To help sell a residence, these Iowa home stagers often opt for neutral

They turn your 'home' into a 'house'

a combination photo of Kim Hotchkiss (left), Ann Struve (middle) and Cindy Lin (right).
a combination photo of Kim Hotchkiss (left), Ann Struve (middle) and Cindy Lin (right).

Urbana entrepreneur Kim Hotchkiss credits watching HGTV, the home improvement and remodeling cable channel, as the inspiration for her to launch Upstaged! Home Staging in February 2009.

“I was putting my house on the market in 2008 and looking for a home stager,” Hotchkiss said. “I looked in the Yellow Pages and could not find anyone, so I chose a Realtor that offered carpet cleaning.

”I decided to stage my house and it went so well that I decided to start doing it. I did some research and found that I could take classes in Chicago and become accredited.”

Home staging is the act of preparing a house or condominium for sale. The goal of staging is to make a home appealing to the largest number of potential buyers, enabling it to sell more quickly and for more money.

Hotchkiss, whose clients are builders, homeowners and Realtors, is an accredited staging professional and member of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals. A single parent with four children still at home, Hotchkiss operates out of her Urbana residence and has storage units in Center Point for furniture and home accessories.

“I have enough inventory for about eight houses,” Hotchkiss said. “There’s a rule in home staging that the furniture and decor is non-specific. You want to broaden the spectrum and appeal to as many different buyers as you can.”

Hotchkiss said home stagers need to get the current owner’s “fingerprints” off their house.

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”After already viewing photos of the house online, a buyer subconsciously decides if they are interested within the first 30 seconds,” she said. “A buyer wants to imagine themselves in your house. That is why depersonalizing and decluttering is so important.

“I say ‘house’ because that is a salable product. A ‘home’ is something that you work years and years to achieve.

“Stagers do the reverse, working to turn your home into a house.”

Hotchkiss said staging also may involve the addition, elimination and/or rearrangement of the seller’s own furniture and accessories. She added that adjusting the interior light and brightness can change the whole look of a space.

Hotchkiss said staging a new home for the annual Cedar Rapids Parade of Homes can require a number of visits over a week. That’s particularly true if a special area is required, such as a bar and home theater in the basement.

Hotchkiss said a typical staging does not involve every room in the house.

“The great room or living room is the first room they will enter,” she said. “After that, it’s the dining room and kitchen. Most houses built in the last 15 years typically have an open floor plan.

“The last, most important place to stage is the retreat or master bedroom and master bath.”

Hotchkiss charges by the number of rooms that are staged as well as a fee for a minimum 30-day rental of furniture and accessories.

“We know the furniture is going to be in a house for 30 days,” she said. “That allows the builder or Realtor to have someone come in and take photos to post online with the listing.

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“Generally the houses that I stage sell within the first 30 days. If it takes longer than 30 days and they want to keep the furniture into the next month, I just send them an invoice for the additional monthly rental fee.”

Ultimate staging

At the opposite end of the Corridor, Ann Struve started Struve Staging and Design in Iowa City in 2016.

“I had been interested in home staging for a long time and I have a friend in Arizona who has been doing it for about 10 years,” Struve said. “I finally decided to quit my regular job and do what I wanted to do instead.

“We work with homeowners. builders, Realtors and flippers (investors who buy, renovate and sell houses for a profit). We stage vacant existing and new homes as well as those that are currently occupied.”

Struve has been acquiring an inventory of furniture and accessories, storing it in her Iowa City home.

“It has kind of taken over our home and garage and it’s expanding,” she said. “All of our furniture and accessories are fairly neutral.”

Struve typically stages the main floor of a house — entry area, living room, dining room and kitchen. She also suggests staging the master bedroom and master bath.

“I staged a 4,500-square-foot home that was occupied, doing the main floor areas,” Struve said. “The owner was only there for a few weeks before it sold.

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“We stage for 60 or 90 days for the higher-end homes because it takes a little longer for them to sell and close. It takes about two months to get the inspections and the assessments done.”

Home stagers typically are paid by the hour and by the size of the house or condominium.

Hotchkiss charges between $350 and $450 to stage a vacant existing or new three-bedroom home. The monthly furniture rental fee is about $300.

Hotchkiss charges $100 per hour for a consultation with an existing homeowner who wants to know what they need to do to get their house ready to sell.

Struve starts with a short phone interview and research is done to identify buyer demographics. She follows that up with a walk-through and consultation about staging strategies and things that need to be done before having photos taken for the online listing.

Struve charges $150 for her report, which can be used by a do-it-yourself homeowner to ready their house for the market. Staging and a mini-makeover for an occupied home will cost $100 to $200 for one to two hours of work.

Struve offers what she calls ultimate staging, which includes three hours of shopping for furniture and accessories, delivery and setup for $400 to $500 — seven to nine hours of work. She also will create a photo gallery for online marketing by the seller’s real estate agent.

Do your homework

A veteran of the home staging business has some advice for anyone considering a career in the industry.

“Any potential new home stager needs to do their homework,” said Cindy Lin, owner of Staged/4 More School of Home Staging.

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“They should really get to know their market. If home staging is not already available in their area, they will need to spend time education their potential clients. It will be a steeper climb for them to gain market acceptance.”

Lin, who operated a six-figure home staging business in south San Francisco for decades, founded Staged4More School of Home Staging to offer home staging classes for home sellers and real estate agents as wells as business courses for home stagers.

“Anyone considering a home staging business needs to take a personal inventory of their strengths and weaknesses and determine if they can work with this marketplace,” Lin said. “Like any job, it will take time to build the business and build their clientele.”

Lin said there are different kinds of home stagers. Some prefer to work with homeowners, others work with builders and Realtors to stage vacant existing or new houses and still others limit their work to consultations.

“Depending on where they are in the marketplace, what kind of work do they want to do?” Lin asked. “What kind of capital investment will they need to get started? They need to consider all of that before jumping into the staging business.”

Lin said new home stagers should wait until they have a client before purchasing furniture and accessories to stage a vacant existing house.

“After you get paid a deposit, then go shopping for inventory,” she said. “I would try not to buy anything that will get them into debt. They need to have clients before they buy their inventory or they will be paying to store it in a warehouse.

“If they have bought midcentury furniture and their first job requires more contemporary furnishings, they will need to go out and find something that works for the new job.”

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