Home Staging Tips from a “Million Dollar Listing” Expert

Moving Tips

Chris Leavitt is a high-end home staging expert

When broker Chris Leavitt’s clients in Palm Beach were getting a home ready to sell, they went all out, to the tune of $400,000 in high-end home staging, working closely with a well-known designer to spruce up their space.

It was more than some spend on their entire home, but for that market, it was an investment in high-end staging that paid off, according to the regular on Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing Miami”.

“They took a big, big house and made it feel warm and cozy. They did such a good job, they sold the house furniture and all,” he said. “They got back their investment and about a million dollars more than if it was unfurnished. And it sold quickly.”

Staging a house for a high-end market is different than other markets. In luxury homes, there’s likely a lot of dramatic detail, thanks to the work of a top architect, that often goes beyond even great crown molding and a vintage fireplace. You’ll want to work closely to showcase the home’s assets.   “If you stage that home cheaply, it takes away from the entire house,” Chris said. “You have to be really careful when you stage homes at that level because it can detract from the beauty and history of the home.”

living room example of high end home staging project

Chris says to start any staging project with a basic checklist to help highlight what you have that works and what you still need to bring in: furniture, artwork, towels and accessories. And of course hire a  good designer or stager. Consider enlisting your broker for names. Most who have experience with high-end homes know who to call for help for staging, which often includes renting furniture, which should always fit the house. “Don’t just call any staging company. Make sure you see the inventory they have. You don’t want it to look like a showroom in a moderately priced furniture store.”

While it may be costly to stage an entire house, as opposed to just a few prominent rooms, Chris insists it’s a must at this level. “If you only stage a few rooms and the rest of the house is bare, it looks like you skimped or ran out of money or are desperate. Don’t skimp! Either do it all or don’t do it at all.”

The best-staged homes don’t look that way, however, they look lived in and livable. “I’ve gone to the length of putting clothes in the closets and hampers filled with towels. People are smart; they know the minute they walk in the door if it’s staged poorly, and they’ll think you’re trying to get more money or you haven’t been able to sell it. So you don’t want to be obvious.”

Accessories are great way to give a home a personal touch and make the place look curated, not fake and staged. “You don’t want it to look like you bought everything at one place. Maybe go to a flea market and get some things that are off the wall and creative so it looks like someone’s home. I staged a home in Boca and the agent originally wanted to get rid of everything and bring in all new stuff. But I discovered the owners had a garage full of beautiful things they brought back from their travels so I mixed them throughout the house and it worked great.”

bedroom example of high end home staging

Artwork is another area that is important to get right. “Cheap artwork can be the death of the staging experience!” says Chris. “If you have a really special house, say in the range of $15 million to $20 million, you could try to partner with some art galleries to have them rotate some good artwork in there. It’s good exposure for them. You never know who is going to walk through those doors. At those price points, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’re art collectors.”

Chris also has an avid list of don’ts:

Don’t use dead or silk flowers – “They’re dead energy! People think it helps but it’s awful! I’d rather see one big, nice orchid than five arrangements of fake flowers.”

Don’t forget to go neutral – “A lot of times homeowners renovate so heavily and they have really specific colors like a red room or elaborate tiles. Get rid of all that. Paint everything white or off white. People can get really turned off by color.”

Don’t forget to clear out clutter – “Remove things under the bed, organize the closets. You don’t have to go nuts. You still want it to look like someone lives there. But it has to look clean and ready to go.”

Don’t leave strong smells lingering – “I had a client who was an avid cooker with spices and we couldn’t sell the house. I told him to stop cooking and I brought in an air purifier to get the smells out. It cost about $1000 but it changed the whole scope of it. As soon as we got rid of the smells, the house sold. It’s not about lighting some cheap candle. The house needs to smell fresh and clean, not stale.”

When it comes time to show off your home staging efforts to sell the house. Chris says you have to go the extra mile there too. “The old days of just having a public or broker open house don’t work anymore. People are too busy. You want to host something at the house that will bring in a high end group of people. Maybe partner with a charity. Give them the house to have an event.

“Bring people in for a different reason other than just to see the house.  If you just have a public open house, you’re just going to get people who want free food and cocktails. Make the event something unique and special with a hook. You’ll get the level of clientele who would buy a home at that price range.”

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