Karen Otto, Owner/Professional Home Stager www.HomeStarStaging.com Plano, TX, talks about her career.  You can follow Karen on her Twitter feed in the sidebar or find her at her website above.

What do you do for a living?

I am a professional home stager and owner of a real estate staging and consulting company located in Texas.

How would you describe what you do?

I help turn house hunters into home buyers.  Home staging at its core is a marketing tool to help prepare a home (and a home seller) for sale. Just like any product on the market would be positioned and packaged prior to being put on a shelf home staging does the same for a house for sale.

Home Staging

For this staging project the home seller’s furniture was moved from one area of the home to another to create a more appealing family room. The eyes of a home stager see spaces in ways that attract offers, not incite objections! House was under contract in 27 days during the holiday seaso

What does your work entail?

Although some TV shows have often shown the home staging industry in a glamorous and exciting light, there are a lot of physical and emotional demands and challenges involved in the day to day operations of a home staging business. Home staging involves more than most people realize. This is first and foremost a business, not a hobby . From developing  business and marketing plans, operating policies and procedures,  networking,  meeting with clients, contracts and then the actual work, a home staging business has many demands.   My clients are two fold.  Those who sell real estate; Realtors, investors and home builders and those who have a house to sell; home owners.

To meet the needs and budgets of my clients I offer a variety of home staging services for both occupied residences and vacant homes for sale.  From meeting and consulting directly with and providing on the spot recommendations to home sellers through  verbal “walk and talk” consultations for the “do-it-yourself” (DIY) type to providing furniture and accessory rental for a vacant property whose owner I may only have contact with by phone and emails the day to day operations of home staging business can vary greatly.

What’s a typical work week like?

Being the owner of a small business, I handle the day to day operations of the business as well as the work itself.  After taking care of the business; billing, responding to emails and calls, marketing, making sure schedules are being met, setting up networking meetings and other common responsibilities most small businesses must do  I typically meet with up 8  home sellers a week. These meetings  average about 3 hours each including  travel, time at the property and any follow up contact. Some of those initial appointments turn into additional staging work as the  homes approach their listing dates  and others result in only the initial meeting and staging service provided being all that was necessary to get them on their way to preparing the home for sale.

How did you get started?

This is actually something I’ve done since I was a child. I’ve always enjoyed home design, space planning and furniture placement for optimal “feel and appeal”.  My mom would take a trip to see her family once a summer and she’d come home to our house being rearranged.  As my own kids got older and my father passed away very suddenly I realized life was too short not to venture out and endeavor to do something I loved.  I wanted to do something that fulfilled me creatively and professionally but also give me a quality of life and time for my family’s needs.  Starting a small business was what I decided to do and  having a degree in Marketing and doing some research I found that home staging would be the perfect fit for my creative and intellectual skill set, love of real estate and marketing.

What do you like about what you do?

I’m a people person!  I love meeting with clients in their homes. I like knowing why they bought the house and understanding why they’re selling.  In a short time frame I can formulate a plan and an approach to help not only a prospective buyer see the house as one they may want to buy but the seller to understand the reasons why it needs to be done.  Home selling (and buying) is an emotional process and what I love about my job is that I’m helping my clients maximize the return on their investment and get the most from their home sale so they can move on and fulfill their dreams or new chapters in their lives.  There is nothing offensive or hurtful about what I do and although there have been times that the conversations are difficult, a seller needs to know what can be done to improve the marketability of their home for a quick and profitable sale.

What do you dislike?

The business of running the business.  Billing, paperwork, marketing, web presence,  contracts, inventory management, etc. there is a lot more involved than just showing up and making a house look nice.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I am paid according to the service provided. I offer a range of services from hourly rates billed for consulting to bids by the job depending on the scope of work.

How much money do Home Stagers make?

Nationally the average home stager’s billable hourly rate could range anywhere from $25-$150+ per hour. Now does that mean they make that per every hour of a 40 hour work week? Not exactly.  Billable hours are the ones you are actually working and being paid for, not the time you take running the business or accounting for operating expenses.   

The salaries/revenues vary greatly across the country. I’ll put a range considering starting out part time staging could be $5000/year to full blown staging companies six figures or more when they have the whole shebang – furniture rental, huge warehousing etc.   

How much money did/do you make starting out as a Home Stager?

For this project the home had been listed for a few months prior to staging. Once staged, with some rental props and accessories from Home Star Staging, the first showing after staging an offer was received

A better question is how much money I invested to start my home staging business. I was not making money when I first started out.  Before anything else, I invested in a home staging course when I first considered this as a career option.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in starting a home staging business to do their homework when it comes to home staging training courses.  While I enjoyed the class itself the business side of learning how to run a home staging company was a bit inadequate. However over the course of several years and the “stager’s school of hard knocks” I managed to survive and thrive.

My passion and belief in this business and the knowledge that this is a must have service for anyone selling a home has driven me when a paycheck for a long time did not. Currently I’m a course trainer for a company that is staging business intensive focused for anyone serious about starting a home staging business; www.StagingandRedesign.com  learning from a working home stager in your market is often a key for some to understanding how to run a successful home staging business.

Initially any money I made as a home stager went right back into my business. I’ve built an inventory of accessories and props for use in staging projects that need items to enhance the home as I offer this service to my clients. For the first 3 years I did not actually “make” money but reinvested it into my business.  Although I never took a loan for the business it is not uncommon for those considering operating a small business to do so when starting out.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

I have a BA in marketing which has been invaluable.  Having a passion for home design and real estate is a must.  Knowing how to run a small business is also key and the staging industry is unique in its operating procedures. Having professional procedures and policies in place is important for running a successful home staging business. While there are many home staging training companies out there, not all are created equally. I value my education and training and continue to invest each year on a variety of subjects from; social networking information, SEO optimization, to creative marketing ideas.  I’m always looking for new ways to showcase and share my service and skills. Knowing how to stage is one thing, knowing how to run a successful home staging business is quite another.

What is most challenging about what you do?

I still continue to see a lack of education and knowledge about what home stagers do and the importance of the service we provide.  In some ways this may be attributed to home stagers themselves, especially those who are not in it for the aspect of running a business but more interested in having a “hobby”.  I’m running a business first, and home staging is my business.  When someone claims to “love to decorate” and goes in and “stages” a home unsuccessfully for free or almost free, it sets up the precedent that the staging service didn’t work or isn’t valuable.

In some markets home staging is non existent in others fully utilized but I see home staging becoming an industry standard for all residential real estate sales when done correctly and valued by the industry and the stager themselves.  Until the real estate industry as a whole sees the benefit and need for a professional home stager as part of the process for listing a home, we continue to be seen as a small cottage industry that has not quite made the mark or the impression that we’re here to stay.  Educating our clients is vital to the success of our industry.

What is most rewarding?

For this project the home had been unsuccessfully listed for 6 months prior to a new Realtor who understood the value of staging was brought in. After consulting with the owner, furniture was purchased to be moved to their new house and they opted for a rental prop package with Home Star Staging. The first weekend after listing this time around multiple offers were received and they finally accepted one over asking price!

Knowing that I’m helping people get the most equity out of their home investment and seeing the light bulb go off in the eyes of  my clients. When they understand the need and process of why home staging works and they get it, the end result of a quick sale for the best price is inevitable and everyone is happy; home seller, Realtor and home stager. It’s a team effort and when the team wins we all do.

It’s one of the reasons I also teach a home staging class at Collin College in Plano,TX for anyone interested in knowing how and why to stage. It’s that important of a marketing tool that anyone in the business of selling a home needs to understand and I’m willing to share!

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

If you need a consistent income to maintain your lifestyle and pay bills then I would suggest starting slow. Don’t quit your day job if you need a steady income.  Seriously.  As with any start up, understand that you will not be seeing a regular paycheck on a consistent basis.  Many successful home stagers have started slowly but you need to set realistic expectations. Do your homework about the home staging industry, there are many online resources and staging forums for you to investigate and they’re free. Here are few websites with some great blogs on staging to check out:  www.activerain.com | www.energizedseller.com | www.stagingandredesign.com

Take an appropriate home staging training course, get some free information from your local Small Business Development Center.  If your area has a local RESA Chapter; www.RealEstateStagingAssociation.com attend a meeting and talk to local home stagers.

How much time off do you get/take?

I create my own schedule and can be flexible to the needs of my clients as well as my family.  It’s one of the benefits of being a small business owner.  Although I do work weekends in the busy season, I take at least 4 weeks off a year at different times.  But when I’m not working, I am also not getting paid and need to account for that in my operating expenses and billable hours.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That anyone can do this. Also that I go in and decorate the home to make it look pretty.  In many cases I’m actually “un decorating”. I take a much different approach to my business in that I come from the marketing perspective of the buyer demographic pool that will be looking at the home and how to position and stage the property to appeal to a specific buyer. I research my target market. Cast a wide net yes, but hook the ones you know are in the market for this particular type, style, location and price point of property.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I’d love to be able to open a unique décor and up-cycled home resource store.  Junking, antiquing and repurposing found items are some of my other passions. I love affordable design that makes people happy in their homes while not adding more landfill. I’d love to travel in an old restored RV and do my “picking”, meet folks across the country and just enjoy the view.  I’d also of course like to be able to support my family and their dreams and provide a quality of service to my clients that can help support them and their families as they move forward.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

That I absolutely love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for any other profession! If you find your passion in life in what you do each day you’ve found your life’s purpose and when you’re in sync with that, it’s a blessing to wake up each day and work with the people you get to. The journey is the reward.