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This Staging Service Can Make Your House a Hot Property Looks can be deceiving, but using a staging service to have your house look its best can bring big bucks from potential buyers.

By Jason Daley

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you make 10 percent less than asking price selling your Beanie Babies on eBay, it's no big deal. But get less than you're asking on a house? You could easily be out tens of thousands of dollars. That's why realtors and home sellers turn to home staging, in which an interior designer "edits" and rearranges a seller's furnishings, or brings in better items, to help prospective buyers imagine the best possible version of a property.

Showhomes, a Nashville-based franchise, adds people to the equation. Franchisees contract with "home managers," individuals or families who temporarily move into homes that are on the market, giving them a desirable lived-in quality while also handling cleaning.

Linda Saavedra, Showhomes' franchisee in Tampa, Fla. (and its 2010 franchise of the year winner), has been in the business for five years. "There are stats all over about home staging," she says. "It speeds sales by 60 to 70 percent. It increases sale prices by 7 to 10 percent, but sometimes can improve prices by 25 percent. You can have a home sit vacant for months and months with no showings; once it's staged, it can sell in a few days."

We asked Saavedra to give us a tour of the staging business.

Is staging expensive?

Staging can be anywhere from .75 to 1.5 percent of the list price. But it really depends on the type of staging done, the size of the home, the square footage being staged and for how long. But it's a reasonable investment. Statistically, if you invest $3,000 in staging, you can make a return of $25,000 on the back end. If your house is on the market for 30 days, there's usually a price reduction, and they do those in big chunks such as $10,000 or $20,000. Staging costs a whole lot less than a price reduction.

Why is it so popular now?

Buyers used to meet up with a realtor and drive to houses. Today, the internet is a game-changer. We buy everything online and use pictures to buy a car or book a hotel room. Houses are the same way. If a seller puts up pictures of a vacant home, or it looks cluttered or terrible, and you put that next to a staged home, at the end of the day the staged home will get more attention, more buyer leads and more money.

What do the home managers add?

There's just something about a house that's lived in; it's got a different feel. And vacancy insurance is outrageous. In Florida, you're supposed to report a vacant home to your insurance company or risk termination. But then they charge a vacancy surcharge, which can be $1,800 for 90 days. Even if the home sells in a week, it's not prorated.

Insurance sees vacant houses as high risk for vandalism or squatters. All kinds of things could happen. I worked with a guy who had a $1 million home in a prime area. It was broken into while vacant, and someone stole $8,000 in air conditioner equipment and appliances. People know that staging the home will help sell it, and they'll probably save money on vacancy insurance.

What makes a good home manager?

They have to be committed to the lifestyle, which is different from yours and mine. It means you can't leave water bottles and shoes lying around. Toothbrushes have to be put away every morning, and wet towels go directly into the dryer, which gets turned on. They need to keep the house pristine and tidy and have to be ready for a showing on two hours notice. We love people who are a little OCD.

A lot goes into our screenings. We're looking for people with beautiful furnishings who can move them into the house. They can't have a renter's mentality. We want people who were homeowners who might be in transition. The average Tampa manager is in the program 18 months, but we have one person moving into their 11th home. And we also have a family with four kids. For them, it's a fabulous job. They're saving money to buy the house of their dreams, and it's an opportunity to teach the kids to make their beds every day and put their toys away.

Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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