Staging a House – Rent or Buy?

Everyone knows that houses show best when staged – and staged homes stand a better chance of commanding a premium selling price.  But with staging companies charging thousands of dollars up front and thousands every month, staging can be expensive and eats directly into your profit.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The $25,000 it can cost to stage a typical home for the months it takes to sell can be better spent buying the furniture yourself – then selling it at the end of the project (or storing it for re-use in your next project.)  The cost of ownership will be minimal.  And, if you do it right, you might even be able to make it a profitable side business.

Here are twelve tips for staging a house:


1.   Never pay full retail.  All prices are negotiable.  If a dealer can give 20% off to the trade, they can give it to you too, so start all negotiations from 20% off the asking price and go from there.


2.   Look for clearance sales.  Get to know the dealers you’re interested in to get tipped off to the sales in advance.  Then check out the items you’re interested in and see if you can get an early sale price, or have your items set aside for you till the sale.  Get to the sale early to get the best pick of the best items.  Then return during the final hours of the sale to scoop up any left-behind bargains.  They want to get rid of their inventory and might accept an even lower price than you normally would have offered.


3.   Buy floor models.  Retailers slash prices on floor models when they’re ready to sell them.  They may be “used”, but they’ve been meticulously maintained.  They might have a few dents or scratches but most damage can usually be easily repaired or cleverly hidden with a strategically placed vase.  And minor damages will never be seen in your photographs.


4.   The retailer is your friend.  Let them know that you’re a real estate developer staging your own houses and they’ll bend over backwards to get your business.  The next thing you know, you’ll be getting invited to private receptions to see a new line or meet the designer and you’ll be courted by every furniture store in town.


5.   Buy in volume.  Buy as much from one dealer as possible to negotiate the best discount.  Eventually limit your shopping to the few dealers you know best and cultivate a relationship.  Invite them to the house and solicit their suggestions.  They might have access to furnishings not displayed in the store – or they might even offer to help stage the house at discount. 


6.   Partner with the furniture store for freebies.  If they know you’re staging a house to be offered furnished, many retailers or vintage dealers may offer to furnish your house on consignment – at no cost to you.  Then if your buyer decides to buy any of the furniture, you may even earn a commission.


7.   Hang the house with good art.  Buyers of high-end luxury homes often have high-end art collections and they want to know how they’ll look in your house.  Partner with an art gallery to hang your house for free and offer the art for sale to your buyer.  Negotiate a commission with the gallery for anything that sells to your buyer.  As an added incentive, allow the gallery owner to have receptions at your house.  That will bring in the right kind of people who may end up sending you your buyer.


8.   Buy from designer showcase houses.  I once went to a model home for a stylish development which was furnished by a high-end retailer as part of a sponsorship.  The furniture was perfect for a house I was finishing at the time.  I figured the retailer wouldn’t want the furniture back since it was now used, so I offered to buy the whole lot if I could get a good price.  The retailer offered 60-70% off any items I wanted and threw in free delivery to my site over 100 miles away.  I ended up selling much of it to the next buyer – and the rest on Craigslist – for about 20% off full retail making a tidy profit on each piece.


9.   Offer services in trade.  Is your house going to be published?  Will it be on any design tours?  Offer furniture dealers promotional consideration in exchange for any free stuff.  (That means publicly giving them credit in any articles or presentations.)  If you’re not on design tours and have no publishing commitments, offer them use of the house for their own receptions or trade showings.  The more exposure your house gets, the better for you.


10. Buy low and sell high.  Think of your furniture as a potentially appreciating asset and seek-out good vintage or antique pieces that will retain their value – or even appreciate.  I once bought six cool-looking mid-century chrome dining chairs in a reputable but off-beat vintage shop for $100 each.  I spent another $100 having each one reupholstered.  By the time I was done with them, their designer, Milo Baughman, was having a resurgence of popularity and I was able to sell the set for $7,200 ($1,200 each) to a collector on Craigslist.  Another time I bought a house-full of furniture for $10,000 which included a granite-topped dining table, a grand piano once owned by a celebrity, and five Danish modern dining chairs.  The chairs turned out to be rare Hans Wegner “Chinese Chairs” which I discovered were worth as much as $3,200 each full retail.  I held a virtual auction among dealers throughout the country and ended up selling them for $2,500 each to a dealer in New York – who even paid for “white-glove” shipping.


11. Buy and sell through auctions.  Get to know the auction houses who deal with the kind of furniture you’re interested in.  If you know what you’re buying and have researched the prices, you can get some great deals on high-quality collectible furniture at auctions.  Then when you’re ready to sell it, you might get top prices from those same auction houses.  But be warned – you need to be educated and have calm nerves to play this game, and don’t forget to factor-in the auction house’s commissions on both ends of every transaction.  Look for a separate entry here about auctions and research sources.


12. Research, research, research.  Frequent furniture stores even when you don’t need any so you’re up on prices and sources for when you do.  Scour the internet scanning prices on the auction and vintage sites (a list of the sites I use is at right).  When you’re ready to buy, whether it’s from a store or at an auction, you’ll know exactly what price to pay to feel confident you’re getting a good deal.


Read about how to tell the real thing from a fake when buying classic vintage pieces like an Eames Lounge Chair 670 and Ottoman 671 and a Corbusier LC Series chair.