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Some Staging Is Ineffective – and Some Increases Liability

If a stager’s furniture is damaged when a home is on the market, who pays? Usually, it’s the homeowner. Use contracts and vet possible stagers before hiring them.

WASHINGTON – Studies show that staging a property can lead to a higher sales price and a quicker sale, whether in a buyer’s or seller’s market. But novices’ mistakes – such as a lack of insurance or minimalist vignette staging that fails to convey the full attributes of a room – could have the opposite effect or even pose liability issues for Realtors® or their clients, according to Shell Brodnax, CEO of the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA). Brodnax spoke recently on “Staging to Sell” session during the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) virtual 2020 Realtors® Conference & Expo.

Brodnax highlighted staging red flags, including the top one: attempting to hide serious flaws, like covering mold with paint or concealing damaged floors with area rugs.

Professional stagers should “merchandise” a home Brodnax said – showing it in its best light, advising on necessary repairs, cleaning, decluttering, painting, addressing curb appeal, arranging furniture and prepping it for in-person showings and for cameras. Many stagers offer a variety of services, including remote staging consultations, staging using the owner’s existing items and color consultations. For full staging, they’ll bring in new furnishings and accessories.

When vetting a stager, ask whether they’ve received any training in staging; assess their portfolio (and make sure “their” photos aren’t stock art); verify whether they have general liability insurance and worker’s comp for themselves or third parties they use; and ensure they use contracts, Brodnax said.

“Staging contracts protect you and your client,” Brodnax said. The contract provides a legal document outlining the scope of work and expectations to help avoid misunderstandings. If a stager doesn’t offer a contract, that is a red flag.

Contracts can, for example, cover questions such as what happens if the staging inventory is damaged while a home is for sale, and who would be responsible.

Professional stagers should warn clients about any liability. If stagers use their own furniture or rent pieces, a homeowner could potentially be held liable for any losses or damages to staging inventory brought inside their home, and they should accept that level of liability upfront.

Liability insurance won’t cover damage to inventory, such as furnishings and accessories, when it’s out of a stager’s care. And homeowners usually can’t add the stager’s inventory using a rider on their own homeowner’s insurance policy, since they don’t own the items. If the inventory is stolen (which happens, Brodnax warns) or damaged (such as through fire, flood or other hazards), the homeowner would have to pay the stager for the losses.

RESA offers Staging Risk Management, a short-term insurance policy that stagers can offer homeowners (at a cost of up to $300) to cover $30,000 of staging inventory while the home is for sale. “The insurance protects them so the homeowner doesn’t have to pay a stager back $25,000 because someone stole it or from the losses from a fire,” Brodnax said.

Also, to distinguish a professional stager from a “hobbyist,” study their work. For example, some hobbyist stagers may turn to “vignette staging” in an attempt to “warm up a space” with minimal items in a vacant room. This may involve a small table displaying a tray of drinks or sweets or a vacant room with just a decorative trunk and a small area rug in front of a window.

“But it just looks empty, unpolished and unfinished,” Brodnax said. “Staging benefits the buyer by creating a space to enhance the look and feel. Staging is marketing and merchandising a space for the buyer.” Vignette staging doesn’t do that, she said.

Brodnax urges real estate professionals to keep sales stats that compare properties that have been staged with those that haven’t. Do those properties tend to sell faster? Do they tend to sell for more money?

“Use your own personal stats to justify staging” to clients and include that data in your listing presentations, Brodnax said.

Brodnax urged real estate pros to consider adding a professional stager to their network.

“You may have a title rep, mortgage lender or photographer, but consider adding a stager to your team,” Brodnax said. “A professional stager on your team can change your business model and you can consult with them on every listing.”

Source: National Association of Realtors® (NAR)

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