Why every seller should stage their home — and h...

Why every seller should stage their home — and how it’s done

“It needs to be depersonalized, decluttered and even a little sterile,” says Staged Detroit owner Kristin Calvert.

Living room in home for sale, staged by Detroit Staged

Courtesy of Staged Detroit

What makes Zillow such an addictive site to scroll though whether you’re a realtor, buyer or simply like houses? The photography, of course. 

The rise of listing sites and their glossy photography has also increased the importance of staging, the subtle but essential art of making a home look attractive and livable without drawing attention to itself. According to a 2017 report from the National Association of Realtors, a whopping 95% of homebuyers — and 99% of millennials — scan listing sites when looking for a home, with 89% of buyers saying photos were “very useful,” the most of any online listing feature. So if a home doesn’t photograph well, it’s going to get much less attention. (And while unusual decor — tunnels, toilet thrones, jail cells and more — might get a house plenty of attention, it’s not necessarily the kind that leads to sales.)

But who are the people behind staging? Where is all this furniture, fixtures, and (sometimes tacky) wall art being stored? And how do they select which pieces to include? 

To answer these questions and more, we spoke with Kristin Calvert, owner of Staged Detroit, a firm she founded in 2016. The company works with sellers and realtors, and stages close to 100 homes every year for sale. They also furnish homes for rental and consult on interior design. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Courtesy Staged Detroit

Detour: How does one get into home staging?

Calvert: I joke that HGTV gave me a job because today everyone knows what staging is. I didn’t have to do too much marketing. 

But I was a realtor for 10 years before starting my own company. I noticed that if I took a little time to prep the home for sale, I’d be able to sell it quicker. Around five years ago, after going through my own furniture at my own house, using my garage as warehouse space, plus some storage units, I realized I’d have to choose between being a realtor or starting a staging company. It was one of the easiest decisions of my life. I’m much better at this. 

Kristin Calvert
Kristin Calvert. Courtesy Staged Detroit

Is that a typical path? Does it help to have a background in interior design, for example?

Taking some classes on design can certainly be helpful. But you don’t have to have an interior design background — they’re very different professions. With staging, you have to achieve a whole look for a lot less. And if you’re into interior design, that’s a hard thing to get away from. A set designer or stylist might even have more applicable skills. More important is having a natural ability to see a room and envisioning what you could do with it. 

I also think having a solid foundation in the real estate market is really important. Realtors don’t want to hear you say that you don’t know about escrow or clear to close or a [Homeowners Association] fee. I think it’s great to work as a realtor for a couple of years while learning the staging business too. It will make you the gold standard in staging. 

Why shouldn’t someone stage a house themselves or keep the place as is? Why is it better to hire a professional?

I have no emotional attachment to the properties I stage. When people do it themselves, it’s harder to be objective. That ratty sofa you love so much might carry memories for you, but those memories don’t translate to someone else who may want your property. Case in point, I sold my house two years ago, staged it myself, and it took longer than expected to sell because I was looking at it from a different perspective. Who wouldn’t want all this bright color? Homes are meant to be your safe space and that’s how it should be when you’re living there. But when you’re ready to sell your home, it needs to be depersonalized, decluttered, and even a little sterile, with moments of pop to get people excited. 

Also, staged homes sell for more money and quicker than those that aren’t. A really well crafted staging speaks to the buyer, helps them develop an attachment to it, allows them to envision themselves living there. During in-home visits, people tend to stay much longer in a staged home. And, look, with social media today, people like to say, “This is our house, this is what we’re buying, I can’t believe we were able to get it.” 

I imagine photography plays a huge role in staging as well. 

My longest professional relationship is with my photographer — we’ve been working together for seven years. So, yes, photography and staging work hand-in-hand. On that first home visit, I’ll take some photos with my phone, go to the sellers, and show them what it looks like on a two-by-six inch screen. It almost always looks cluttered. 

Courtesy Staged Detroit

What’s your process? What do you do after you enter a home?

I always walk in the front door, never the back or side door, stand in the front room, and take in the first things I’m sensing in the home. What is in my 180-degree periphery? Is it bright enough? What am I smelling? What I’m sensing has to be absolutely great. If you can sell it in the first 45 seconds, then you’ve done your job. 

Then I like to walk the property. At this point, I’ve probably already done some research into who the buyer might be. From there, I came up with a plan. A lot of times, it’s an easy process when it’s a flip or cute little Royal Oak bungalow. But every house is different — I’ve done 600-square-foot homes and over-7,000-square-foot homes. The smaller ones are often harder because you have to make sure every square foot is accounted for, even the 100-square-foot bump out. After that first walkthrough, I’ll generally also come up with the color palette. 

I then try to identify the top three benefits to this home and make sure to emphasize them. But I’m also looking out for what a buyer will see that might make them question if they want this home. In a lot of our old historic homes, that could be the toilet that’s not in the right spot — things don’t always modernize as easily as we’d hope. So we’ll add something to draw your eye in a different direction. 

Another example: this week, I was working on a hi-rise in Detroit. The bedroom was overlooking the city and not the river. But if we put the bed on this side of the room, the buyer would walk past the bed at an angle that would allow them to see the river. 

Courtesy Staged Detroit

How do you decide which furniture or fixtures or wall color to use?

We always try to stay ahead of the curve in everything we do — I probably spend seven hours a week on research. When everybody’s doing greys on walls, we’re moving to greige (a combination of grey and beige). Funny enough, the new color trend is white walls. 

We never do a “drop a room,” just the same standard tables and chairs for each place. Anybody could be a stager if that worked. Every house has close to 20 vendors — Facebook marketplace, wholesale, Target, you name it. We mix and match everything, both high and low, in every property. 

It’s also important to know that as a stager, we’re just part of the team. We work hand-in-hand with the sellers, handyman, painter, realtor, photographer. Selling a house is the most important investment you’ll likely ever make. It’s a very serious time. I want the sellers to take their time to really prepare the home right. Take it slow if you need to; don’t feel rushed. And make sure you have the right team around you. 

Where does everything stay when it’s not in a home?

We have a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Ferndale. It’s all stored there. We can do about 30 houses at a time. 

We may use some items many times and some only once or twice before reselling them. While those brightly colored cheetah print chairs will look great, you can’t constantly reuse them before they get stale. But you usually want to have a few sizzle items because the realtor will want to take a picture and post it. 

Aaron Mondry is the editor of The Dig and a reporter who covers development, housing, architecture, real estate and land use in Detroit. He was previously the editor of Curbed Detroit.