What is home staging and how can it help you sell a house in Tampa Bay?

Kristy Craig Anderson hasn’t always been in the home staging business — in fact, until about 2015, it was a side gig to her job as assistant principal at a private middle school in Ybor City, Academy Prep Center of Tampa.

But she’s been passionate about decorating homes since she was a kid.

“We didn’t have any money and we moved from apartment to apartment every six months,” Craig Anderson said. “So I would decorate it with bedsheets as curtains.”

Now, she’s the owner of three businesses: Dwell Staging, which stages homes for sale; Dwell Villa, which offers furniture packages to get properties turnkey-ready; and Dwell Home Market, the South Tampa headquarters for all of her businesses and a retail shop where people can buy furniture and decor that’s been phased out of the staging operations, for example.

Kristy Craig Anderson [ Matthew Holler Photographer, Courtesy of Kristy Craig Anderson ]

She estimates her company has staged close to 2,000 homes — many of them luxury properties, but they also do mid-priced homes, which she defined as starting around $500,000 in the higher-end South Tampa area. Her company’s staging services start at around $2,000.

Craig Anderson spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about home staging and how the hot housing market has affected her business. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does a home stager do?

Home staging is enhancing the interiors of the home so it sells faster and for more money on the real estate market. There are two main types: vacant home staging, when a home is empty and needs furniture and decor while it’s on the market, and occupied home staging, which is when a seller is living in the home while it’s on the real estate market. At Dwell we focus on vacant homes.

I noticed on your company’s website it said that you customize your staging based on the sellers’ target market. What does that mean?

A successful stage is geared toward the target demographic buyer. For example, if it’s a family home, maybe it’s a move-up buyer — that would be someone that’s selling their first home and moving up to their second one, they might be married with a couple of kids —we’re going to target our staging to that demographic so that their typical age, their typical family setup, and that stage is going to look different than if we’re staging say, an expensive condo that is one-bedroom, downtown. That might be a single young professional.

So we’re going to tell a different story with our stage and the furniture and decor we use for that buyer. But that’s how staging is very different from interior design, because we’re targeting a group of buyers in a certain demographic rather than designing for what I like, or the seller likes, or the Realtor likes.

How do you balance making a home appear beautiful while still giving it enough space for buyers to imagine themselves living there?

No. 1, we always say that we’re selling the home and not our stuff. So even if we are targeting our staging design to a certain demographic, we have furniture and decor that is neutral.

If it’s luxury, it has to feel luxe, but typically it’s light colors so it’s not visually oppressive or heavy. That really helps them, the buyer, to feel like they can really freely walk around the space and have actual and visual space to look around. We’re really trying to tell a story and create an emotion, rather than create a furniture layout that’s exactly how someone might lay out the space if they lived there. We’re probably using a little less furniture. But it’s all still going to have the right look and be the right scale.

Good home staging uses a little less furniture than a home would have with someone living in it, Kristy Craig Anderson said, to leave room for buyers' imagination.
Good home staging uses a little less furniture than a home would have with someone living in it, Kristy Craig Anderson said, to leave room for buyers’ imagination. [ Tony Sica Photography, Courtesy of Kristy Craig Anderson ]

I’ve noticed staged homes’ decor is often perfectly in line with what’s trendy. Do you have to buy new decorations when new trends start to come into fashion?

Yes, absolutely. And we are lucky because we’re larger and we’re able to do that. We replenish our inventory monthly. When I was small, I wasn’t able to do that.

But, yes, you really need to think about what’s trending right now. You also have to be smart — if emerald green is trending, we’re not going to go buy a bunch of emerald green sofas, but we might buy some emerald green artwork or throw pillows.

With the real estate market being on fire lately, is that good for your business or not, because houses are practically selling themselves?

It’s a typical assumption that when the market is really hot that staging isn’t a necessity. So when the market’s really really hot, sometimes it can slow stagers down a little bit.

But what we have found is we’ve continued to share that the most important part of our value is the higher price. In any market, a home is always going to sell for more money when it’s staged, and it doesn’t matter if it sells in 15 minutes or 15 months.

Actually just a couple weeks ago, we staged a condo downtown. At the same time, (another unit with) the exact same floor plan, one floor below, same view, same interior upgrades, was on the market as well and they both sold within days. But the unit we staged sold for $40,000 more.

We’ve been able to stay busy and we’re grateful to have clients we’ve had for a while who understand that staging is part of their marketing package as Realtors.

What tips do you have for people trying to do staging of their own, if their house is on the market?

There are four really important things you can do.

No. 1 one is de-personalize. That means family photos off the wall, your trophy collection — take it down. Basically anything that can remind a prospective buyer that it’s someone else’s home, you want to remove all that.

No. 2 is declutter. If you don’t watch Marie Kondo, start watching it. The thing about decluttering is people think it’s so cumbersome, but you have to do it anyway prior to moving. So, the time to do it is before you put your home on the market.

No. 3 is bring in the light. If you have heavy curtains and draperies take them down. The more light, the better.

Then, finally, clean. I can’t say this enough: Your cleaning is probably not enough, you need to hire professionals to come in.

Those are things that prospective buyers really, really pay attention to. If the home is vacant, hire a staging company because you will absolutely get a return on that investment.