestyle. As my husband likes to say, 'They are selling the dream.' This is why the design and decor is upscale and impeccable. This is why there is a beautiful pool, fireplace and patio furniture in the backyard. This is also why there are no piles of bills on the counter, waste baskets in the bathrooms, or magnets on the refrigerator.

Home staging professionals have applied the same concept and techniques to help realtors market their listings and home owners sell their properties, and their services have become increasingly popular.

Does every house need to be staged? In my experience, every property - no matter the size or value - can benefit from staging - and it works if you're selling or renting a property. But let's be honest; some houses need it more than others. If you have a house that has nice landscaping and curb appeal, and is simply, yet tastefully decorated inside, has neutral paint and carpet and some carefully chosen upgrades, and is completely devoid of clutter, then congratulations! You can get away with minimal staging. Especially if you have a great floor plan, are located in an in-demand area and are priced realistically.

But what if your property is vacant? There are a lot of vacant properties currently on the market, as many homeowners have simply moved out and left their empty house on the market. The majority of the houses I stage are vacant. In my opinion, if you are trying to sell a vacant property, it is IMPERATIVE that you have it professionally staged, and I will tell you why.

Vacant houses present special problems for the seller and agent for several reasons:

Ã?â‚??Buyers need to use their imagination to see the potential. Because the rooms are empty, it is often difficult for them to envision how they would look with furniture, window treatments, and artwork.

Ã?â‚??Sometimes it is impossible to figure out the purpose of a particular space. If there is a room or area in your house that is even remotely odd, shaped or sized in an unusual manner, or whose purpose is ambiguous, then buyers will be confused and uncertain. Its purpose must be adequately defined, and this is best done visually.

Ã?â‚??In vacant properties, buyers tend to focus on every imperfection. Unless your property is brand new, this is going to be a problem. And the older your house and the more outdated your fixtures, the bigger this problem will be. Filling the property with tasteful furnishings will distract buyers and minimize the impact of these imperfections.

Ã?â‚??An empty house feels cold and bleak. Remember, first impressions count. You want it to be warm and inviting so buyers will have an emotional response and establish a personal connection with the house, just as they do with model homes. Sell the dream.

Ã?â‚??And paradoxically, empty rooms actually seem SMALLER than furnished rooms, leaving buyers to wonder whether their things will even fit. Gauging scale is tricky, and you can still be wrong. Adding furniture in the right proportion solves this immediately.

Staging vacant houses resolves all these issues for the buyer, and can also make an empty house feel warm, comfortable and, well, like home, which is the point.

How much does staging cost? It varies widely from stager to stager. The high-end companies that furnish model homes charge thousands of dollars, and spare no expense, but it is worth it to the builders who typically have a lot of homes to sell.

For the average seller, especially those who may not have a lot of money to invest in staging, this type of high-end furnishing is not necessary. There are many staging professionals who can do a fantastic and very effective job for far less. We like to say that the cost of staging is always less than your first price reduction. Think of it as an investment before you sell, just like upgrading the countertops or repainting the kitchen.

Most stagers will provide free quotations for their services; their offerings can vary widely so make sure you understand exactly what is included in the cost.

If you would like to get a quotation from a professional home stager in Orange County, start with the International Association of Home Staging Professionals (IAHSP); you can find their website at There is a Member's Directory of local stagers who are accredited, and you can find their individual website and contact information.

Outside Orange County, go to ( and click on ASP Directory, and you can enter your zip code and find accredited stagers in your area.