The Fantasy World vs. The Real World of Home Staging…

Sometimes, I feel like I must be living in a ‘parallel’ Home Staging universe.

There is the fantasy universe, the one that gets all the publicity, where a good looking host will appear on t.v. or in an on-line video instructing homeowners exactly how to spend their entire life savings so they can sell their house.

And then there is the reality universe, the one that I live in because I actually have made a career out of staging homes and I know I have to come up with creative, low-to-no-budget solutions, or I’ll never work again.

Just a few days ago, someone sent me a link to a video depicting one of those ‘fantasy universe’ stagings. In it, the stager was showing how to make a living room more inviting by getting rid of the bulky sectional, placing it in rented storage, then leasing a brand new sofa, coffee table, and two side chairs in its place.

After the furnishings had been exchanged, the homeowners walked back in looking completely astonished while agreeing that the room had been amazingly and miraculously transformed.

Well, duh the room had been transformed! The space had been completely re-furnished! That isn’t staging…that’s shopping. And in my opinion, any dummy with a budget and access to new furniture can do it.

Herein lies the problem.

Homeowners aren’t dummies, they aren’t going to do it, and most realtors know that. Sadly, this type of publicity is one very good reason home staging is still shunned by so many sellers and agents, alike.

In the ‘reality universe,’ realtors are usually more than just a little reluctant to push their clients into spending that kind of money, and most homeowners typically either don’t have or aren’t willing to spend it, anyway.

It would have been much more impressive and created more positive publicity for the industry if the stager had worked with the homeowner’s furniture. think of the money a good Home Staging Expert could have saved that homeowner, offering them a truly well-staged home and not just a bill for furniture rental.

Instead, sellers and agents are now convinced that staging will cost them BIG MONEY to pay for storage, furniture rental, plus the stager’s fee. Sadder yet, that video already has over 20,000 hits.

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Getting Ready to Sell in the Spring? Buy Home-Improvement Materials NOW!

If you’re planning to sell in the spring, or anytime in the upcoming year for that matter, now might be the best time to take advantage. Winter months are notoriously slow for builders and contractors. Not only will you find great deals on product as suppliers try to stay in the black, but the labor is often a little cheaper…and certainly more likely to get you scheduled in more quickly…than any other time of the year.

The best buys for January are paint and flooring, but you could just as easily find deals on lighting, cabinetry, and countertops. With so many houses currently o the market, and so many more waiting in the wings, buyers can be a lot more choosy. As a result, they are looking for upgrades and homes they can live in without further investment. So to improve your chances of gaining positive feedback from the start, make sure your house can meet and even beat their expectations to garner an offer.

Shop around to see what’s out there, but don’t dawdle. The time to buy is NOW, before the big spring rush!


Excelsior BEFORE



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Painting Paneling – An Easy Fix for Dated Walls


I am well aware there are many homeowners out there who are absolutely adamant that wood should never be painted over…no matter how dated, damaged, or just plain ugly. But the fact remains, if you are still sporting wood paneling in your house…unless it’s the real deal, like gorgeous stained mahogany or century-old oak…it’s making your space look at least 30-years older than its actual age and then some.

I’m not sure when that awful paneling from the 60’s and 70’s went out of style, but I for one am certainly glad it did. Like everything else, it had a time and a place, but that time and place is long gone. What remains now is a sordid past full of faux finishes, peeling varnish, and numerous nail holes.

While removing the stuff is certainly an option, you might want to consider why it was slapped up there to begin with. When it first came out, paneling was marketed not only as a hot new trend, but also a cure-all…a quick fix to cover up whatever might be ailing beneath including layers of wallpaper and damaged walls. And though I am a big fan of removing it altogether, it might end up being a much larger and more costly project than you originally intended. Instead, I am more inclined to paint.

Painting unattractive paneling is an easy way to make a room feel much more current, and it’s easy on the budget. There is no real trick to painting paneling, just make sure to thoroughly wash it down using water and a good…not soapy…cleaning solution, fill and sand the nail holes, then go for it!

Depending on the depth of the lines between the panels, you may need to go over each individually with a brush, but I have found that most paneling covers fairly easily if you just use a roller with a thick nap. Two coats is usually a must. Also, consider a satin finish rather than glossy to keep imperfections from standing out.

To appeal to the largest number of buyers and increase chances of an offer, anything you can do to bring the listing up-to-date is going to work in your favor. And painting over dreary and dated paneled walls is a major step in the right direction.

*Rooms shown staged by Lori Matzke – Photos are the property of Lori Matzke


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What is “Home Staging” and How Does it Help Sell My House?

(I wrote this article for many, many moons ago! It was quite literally THE FIRST article on Home Staging available on most search engines, at the time. I thought it was worth re-posting!)

“Home staging” is not a new term, but for many homeowners and real estate agents the concept of “professional home staging” is shedding new light on how to promote a home in the real estate marketplace. In past years, homeowners were left to their own discretion as far as preparing for home showings. Though they could occasionally rely on an agent for instructions, more often than not real estate agents were just as perplexed at working out the details as the homeowner.

While agents are experts in the field of selling and closing, many are not design savvy. Agents usually know exactly what factors can help sell a home. It’s just not always easy to get a home into selling condition in a timely manner without some sort of experienced assistance.

Professional home stagers are practiced in the art of preparing a home for resale. They work with the “flow” of a home, eliminate clutter, edit and arrange furniture, and even assist in enhancing curb-appeal. With the aid of a professional home stager, your house can make a notable first impression on potential homebuyers.

First Impressions
As the real estate industry often stresses, the first impression is the key factor in selling your home. Typically,” says Jan Van Horne of Coldwell Banker Burnet Realty in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, “a potential buyer has made up their mind ten seconds after they step in the front door. They were already forming an opinion as they pulled into your driveway!” That really doesn’t leave too much room for fault.

“To achieve the greatest possible outcome,” Jan adds, “a home should always be presented at its best the first time around.”

Finding a Professional
You find and select a professional home stager much like you would find any other professional service. Ask around and get referrals. Check with your real estate agent. A number of larger real estate companies offer access to a listing of professional home services in your area. These individuals and companies have often already been pre-screened by the real estate agencies or their agents.

How Much Does it Cost?
When you contact a home stager, ask for an estimate. Most home staging businesses will be happy to give you a free estimate and it is usually a quick process. Keep in mind that this is only an estimate and estimates can be a bit off. However, unless something unforeseen takes place between the estimate and the actual job itself, an estimate should be fairly accurate.

Get several free estimates and make some calculations. Just like any service, pricing in the home staging industry can vary over a wide range. Some charge an hourly rate and some will charge you a set fee for the entire job. Be sure to ask how they determine their fee so that you can make an educated decision. Also, factor in the condition of your home, the average amount of time homes have been on the market in your area, and the asking price of your home.

Asking price can play a huge factor in what a homeowner should be willing to pay for staging services. Some professional home stagers bring in rented furnishings, driving the price up considerably. Some simply charge too much to make it pay off. A lot of home stagers seem to forget that their clients are planning on moving out of the house very soon. Most home sellers are not willing to invest a huge amount of cash in a house they are planning on leaving behind.

Find out up front what the stager is planning to bring in and at what cost. Though expert services do come at a price, the cost should balance with the expected benefit of a higher selling price. As a rule, the higher the asking price of the home, the more one can spend to have it professionally staged.

Agent Participation
In some instances, it makes sense for a real estate agent to contribute to the cost of professionally staging a home. “As a real estate agent,” says Tony Cirelli, a Minnesota Re/Max agent from Apple Valley, “I have to look at profit margins. I analyze current market trends and what will be spent on advertising before dropping any cash into staging.”

Pat Cirelli, Tony’s wife and partner, agrees. “For the most part, an agent should be able to determine if a home is in need of this type of service, and if it would be of benefit or not. If you know it would be in the homeowner’s best interest and if you know that something will need to be done before the home is listed, it might be wise to set aside an amount of your marketing budget for staging. If it’s a reasonable fee, it is usually a worthwhile investment. It could certainly make all the difference in your showing.”

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Vacant Homes are a BUMMER!

They make a house feel small!

Attention will ALWAYS focus on the negative!

And potential buyers start to wonder what’s wrong with the house and why it’s been abandoned!

Whether you are a Home Staging Professional or a Real Estate Agent, if you want to compete, providing homeowners with a cost-effective and easy-to-implement option is the solution. With a market currently overflowing with sad, empty houses, the fact that you are able to offer this value-added service is definitely going to place you ahead of the pack! Not to mention, potential buyers need a frame of reference, and let’s face it…all vacant homes kind of start to look alike.

When I started staging homes in 1999…long before all the Home Staging hype began…I couldn’t give my services away! As a result, I seriously considered breaking into the business myself. Yes, it’s true! For a brief moment in time…a very breif moment… I almost got in to real estate. And THIS was going to be my secret weapon!

As the years passed, I was sure both Staging Pros and Realtors alike would figure it out and I would just be one of the many. But so far…no one else is doing it. So why not become an expert at the ‘Partial Vacant Staging?’ It’s actually quite easy to implement if you know what you’re doing and how to do it. And for the record, I have NEVER lost money on this, NEVER had to pay for storage, and NEVER had an unhappy homeowner! i don’t even require a helper to set up, tear down, or unload.

If you knew you could walk into a presentation with this secret weapon up your sleeve…why wouldn’t you use it?

For the Staging Pro - Agents aren’t always that willing to nudge their client into a big-ticket investment, which is often the case when renting full furnishings. While I totally believe that furnishing a vacant home gives that house an edge, I am also aware as a Home Staging Expert myself, not every homeowner can afford this luxury, nor are they always convinced of the payback.

For the Realtor – Can you imagine what a mark you would make if you could actually provide this service to your clients FOR FREE? You would quite literally find yourself leaping ahead of all the other agents vying for that same listing…for the simple fact that you can provide this highly desireable, vacant-house-transforming service!

This is an easy, easy way to add furnishings without the major overhead. And we have just added this course to our Home Staging Expert curriculum. Quite literally…for the cost of a one-hour home staging consultation, you will pay for this class! Our first workshop kicks off on August 10, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For other cities along our route, please contact me directly at for details.

Vacant homes are a BUMMER! But fear not…we have the solution, and you can, too!

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In 1999, when I got into the Home Staging Industry, no one even knew what home staging was. There were no T.V. shows, no books, no articles, and no websites to boast the benefits of staging your home. As a newbie stager in a newbie staging industry, I opted to market my services to high-end homes only, assuming that only people with so much to gain would be interested. But it didn’t take long for experience to prove me wrong.

What I realized fairly early on is that it wasn’t just a certain clientele that would benefit from home staging… every home owner and realtor would reap the rewards, no matter the price point! Buying a home is probably the biggest investment anyone will ever make. Likewise, selling that home is often the biggest opportunity a home owner will ever be handed to turn a profit! Where else can the average home owner earn a big , fat bonus of $5K, $20K, or even more in one lump sum? There too, since the economy has turned and the housing market has been in a flux, making your house as appealing as possible to stand out in a market now flooded with options is also to the home owner’s advantage.

But still, I have to admit, I do find it a bit startling that I still see so many homes sitting on the market looking quite tragic. When I hear a home owner and/or real estate agent remark… “I don’t believe in home staging!” I wonder if these same people would ever declare, “I don’t believe in preparing for a job interview!” Because really, it’s the same thing. The entire goal is to make your home as appealing as possible for potential buyers so they can see for themselves, this is the right house for them. Anything you can do to meet or beat their expectations will only work to your advantage.

Unfortunately, even in this day and age, when 80% or more of potential buyers start their search for a new home on the internet, there are many, many owners and agents out there leaving their listing to chance. Yes, it’s true. You might get lucky and the perfect buyer who can see past all that dated wallpaper and clutter might come along and snap it up. (Though they are far and few between.) And yes, it’s equally true, if you slash your price, you might get a few offers. (If you don’t mind giving your house away.) But wouldn’t it be smarter to make your home as appealing as possible? Wouldn’t your chances of selling faster for more $$ increase if your house looked the part? Wouldn’t you prefer to at least have some control over your destiny? Common sense says it would.

I am frequently asked, “Is staging a worthwhile investment?” And the answer is a resounding, “YES one hundred times over!” How often do you get the kind of financial opportunity in life that selling a home might offer? And if you MUST sell your home, why would you leave it to chance? In my world, staging is not only a worthwhile investment, but an absolute necessity! By giving the buyer what they want…a home they can be proud of…you will get exactly what you desire, in return.

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