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Staging Rules Every Realtor Should Know

Staging a home, whether in-person or virtually, comes with responsibilities. Be sure you and your sellers understand the consequences.

You just listed a beautiful house that needs a little loving care, so you recommend to your seller that the house will sell quicker if they stage it. The seller contracts with a stager and the property is getting a lot of buyer interest.

When the stager comes back to collect the staging props, some are missing. Who’s responsible? Unfortunately, the seller had to reimburse the stager for the stolen property, per the contract they signed. Upon investigation, they discovered that a painter the seller had contracted had stolen the property.

In another scenario, a vacant home is staged virtually, showing a beautifully decorated home to entice buyers to visit. Once they arrive, the home is vacant, the flooring is different from the online photos and the walls are painted a hideous purple.

“When virtual staging changes listing photos drastically from their original appearance, it can be misleading and give buyers a false impression of a property,” says Peter Schravemade, strategic manager at photo-editing firm BoxBrownie.

Staging is a popular way for sellers and real estate agents to boost interest in a vacant or dated home. Some large brokerages even offer programs that assist with staging the home for the seller. As agents for the seller, fiduciary duty will, at minimum, require the disclosure of what staging the listed property entails, and the opportunity it presents in marketing the home.

The National Association of Realtors® Profile of Home Staging shows that an investment in staging helps the buyer see the property as their future home. It’s important to understand the responsibilities involved in staging a home—whether in-person or virtually.

In-person home staging

“Urge your sellers to read the staging contract carefully. Most times, it outlines that the seller is responsible for the theft, vandalism, fire, water damage, etc., done to staged properties,” says Bob Johnson, founder of Staging Risk Management.

The program protects a stager’s direct insurance costs and gives clients their own coverage for staged furniture when it’s in their possession. “Be sure you choose a stager that has insurance, but even that may not help if the property is not in the stager’s care, custody and control,” says Johnson.

Sometimes, a seller’s homeowner’s insurance will cover the theft or damage. In cases where the homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it, sellers can purchase staging insurance.

One example of a recent staging theft: A law enforcement official described how thieves used the virtual video posted online showing the home for sale. By looking at the video, they chose which pieces of furniture they wanted and stole them. Again, the seller was liable for the missing pieces.

Just as real estate agents aren’t responsible for disclosures not in their control, stagers aren’t responsible for damages and theft when the property is not in their control.

Virtual staging

When it comes to virtual staging, there is a line. The removal of items is a common photo enhancement, intended to make countertops or bookshelves appear decluttered, for example. But sometimes it can go too far.

For example, says Schravemade, you shouldn’t remove a visible heating unit or kitchen appliance to make the room appear more open. He also cautions against adding fixtures–which are included in a home sale–that aren’t there.

According to Schravemade, potential misrepresentation shouldn’t stop real estate professionals from editing their property photos. But a disclaimer should be used when enhancing photos.

An example may be: This image is an artist’s impression of what the property might look like. As such, the image has been digitally modified. ABC Realty suggests you conduct your own due diligence into the state of the property or request a statement of what has been modified from the listing broker.

If your sellers choose to stage a house, whether virtually or in-person, it’s important to avoid misrepresenting the property and letting your sellers know their liability in case of theft or damage.

Tracey C. Velt is a contributing editor for Florida Realtor® magazine.