Jana Uselton of Model My Home shared her staging tips with interior designers at the Las Vegas Market. These techniques could also be beneficial to showroom personnel helping customers renovate or ready their homes for the market.

Jana Uselton and her husband, Tim, have had great success rehabbing and building investment properties in the Dallas area, most recently completing 13 houses for HGTV’s hit show Flip or Flop.

Over time, she noticed that when she applied certain visual techniques, the homes would sell for more than the asking price. That’s when she realized the effectiveness of staging key rooms in all of their real estate properties. Uselton adapted the skills she learned to form her own staging business Model My Home; several years later, she established the Home Staging and ReDesign Association (HSRA) so she could share those techniques with others.

The company name “Model My Home” taps into a common consumer desire that Uselton observed often when handling real estate. “Everyone wants to have a ‘model home look’ or redesign their place to have that [aesthetic],” she said.

“Staging is strategic design for positioning homes for sale,” Uselton stated. “It’s almost the opposite of what you do as interior designers — you are focused on personalizing a space for your client, while staging requires you depersonalize that space.”

There is more to this design niche than having a ready selection of chairs and sofas to furnish empty rooms. “There is a strategy to everything we do,” she noted. “Our focus is to sell the home. The items we put in the room can’t be soaking up all the energy and attention when potential buyers walk through. We want people to notice the space; what we put in it should ‘disappear.’
“In interior design, everything is centered on the client’s needs and preferences,” she said. “Staging is about merchandising a property. When we talk to clients, the conversation is about the results. We explain that our ‘product’ will help them sell their home faster, without leaving money on the table. It’s about reducing stress for people.”

Uselton originally acquired her inventory of furnishings by buying each piece at retail. “Then we started sourcing at market, which was a game-changer for us,” she admitted. Model My Home maintains its furniture inventory in a 7,500-sq.-ft. warehouse and has done staging for luxury homes in other states besides Texas.

Uselton asked the audience, “How many of you are teaching CEU-accredited classes to builders and real estate agents?” She inferred that by teaching simple Design 101 techniques to tangential groups, interior designers can build their referral list and potentially increase business. “It’s called educational marketing,” she quipped.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to staging properties, which typically fall into two types: Occupied and Vacant. Uselton offers several services to hit various budgets and needs — from a two-hour “touch-up” to a four-hour “facelift.” Fees could range from $99 for a consultation to $600, depending on what is involved.

The Two-Hour Touch-Up for $299 is a popular service and involves two stagers working for approximately 120 minutes. “We ‘shop’ their homes and move things around. We don’t bring any furniture in,” Uselton explained. With such a tight timeframe, the procedure is highly organized. “We start at the front door – with the first impression – and work our way back,” she stated.
“This often leads to a future opportunity,” Uselton shared, pointing out that during the touch-up, it might be apparent that the client is missing a few key pieces, such as a large mirror, a chandelier, or a table. “You can either fill in with your merchandise or you can add on a ‘shopping trip’ for them,” she advised.

The Four-Hour FaceLift involves two stagers “shopping” the home and bringing in inventory where needed. Sometimes, a cleaning crew might be hired to make the home presentable for potential buyers. “If we’re doing a Makeover, then we’ll work with the homeowners’ things as well as bring in some of ours like area rugs and artwork,” Uselton said.

There are times when a home is empty and a “Vacant Staging” is necessary. “Vacant is like being naked,” she stated. “We want to clothe these homes right. Just like people do online dating, homebuyers are online shopping.” First impressions mean a lot. “It only takes 6 to 10 minutes for someone to connect with a space,” she remarked.

For empty houses, “partial staging is the bread and butter,” according to Uselton. “If we were to do a full staging, that would include spaces such as the garage, laundry room, and outdoor living.” A full staging or Makeover would typically cost around $3,800 and cover the labor as well as the furniture that is brought in for 30 days.

Redesign Services

There are times when clients hire Uselton not to prep the home for sale, but to give it a fresh look. “For consultations, you can charge whatever your heart’s desire,” she quipped, adding, “We tend to charge per project versus by the hour.”

Model My Home has also been contracted to create apartment models for new multi-housing communities. Similarly, her firm has been tapped by builders in the Dallas area who are rehabbing older properties. “Most homes over 10 years old need new Bones, Skin, and Clothes,” she remarked. For her designer audience, Uselton recommended, “You will need to source vendors before you promote this aspect of your firm. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendors if they do business-to-business referrals.”

In the Bones category, it may be necessary to remove or add walls to update the home for what buyers are looking for today. Other “investment updates” are fresh paint, plus new flooring, lighting, countertops, and a revamped kitchen backsplash.

“The Skin of the home has to be neutral for all of the hard surfaces if your goal is selling the home,” Uselton noted. “Landscaping is another important aspect. If the exterior isn’t taken care of, people will assume the inside isn’t cared for either. It can just be a quick makeover such as pulling out dead branches and weeds and trimming hedges,” she added. “If you can’t see the home properly, people will be turned off. They won’t buy what they can’t see.”

“How many of you are teaching CEU-accredited classes to builders and real estate agents?”

Top Tips

The basics for staging a room is much like the tenets of good design.

  • Create a Wow Factor from the moment people step inside the front door. “It’s their first impression, and we want them to want to see more,” Uselton advised.
  • Have a Memory Point. “Every room needs a focal point, whether it’s a fireplace, wall art, or a view. What will people stop and notice? Let it be the star of the show,” she explained. “Then think, ‘What can I place at this focal point to attract the eye?’”
  • Use Proper Lighting & Wattage. Uselton suggested illumination comparable to a 75-watt incandescent. This is a light level that people feel comfortable with, she said. “We have even used the lighting in the room as the focal point.”
  • Coordinate Colors. Select a piece of art or a decorative pillow and let that item dictate the color in the room. Introduce more solid colors than patterns. “Your eye rests when you look at a solid color,” Uselton noted. If you’re going to mix in a pattern, do it in a coordinating color and make the solid color larger — for example, the bed would be in a solid color, but the pillows could be in a pattern.
  • Keep It Simple. “People want a retreat to come back to at the end of the day. Instead of 10 pieces of furniture, do 5…and the same goes for items on tabletops, etc.,” Uselton noted. Ideally there should not be more than four pieces in one spot. “Keep things light and bright with open window shades and add accent lighting. Furniture in lighter colors can also help make a room look larger.”
  • Use Power Pieces. “Think about larger-scale statement mirrors, but be aware of what they’re going to reflect. Or try putting two furniture pieces back to back to create one powerful design statement. Try to incorporate one or two features per room,” she advised. “The heaviest piece should be opposite the entry point so that it anchors the space. It will cause the eye to travel across the room, making it seem larger.”
  • Heart of the Home. “Living spaces are important, not just the kitchen and bath,” Uselton remarked. Think about the traffic flow pattern; make sure there is nothing blocking the way. Create cozy sitting areas.
  • Out With the Old. If a room has looked the same way for 10 years, “it’s time to freshen up and update it,” she stated. Group similar accent pieces together, and use touches of glass accessories that can transition anywhere.
  • Transitional Wins. “We’re seeing more of a Transitional look gaining popularity; it’s not quite Contemporary and not quite Traditional,” Uselton observed. “We are scaling more towards the clean lines of Contemporary.”
  • Neutralize Throughout. “This is the ‘Skin’ part. Go with neutrals and save the pops of color for accessories. It helps the home have [visual] consistency,” she advised. “For bedrooms, we do neutral colors and luxurious bedding with Euro shams and accent pillows.”
  • Original Design. “Revisit what the builder intended,” Uselton suggested. Over the years, many homeowners make changes to the overall feel of the space. By setting up the home in its original lay-out, it will make spatial sense to the buyer.
  • Appeal to the Senses. “We want the home to smell new and fresh — not like you’re covering something up,” she noted. Make the bathroom feel like a spa by forming the towels into a fan-shape (like on a cruise ship or a luxury island hotel). Create a “gourmet kitchen” look with some sophisticated accessories.
  • Open Floor Plan. “Open floor plans are great, unless the home is vacant,” Uselton remarked, adding, “Research shows 90 percent of buyers can’t envision what a large open space would look like furnished.”
  • Signs of Life. Adding a touch of nature is desirable. “Anytime we can bring a bit of the outdoors inside is great,” she said. “We’re getting away from the ficus trees and ivy, which just collect dust. Orchids are a stager’s best friend!”
  • Add the Plush. “Try something that makes people want to cozy up, such as throws, rugs, and pillows,” Uselton suggested. “You can achieve a luxury look that way.”