Barb Schwarz, a real estate broker from Seattle, claims she was the first home stager, in the 1970s. (She founded the International Association of Home Staging Professionals and the online Staging University.) Since then, thousands of stagers have offered their services to sellers and their brokers, promising that their touches will help a house move, even in the worst markets. Some stagers charge mere hundreds of dollars and offer helpful hints, like “take down that picture” or “reposition that sofa.” Others will, for thousands of dollars, prescribe a full makeover with advice on what color to repaint your walls, what shrubs to uproot and what to plant and what new bathroom fixtures will appeal to today’s discerning buyer; they will even subcontract the work for you, hiring painters and gardeners, renting tables and beds.Then there are the grandes dames, of whom Meridith Baer of Los Angeles is perhaps the grandest. She began just before the late, great real estate bubble, in a region where developers, building fast and big, often needed enough furniture to make 9,000 empty square feet seem cozy and lived in. She will provide that furniture as well as art, books, silverware and touches of ready-made character. What she doesn’t have, her staff of 70, including decorators, movers, carpenters and upholsterers, will make or find. She will then bill you $20,000, $30,000, even $50,000, plus a monthly rental fee if the house sits on the market. And you — if you have developed a house on spec, and it’s sitting there calmly ignorant of the real estate crash while you panic about your mounting bills — will pay that fee. You’ll pay it because you believe that a good home stager moves houses, and because, as much as you needed her when times were good, you fear that you need her now more than ever.
By Mark Oppenheimer, Oct 22, 2009 NYT

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