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In a frenetic market with houses going for well over list and multiple offers, some sellers may question the importance of investing in staging. As a real estate professional, I can’t promise my clients that their property will stand out and receive the highest offers unless buyers fall in love with the home. That’s where staging makes a big difference. I sat down with professional stager Margot Oven of MO Design, to get her advice and opinions on home staging.

Q: (Bitsa) At a minimum what do you recommend every buyer should do if funds are limited?

A: (Margot) I recommend investing in full staging in almost every situation. Partial staging (using an owner’s own furnishings) is not worth it. Since the biggest chunk of staging cost is the stager’s time, it is almost as expensive and there is not as big of a bang for your buck. It can take as long if not longer to partially stage. With lived-in furniture and clothes in the closet, it is not as easy to create a depersonalized space that the buyers can visualize as their own. The process of staging a vacant home from scratch can be difficult. It requires packing up, moving out, finding somewhere to go and storing furniture. However, this is really worth the effort and makes it easier to attract buyers (realtors prefer it too). Today’s buyers are the HGTV generation. They watch all the home shows that prepare, prep and flip properties. They are accustomed to the look they see on TV and respond well to homes that reflect this ideal. I identify a target buyer for each property while being inclusive and tell a story incorporating details. It is designed to be warm and inviting without buyers feeling like they are invading someone else’s space. The target depends upon the individual home. For example, a family house may be staged to appeal to young families. To attract the many young couples moving from the city to a first home, I would incorporate sophisticated furnishings and stage one bedroom as a baby nursery. If it’s a non kid-friendly condo, I wouldn’t stage a nursery. Instead I might stage his and her offices and/or a guest bedroom. I also match the style of the house. A buyer of a Victorian home would not want a modern glass aesthetic. In my opinion the most essential investments, in order of importance are:

  1. Full staging
  2. Painting the walls 
  3. Updating flooring
  4. Updating light fixtures  
  5. Curb appeal landscaping 

Q: (Bitsa) What is the biggest return on investment (ROI)  if funds are available?

A: (Margot) Full staging offers the highest ROI in almost every scenario. After that, incorporating property improvement into staging can offer a very large return on investment for higher price point homes. This is the biggest change that I have seen in this field over the past few years.  Along with staging furnishings, projects traditionally included cosmetic updates (i.e. painting the interior and/or exterior, landscaping, re-carpeting and changing flooring and updates to light fixtures). Now, prior to staging, I am often managing kitchen and bathroom remodels and other major home renovation projects. Currently there is almost no cap to how high these showcase type homes can sell. While these costly upgrades are rewarded in high end neighborhoods like Kent Woodlands, they are not for every home. The ceiling for how high a house will sell for is dependent upon the unique features of the specific property. For example, I would not recommend costly renovations for a hillside house on a busy street in Mill Valley. For lower price points homes, it would be challenging to get a return on large home improvement investments.

Q: (Bitsa) Do you ever recommend NOT staging?

A: (Margot) No. It might possibly be ill-advised if the house is a tear-down. But it can be hard to decipher whether or not staging a tear-down would still be worth the investment. I can put lipstick on a house in almost any condition and have it pay off. The other scenario where it might not be worthwhile is for an off-market listing that is being sold for the property, not the structure. But it is very rare that staging is not a sure-bet investment for the home seller to maximize their profit. 

Q: (Bitsa) Have you ever staged/remodeled and the home doesn’t sell?

A: (Margot) This would be rare. If it doesn’t sell, it’s been priced incorrectly too high. Pricing is determined by the realtor. As a stager, I don’t have any control over that. I have had several instances in which the owner doesn’t want to sell after they see their transformed home. 

Q: (Bitsa) Does a seller always leave money on the table when they don’t stage?

A: (Margot) Yes. “Staging” is a broad title. Staging can be narrowly defined as showing how a house can be furnished. As an interior designer, the service I provide is creating an elevated design aesthetic that will create an emotional attachment. There has been a recent shift as people scroll sites like houzz, Instagram, and Pinterest for the latest trends in home design and furnishing. Younger millennial buyers want to walk into the turn-key dream home that resembles what they see online. So I really have to stay up to date by constantly turning over my furniture. With current, curated interior design and furnishings, I present millennial buyers with homes transformed into what they are looking for. I can even disguise non-descript tract houses, giving a mediocre home the illusion of personality. For beautiful houses, full staging highlights the unique home features with updated newer, brighter styling. Over the past 3-4 years, I almost never recommend partial staging (using an owner’s furnishings and artwork) for Marin home sellers. This would only be in the rare instance when a home in the over $7MM price category has recently been remodeled and/or decorated by a high end decorator.  

Q: (Bitsa) How important do you think the outside of a property is to the success of a sale in Marin, equal to or less than the interiors?

A: (Margot) The outside is less important. Home buyers can see past the exterior if they love the interior.

Q: (Bitsa) What’s the average amount of time required for a home to be prepped using your services?

A: (Margot) Staging decor itself takes only 1 ½ to 2 days. As I mentioned, my business has grown to include project management for cosmetic updates and often more extensive home improvement projects. The process of prepping the house for sale ( i.e. flooring,  painting, landscaping, lighting) takes a minimum of 2 weeks.  When there is a full kitchen and/or bathroom remodel(s) and/or other construction, it takes  6-8 weeks. I have a full team (contractors, electricians, plumbers etc.) that work solely for me. They come in and quickly get it all done.

Q: (Bitsa) Do you have any figures on the ROI from unstaged/remodeled to post staged?

A: (Margot) Under my umbrella, the biggest ROI is full staging. However, it is hard to come up with reliable rules of thumb expected returns on dollars spent invested in staging. Based upon my own experience, returns will vary greatly by which area in Marin the home is located and other characteristics making a property more or less desirable. As I mentioned, there is almost no cap on returns for dollars spent staging in neighborhoods like Kentfield and Ross. However, there will be diminishing returns in lower price point areas where a seller will not get past a certain price point level. In those cases, I would advise the seller against over-improving.

Thank you for your insight Margot! You transform each space into an aspirational vision and are a joy to work with. 

While it is difficult to make generalizations on the tangible value of staging, here are some published industry stats.

  1. A recent survey from the International Association of Home Staging Professionals shows that staging helps sell homes three to 30 times faster than the non-staged competition. Further, staging can help increase the sale price by up to 20% on average.
  2. According to RESA (Real Estate Staging Association), by investing 1.3% of a home’s value in staging, 73% of sellers saw a return of over 7%.
  3. Similarly, in a 2021 National Association of Realtors report, 23% of sellers’ agents indicated that staging helped increase offer amounts by up to 5%. Agents surveyed said that staging increases offers by 6-10% and 6% of them saw offer increases of 11-15%. Also, according to HomeAdvisor, staged homes spend 33-50% less time on the market.


About Us

Boulevard Real Estate was founded by fourth-generation Marin native Elizabeth “Bitsa” Freeman. Bitsa’s expertise in the local market, reputation for genuineness, honesty and deep community connections have made her a much sought after luxury Marin County agent. Bitsa is consistently a top-producer in Kentfield and Kent Woodlands. Boulevard is proud to be certified as a Green Business by the California Green Business Network, and awarded Marin IJ Readers Choice Best Realtor Honor for four years running- 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. We love to focus on local women owned business owners like Margot Ovens of MO Design whose mission aligns so closely with our own.

Kentfield Kent Woodlands Living Room with View

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