Flick through the listings or visit a property for sale in the US or Australia and you’re a lot more likely to find it’s been primped and preened by a professional home stager than here in the UK.
One reason we’re somewhat behind the curve in this area is that it has largely been unnecessary in the past due to demand outstripping supply in many parts of the UK. Another is that British homes have typically been divided into more rooms – the trend towards open plan living is a more recent phenomenon here than in other countries.
But both of these things are changing, and that may mean home staging will become more popular here too.
Already home staging is attracting the attention of a growing number of sellers of high value properties, says Caroline O’Donovan, business development manager at Fully Group, which provides interior design and furniture rental for sales and rental properties. “The majority of our work is in Central London and the Home Counties, probably a £1.5 million plus.
“Many people, especially when it comes to larger properties, don’t tend to have the creativity to recognise how they can use the space best. So by furnishing and staging them it puts everything into scale. It’s about creating a lifestyle by putting the room layouts into perspective.”
Simon Godson, Director of Residential Agency at JLL, agrees, “A well thought out, furnished property will attract attention before an unfurnished one, as the eye is drawn to the ‘lifestyle’ that these dressed properties portray,” he says. “Sellers often go to great lengths to ensure their property is attractive and well presented, as it enables potential buyers to visualise the property as a ‘real home’. For example, we are currently marketing a two-bedroom property in Knightsbridge, where the vendor has rented a ‘furniture package’ for a six month period so buyers can see how the property might work as a furnished home.”
Selling is a team effort between agent and vendor. It’s not enough just to hand over the keys and expect the agent to perform magic. Shelly Robinson, Robinson Stone.
Shelly Robinson at Robinson Stone says that visualisation is key, so her job is to turn around the ugly ducklings and make them fly. “As we always tell our clients: ‘Your property won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Making sure that before launching their property onto the market it is looking it’s absolute best.
In the same way, no one would go for a job interview without first having a jolly good brush up and polish of the shoes. First impressions again… We are always surprised how vendors can thoughtlessly put their biggest asset up for sale without a bit of preparation, expecting the agent to sell the property well for them despite its presentation.”
AGENTS – BE BRAVE
But the real question agents will be wanting answered is how does staging translate into cold, hard cash? Persuading sellers to part with thousands of pounds on top of their commission — as a rough guide O’Donovan puts the cost at £1,000 per month for a one-bed city centre apartment and £4,000 per month for a four-bed property — is never going to be an easy sell, particularly in an uncertain market.
“Our advice to agents would be, be bold and brave with your vendors,” says Shelly. “Give them the best advice right from the start if the property doesn’t present well, tell them honestly that in order for the agent to do what they are good at (selling properties) they must have a good product to sell.
“Selling is a team effort between the agent and the vendor and they have to work together to achieve the best outcome. Vendors have to learn that they must do their bit too, it’s not enough to just hand over the keys and expect the agent to perform magic.
“I’d remind vendors that if they were selling a car they would take it to be valeted before showing it to potential buyers. So why not when they come to sell their biggest asset? If a vendor is reluctant to dress a property and it doesn’t sell, there is only one option available which is to drop the price, usually by a fairly substantial amount in order to attract buyers looking in a lower price bracket.
“However, dressing the property will cost a fraction of the price drop, and invariably the property will receive the desired positive response. Agents should tell vendors to remember our favourite saying – that they won’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. When properties linger for too long on the market, buyers and agent alike suffer fatigue and understandably lose interest and energy. So get it right from the start – sparkle cleaned, including the windows (what a difference that makes!) and all areas dressed up smartly and stylishly. Vendors need to be reminded that the majority of buyers will lack a developed visual imagination and the more you can help them see themselves living comfortably in your property, the better the property will sell.”
BIG IN THE USA
Tom Barry, Head of Residential Sales and Lettings for the UK at Keller Williams, the US real estate franchise company that is currently expanding its UK operations, says the firm’s experience in the US has been encouraging. “One of the partners in the US was talking about the difference in price achieved between clients who used home staging and those who didn’t and there was about a 10 per cent difference, so clearly it is a massive thing in the US.
A USA partner says the difference in price achieved between clients who used home staging and those who didn’t was 10%. It’s a massive thing there. Tom Barry, Keller Williams.
“It will certainly make a difference in the UK, I don’t know yet by what percentage. It would be magic if we could make that sort of difference here.”
The company is hoping to convince more UK sellers to stump up for home staging by including a professional home staging visit as part of its KW One product, for which it charges a 2.5 per cent commission. It has teamed up with London Home Staging, where Managing Director Erin O’Neill is similarly optimistic about the difference home staging can make.
“A staged property always sells better than an unstaged or empty property but of course it also depends on the location. Whatever the condition or location of the property, you are more likely to achieve a higher price if it is staged. I have tracked it over the years and around an 8 per cent increase on profit seems to be fairly consistent.”
Shelly Robinson’s favourite commissions are the tricky ones. “I really love taking on the less sleek, awkward, tired and seemingly unloved flats which are shown empty. They languish on the market for ages with no offers. I then get to dress them and watch as the offers come in. It’s extremely satisfying turning around the problem properties. Duncan Terrace in Islington, (main picture) is a good example, a small flat in an excellent location on a garden square which should have flown, but shown as it was, partly and unimaginatively furnished it languished without interest from the market. A little imagination and style go a long way and this property quickly sold for £50k over the asking price.
Unfortunately, however, sellers often decide to stage a property only after it has languished on the market for some time.
Staging can help at this stage, but Marie Matthews, interior designer at Roomservice by CORT, another home staging and furniture rental provider, says it’s not the best time to consider it. “Ideally it is good to get the property staged from the start. With bigger properties a lot of people tend to stage it from the start because they know that people find it harder to visualise how to use big reception rooms or big open plan spaces. It tends to be the smaller ones that have been stuck on for a while that come to us and say ‘what can we do to ramp up interest in the property’? But by then you’ve maybe dropped the price and then are also trying to also convince people to spend more money.”
The good news if you find yourself stuck with a one-bedder that won’t sell is that there are some budget options that won’t break the bank. “We offer all different levels of staging, from putting in a few bits of furniture with cushions to fully dressing with artwork and mirrors. Even if you have a property worth £200K you can get a few bits in to give people an idea,” says Marie.
O’Neill says one way to keep costs down is to use a staging service just for photos, rather than keeping all the furniture and accessories in the property. “We also do some work on lower end of the market properties but typically they use our photo styling service. It is a less expensive option which is geared more toward creating amazing marketing pictures that will promote interest in the property.
“The photo style service could be anywhere from £750-£1,000 on average, whereas a stage would be upwards of £3,000, all included, for a small one bedroom property.”
An even more economical option is now available and it’s also been inspired by the US, says John Durrant, founder at photo editing provider Doctor Photo. He’s recently started offering a ‘virtual staging’ service, where agents send images of empty rooms and the company ‘stages’ them in the photo editing process.
“Virtual staging is an industry that has been going in the US for 10 years but there was nobody really doing it here. I think it is partly because in the past the quality hasn’t been that great but now we’ve got really good 3D imagery coming through with really good furniture that is making it a worthwhile consideration and it’s beginning to prove attractive to estate agents here.”
Durrant says so far interest has been steadily increasing. “In March we’ve done probably around 60 or 70, so that has been fairly considerable. Those people who have had it have said it was amazing and wonderful, etc, and we’ve had repeat customers.
“One of my new customers for Photoshop editing mentioned the service to somebody he did a market appraisal for on an empty flat and they instructed him partly on the back of that.”
William Susman, the agent in question and Director at Radlett agent Aitchisons, says for a cost of £45 per photo (or £36 each for three or more images), the virtual staging offering is a good value-add at little cost.
Virtual Staging is fantastic, people need to get some perspective in an empty room. We drop in some photos and that draws them in to engage with us. William Susman, Aitchisons.
“Realistically speaking for a £350K flat in Radlett in a 1970s block I’m not really going to be able to convince a client to rent furniture or stage it, but what I can do is say ‘let’s get some images done and drop some furniture in just so we can give an indicative idea to people and make the rooms look more interesting’,” he says.
“The concept is fantastic because people need to get some kind of perspective in a room of where you put a bed and how does a bed work in a room and our photos are important because that is what draws them to engage with us.”
Of course both photo styling or virtual styling could lead to some disappointment when viewers get to the property, but Susman sees this as a necessary evil. “When we take them down they might say ‘there’s no furniture in there’ but we’ve got them through the door. Now we’ve got the internet if you put something online that’s wrong people won’t even engage with you in the first place.”
O’Donovan says this is particularly relevant for the rental market. “Social media has had quite a big impact on the market. Certainly the trend now is for people looking for properties in the rental market to view them not in person but over their mobile devices, so having property furnishings, even if it’s just for photography and to get it onto social media, tends to make that property stand out head and shoulders over the competition.”
In today’s market properties need to stand out more than they did in the past and home staging is certainly another tool in the estate agent’s armoury that can help. With more economical options now hitting the market, perhaps it won’t be too long before some form of staging becomes just as popular here as it is in other countries.
Dressed versus undressed
- 59% of buyers will have their decision swayed towards a dressed property.
- 35% of agents advise dressing all properties, 14% advise dressing ‘difficult to sell’ properties only and about 5% will advise dressing properties of high value only.
- Estimates say that a dressed property can add up to 10% value on the property, although you are usually guaranteed at least 4%
- 70% of buyers will overlook other property faults if fully dressed.
Source: Fully Group