Every agent knows just how quickly you can see potential purchasers making up their minds about a property, whether it’s a possible ‘yes’ or a definite ‘no’. As Graham Smith, Managing Director of RoomService by CORT says, “First impressions really do count, which is why furnished properties get more viewings than unfurnished ones,” and sell more quickly, too.
That’s one reason a lot of agents are using home staging and furniture rental services to present empty properties, whether homes for sale where the owners have moved out, or unfurnished properties for rent. Often, too, agents suggest home staging where the home looks stale or tired – or just cluttered and untidy.
James Wyatt at agents Barton Wyatt says there are many levels of home staging. “At the basic level, it’s cheap,” he says, “more of a de-clutter and a few bits and bobs placed to smarten the worst hovel to an acceptable level. But in its most expensive mode, it is when new houses are fully furnished. We favour this approach as buyers will nearly always buy the property as seen.” For a large house in his Virginia Water hunting ground, he might expect to pay as much as £250,000, but he reckons it’s well worth it in terms of getting a better sale price.
Alexander James – which focuses on properties at the top of the market – dressed a £4.6m house, Silverwood, in the Wentworth Estate for Barton Wyatt, an interesting project since it had to strike a balance between sophisticated elegance and the homely warmth most buyers are looking for. Whatever the price bracket, Wyatt says, “Prospective buyers have to be able to imagine themselves at home the moment they step over the threshold.”
That works for lower price brackets too. Misha Smits at David Phillips, says, “Home staging has a reputation for being exclusive to high-end properties in Prime Central London, and of being little use elsewhere – but this simply isn’t true.
“The reality of the situation is that home staging is not only useful for ‘ordinary’ properties – even at the lower end – the service is far more cost effective in the long run than price reductions, and when effectively executed it can help to achieve a faster sale regardless of region and market value.
Misha says that the key is to select furniture and interior schemes on a case by case basis, accounting for the location, regional market and the property’s style and age. “Home staging works by portraying a personality and lifestyle that allows viewers to envisage themselves living there” he added, “for this reason, a furnished home will always perform better on the market than a comparable empty property.
Mansi Mehra at In:Style Direct quotes costs ranging from £4,000 + VAT for a two-bedroom apartment to £10,000 for a three bedroom house. Some home stagers charge on a consultancy basis. RoomService by CORT has a slightly different model, charging for furniture rental; a typical cost level is £697 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, on an initial three-month rental basis (or just over £2,000 over that period.)
A beautifully furnished property almost always achieves a higher selling price.” Mansi Mehra, In-Style Direct.
HOW TO DO IT
Agents, home stagers and developers all have their own tips. Chris White of Ideal Homes Portugal advises simplicity. “Swapping out hectic patterns for fresh, white linens, while Mark Pritchard, sales and marketing director at Taylor Woodrow España, says, “The key to home staging for high end holiday properties is to provide not just the main furniture items, but also the right amount of finishing touches – a simple bowl of fruit or bunch of flowers can make a room feel complete.”
Many people can’t envisage what to do with an open space and how it would work.” Graham Smith, RoomService by CORT.
One big advantage of home staging is that there’s no ‘spare room’ in a staged house; it’s obvious what each room is for, whether it’s a bedroom, dining area or games room. At the same time, Graham Smith points out that properties actually often look larger when they are furnished. “For example if a bedroom is empty, someone might doubt whether it could fit a double bed,” she explains, “but if you put one in there, that question is answered.” Home staging can be particularly important for open plan properties, too. “Many people can’t actually envisage what to do with an open space and how it would work.”
Home staging is not about cutting edge interior design. It needs to focus on the target buyer or tenant. Val Plummer, of No 19 interior design, says that any property price sets up certain expectations which need to be met – the work of the home stager is to understand those expectations and ensure they are not disappointed.
Home staging can also help define a property’s appeal to a particular market. Architect Louise McDonnell, who has used Roomservice to dress properties that she developed, was impressed by the firm’s focus. “The concepts that Roomservice put together helped to target a specific demographic that the estate agents Hamptons wanted to attract,” she says. Julian Maurice says that in the rental market, “The key element is the customer’s requirements, not the landlord’s.” Landlords have to sell their product to a particular target market, depending on the property type, the competition, the customer demographic and the location the landlord may have to furnish their property to suit their market.”
That frequently means the way a landlord or vendor furnished a property may not suit the taste of their target market.
Time to bring in the home stagers.
RoomService by CORT offers both Dress to Sell and Dress to Let packages. Renting is obviously more cost effective than buying furniture for the short term – but the contract terms are flexible, so that if a buyer wants to purchase the furniture, or a tenant wants to rent furnished, that can easily be arranged.
The speed with which a home staging can be carried out is impressive – typically, within ten days of signing the contract, with over 300 lines of furniture available from stock, covering different styles and budgets. (RoomService makes it even easier by designing room sets for each room rather than making clients choose individual items.)
Many home staging companies now have partnership schemes available for agents who want to use them. They can help agents broach the sometimes tricky subject – some agents feel that if they bring up home staging at first meeting, vendors could take offence at being told, in effect, that their home isn’t tidy or trendy enough, and the instruction will be lost. HouseWow, for instance, lets agents give a 25 page home staging guide to their clients and has preferential rates for partner agents.
Home staging is still a fragmented market. Some companies come from the furniture rental business, while others have an interior design background; there are many local and regional players, some of which are affiliated to larger networks such as House Doctor.
And the jury is still out on who pays for staging. A few agents include it as part of the package, but it seems more usual for clients to pay for it themselves, which is why many companies, like RoomService by CORT, pay agents a referral fee.
DOES IT WORK?
Yes, say developers and agents who use it. Mark Pritchard points out that if you home stage before shooting the photos of the property, you benefit from the fact that the photos show exactly the lifestyle you want to target. “Helping viewers looking at images online to picture themselves relaxing in the property.” That’s particularly important for selling properties overseas, where clients buying a second home, or those buying a property for letting out, may not have their own furniture or want to get involved buying furniture abroad. (Ideal Homes Portugal offers its own furniture packs in such cases, including paintings for the wall.)
Staging can even end up saving the owner money. HouseWow reckons staging can often avoid the need for a complete redecoration, using accessories instead to bring the property up to scratch design wise; a much cheaper way to give it a ‘wow factor’.
Julian Maurice claims dressing a property will always attract better quality tenants and better rental values. “As a landlord myself,” he says, “I always make that choice in order to secure my investment’s long term rental potential.”
Staging also speeds up transactions, says Graham Smith; “The service has been proven to assist quick sales at asking price and increase the speed of letting, thus reducing the length of any void period.” While home staging can help any property, she says it’s a particularly good investment for higher value properties where it can maximise the sales price. She gives the example of a house in Richmond that had been on the market for seven months, unfurnished, after the owners moved out; when their new agent suggested home staging, they managed to sell it for the full £1,995,000 asking price within 18 days.
Mansi Mehra says “A beautifully furnished property almost always achieves a higher selling price.” An investment of £50,000 in dressing a £1m property in Victoria sold it within four days at 1.5m – after several months failing to find a buyer. In the end, the buyer bought all the furnishings, as well. With rental, even quite new properties can benefit from staging. A property that was failing to achieve the market rent of just under £600, after staging, attracted a tenant who was willing to pay the significantly higher rent of £650 a week.
And in the case of a number of flats in a new development becoming available to rent simultaneously, home staging can set one of them apart.
Home staging is suitable and affordable for ‘ordinary homes’ and it’s a highly effective tool for estate agents.” Misha Smits, David Phillips.
Prime examples of home staging’s performance in less expensive properties would be David Phillips’ projects on Silver Street in Leicester, and in Cheadle and Didsbury on the outskirts of Manchester.
The Silver Street property was valued at £89,000 and was unable to find a buyer after 12 weeks on the market unfurnished – the owner opted to use home staging as opposed to dropping the asking price to £85,000. Following home staging the property sold for the full asking price within four weeks.
In fact, David Phillips has achieved success across the board with properties both in Prime Central London and other parts of the UK, helping to sell over £350,000,000 of property in 2014 alone.
Two of their projects in Cheadle and Didsbury were valued between £200,000-300,000, and both unfurnished properties were struggling to attract offers. Misha says, “Following home staging, both properties achieved sales at asking price within eight weeks. Both properties were set in more traditional areas, with 18th century town centres.
The schemes aimed to capitalise on this traditional theme to attract buyers, which ultimately facilitated faster sales.”
Most agents still see home staging as an answer to problem properties – relatively few are yet suggesting it from the outset for most of their clients. But demand is definitely growing. Mansi Mehra, Design Director at In:Style Direct, says, “We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for homestaging over the last year, with enquiries peaking in January and again in the spring. We expect a similar peak in the autumn and are confident demand will continue to rise.” Graham Smith says RoomService by CORT also reports increased interest from agents. Five years ago, he admits, this part of the business “practically did not exist.” The company was mainly serving the relocation sector. Now, it’s growing fast.
So home staging – even if most people identify it with property porn programmes on TV – does seem to have a real business benefit, at least for high value properties and for tactical use on properties that are failing to move. It may not be long until it becomes business as usual for many estate agents.
Alexander James: www.aji.co.uk
Cort Business Services Ltd: www.RoomServiceByCort.com
David Phillips: www.davidphillips.com
LOFT Interiors: www.loft-interiors.co.uk