Staging on steroids: How agents and brokerages deliver concierge design services

by Jason Porterfield

From the latest fixtures to the trendiest hues, the art of staging a home to highlight its best features and showcase its potential has long been a valuable tool for agents. These days, the work goes way beyond traditional staging, however. Buyers are often looking for properties that are move-in ready, with the hard work of renovating and updating already completed.

This trend has become even more pronounced in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. Many home searches began online even before this point, but at a time when many people are leery of venturing outdoors, putting together a look for a home that translates into great pictures and video is more important than ever.

But sellers don’t always want to put in the effort or go to the expense of redesigning a home they’re about to leave. Some are already envisioning themselves in a new space, having mentally moved on from the home they’re selling. Others are overwhelmed by the idea of managing major projects on top of orchestrating a move.

Michael Hall of Baird & Warner in Lincoln Park has been selling homes for more than 25 years and has witnessed this change firsthand. “When I first started, people wanted fixer-uppers,” Hall said. “Now people don’t even want to paint.”

The concierge treatment

Hall recently began working with the concierge-style renovation company Curbio to prepare homes prior to listing them. The company offers a wide variety of pre-sale improvements carried out by in-house professionals. Sellers who use Curbio don’t have to pay any of the costs associated with the renovations until after their property sells, and the agents don’t have to manage the work.“We’re not only deferring payment, but we’re also handling the renovation itself,” said Rikki Rogers, Curbio’s vice president of marketing. “The value to agents is both in the ability to compete for the listing and then also to secure the lifetime value of the seller.”

While Curbio does not require the agent to serve as project manager, Hall noted that the company has kept him close to the process. “I was surprised by the level of involvement that they actually wanted me to have,” he said. “They wanted me to be here every time they met with the seller. That was a little different than I expected. The seller was paying for the remodel, but [Curbio] really wanted my opinion all along the way.”

Hall’s involvement with Curbio began last fall when one of his listings failed to sell despite being shown 40 times. The house needed upgrades, but prospective buyers were uninterested in buying it at the asking price and then remodeling. “I went to the sellers and I said, ‘You have to really drop your price a lot, or you have to remodel,” Hall said. “And I said, ‘But the good news is I have a company that will do the remodel, and not even charge you until you sell.’ They liked that. Everybody likes to partake now and pay later.”

Curbio remodeled the home’s kitchen, and Hall put it back on the market, selling it in five days after six showings. Four prospective buyers submitted offers, and his clients didn’t have to cut their price.

A growing field

Some brokerages offer similar services. Aimed at helping clients sell at a higher price, Compass Concierge offers services such as staging, painting, roof repair, landscaping and electrical work.

Several companies under the Realogy umbrella provide clients with concierge-type services as well. Coldwell Banker’s RealVitalize home improvement service helps connect homeowners with service providers without up-front costs or interest charges. Realogy subsidiary Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s BHGRE Moves program comes at the problem from the other side of the transaction. This tool is provided to buyer’s agents and connects new owners with movers and utility companies to make it easier to settle in.

Last fall, Keller Williams began offering a concierge service under the company’s iBuying division, Keller Offers. Rolled out in California, Georgia and Texas, the program gives clients access to assistance with minor repairs and renovations at no upfront cost.

There’s also a local option in the form of Chicago firm Renovation Sells, which opened up in 2018. They work with homeowners and brokers to identify and complete renovations before listing. The average project takes around three weeks and costs about $20,000. After the project is complete, properties usually sell within 28 days of being listed for a list-to-sale ratio of 98%. 

“A seller typically looks to me for some advice on how to prepare their home to get it sold,” explained the company’s managing partner, Mike Valente, who is a general contractor and licensed real estate broker, though he doesn’t sell homes himself. “People used to focus more on maintenance. And now it’s grown much, much bigger.”

Competing independently

Some brokers prefer to take this work on themselves. Carol Rosentreter, an agent and team leader with RE/MAX Properties in Western Springs, has been offering concierge-type remodeling and staging work for her clients through trusted contractors for more than half of her 30-year career. She is unfazed by competition from other brokerages offering similar services, noting that her personal service is what helps her stand out from the crowd.

“Think about Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker — even RE/MAX,” she said. “We’re all in business for ourselves. … I know what I do, and it’s been successful for me so far. It’s truly the personalization.”

Rosentreter is a careful manager of what can sometimes be a messy process for sellers. “I don’t hand them off to someone and go, ‘Here, this person is showing up tomorrow.’ I’m there. When the stager comes, I’m over there with them, and the photographer’s there and we’re moving stuff around and it works well,” she said.

Staging for success

Regardless of the scope of a renovation project, staging is particularly important during a global pandemic. Making homes camera-ready for slideshows, videos and virtual tours is vital when social distancing is the norm.

Rosentreter usually brings a stager to a project early in the process. “We kind of see a full swing of some people who haven’t done anything in ages and are at square one, and then some people who are ready to go right when I get there,” Rosentreter said. “But most people are somewhere in between.”

According to Rosentreter, sellers often have varying levels of comfort with staging. “I try to have my listings prepared to the best of the seller’s comfort, whether that is emotional, financial or whatever it is, and try to have them as prepared as they can be before photographs,” she said. “Not everyone’s going to redo a kitchen or redo a bathroom, so we try to have what’s there look its best and also take into account that this isn’t a new kitchen and a new bathroom. We’re not going to ask the same price as a house that has those new amenities.”

The HGTV effect is real, too. Of the agents who responded to the National Association of Realtors’ 2019 home staging survey, 38 percent said that programs depicting the buying process have an impact on their business, and 10 percent said that staged homes should look the way they appear on television.

Valente sees staging as an important part of driving more foot traffic to a listing and bringing vitality to a project, helping it to sell faster and at a higher price. But it can only do so much.

“If you stage an ugly house, it’s still an ugly house,” Valente said. “But if you do some updates to make the house look nice and then you stage it, now you have a great home. It really brings life into the home by helping the buyer envision themselves living there.”

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