Under conventional circumstances, Jill Friedland, an agent with Weichert, REALTORS®, in Warren, N.J., would have a stager come to her clients’ home to spruce it up before it goes on the market. But like so much else in real estate, COVID-19 changed the staging playbook. In April, she had to come up with a novel approach for clients who wanted to list with her but didn’t want anyone in the house to stage it. And she did: Friedland hired a design expert who helped the sellers rearrange furniture and accessorize rooms without setting foot inside. In fact, the stager was more than 700 miles away.
As stay-at-home orders earlier this year forced many aspects of real estate transactions to go online, stagers began offering virtual consultations to agents and their clients. Staging from afar involves sellers taking unstaged photos of each room in the home and sending them to the stager, who analyzes the pictures and compiles step-by-step guides that help sellers style the property. The stager then meets the sellers over a platform, like Zoom or FaceTime, to provide feedback and evaluate progress.
The online consultation results in a customer service experience that is as personalized as it is safe. “It gives sellers professional guidance on what to do or not to do, as well as an understanding of why certain recommendations are provided,” says Jennie Norris, chairwoman of The International Association of Home Staging Professionals.
Even as business activities return to more normal levels, remote staging may be a trend that lasts. While the coronavirus remains a risk, these services will continue to appeal to some sellers, says Audra Slinkey, president and founder of Home Staging Resource, a training center for the staging industry. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Slinkey says. “Staging isn’t going away, and we are proving it can be done in other ways.”
Friedland learned about remote staging when she came across a social media post from an old friend, Liz Reid, who had lived in Friedland’s New Jersey town before moving to South Carolina a few years ago. Reid, founder of Upstage Interiors in Charleston, S.C., said she was continuing to offer staging services through the pandemic. “Liz suggested an online appointment with my clients, and she explained to me how it would work,” Friedland says. “I thought it was a unique workaround to stage a home during the lockdown.” So, after the sellers sent Reid unstaged photos of their 1,500-square-foot, three-bedroom home, she developed a detailed seven-page staging report and, over three days of video conferences, walked the sellers through her suggestions room by room.
The sellers moved furniture around themselves following Reid’s recommendations. “The report was so detailed,” Friedland says, “but my clients weren’t overwhelmed when they saw it. They were grateful for an action plan they could execute.”
The guiding principle Reid conveyed to the sellers was simple. “Let’s show how much space you have, not how much you can fit in each room,” Reid recalls. “Each room should have a purpose, a focal point, and an easy pass-through.”
Reid offered the service for free because it was the first time she and Friedland had worked together, and the remote concept was new. Reid now typically charges $250 for remote staging. Friedland says she intends to pay Reid’s fees and provide the service no cost to future clients if they’re willing to do the hands-on work at home.
This approach will provide many stagers with another source of revenue, Slinkey says. They’ll pitch free video consultations for 30 or 60 minutes to introduce agents and their sellers to the new offering. Then, they’ll charge a fee for a larger service package, including longer, more detailed consultations and do-it-yourself staging guides.
Friedland says Reid’s guidance helped her sellers go under contract after just one day on the market—and the offer they accepted was $8,000 above the $530,000 list price. “The clients used all my suggestions, and the transformation was incredible,” Reid says. “We created a warm and inviting space. [Remote staging] is a great added service to both the agent and home sellers, especially during these unique times.”
Some sellers either can’t or don’t want to do the work of hauling heavy furniture in accordance with a virtual stager’s instructions, Friedland says. She recently presented the idea of using remote service to sellers who are in their 60s, but they declined. Instead, because New Jersey had begun reopening its economy, the sellers opted for a stager to come to their home. Friedland says clients in her town typically pay an $800–$1,000 fee for an all-day, in-person staging job.
But for some clients, Friedland believes virtual staging is here to stay. “I will offer it to every seller going forward,” Friedland says. “For people who don’t want others in their home, moving their stuff, this is a great option.”
New Staging E-Design Boards
Accessorizing is important. During remote consultations, stagers may present e-design boards to guide homeowners through the process. These boards offer images and online shopping links for products to enhance a listing. Home Staging Resource’s Audra Slinkey teaches a course for stagers on how to create e-design boards using a program called DesignFiles.
“We like to use these boards as inspiration,” she says. “Stagers can send them to their clients to give them an idea of what paint or lighting to buy. We like to give examples at different price points, too.”