Even in a seller’s market, staging a home can help sell it faster, staging pro says

April is Florida’s prime selling month, so if you’re putting your home on the market consider this: Cleaning and decluttering can improve the looks of a house but sometimes it takes more than that to really wow buyers.

That’s where Liliana Warr comes in.

Warr is a professional home stager who helps transform blah-looking houses into ones that stand out and, ideally, sell faster.

“Even if it’s a seller’s market, there’s still competition,” she says. “Buyers walk in and compare that house with similar ones in the same price range, size and location. The only thing that makes it different is how they feel in the house.”

After 20 years in the fashion industry in Italy, the Romanian-born Warr moved to the Tampa Bay area in 2008, married a real estate investor and got a real estate license. Then, embarrassed by the condition of some houses she showed, she decided to get into the staging business. In 2015, she bought the Hillsborough County franchise of Showhomes, the nation’s largest home staging company, and she recently acquired the Pinellas-Pasco franchise.

Warr says about 90 percent of the Hillsborough homes she has staged went under contact within two weeks of prepping. She does about 200 homes a year, ranging from $500 for a “deep cleaning” and furniture rearrangement, to around $15,000 for staging all rooms in a vacant house with furniture and accessories. She recently spoke with the Tampa Bay Times

Q. What’s the first step?

A. We send out a qualified designer who goes to the house with a buyer’s eye and sees whatever a buyer’s objection is going to be. That way we know before the buyers show up why they would not like the house.

Q. What is the first thing the designer looks for?

A. Curb appeal, that sets up the expectation of the buyer. If the house doesn’t look good on the outside, oh my gosh, what’s inside? Even if the owner is spending a lot of money on the inside, they started with a disadvantage. A lot of times this can be fixed by just a nice pressure washing and painting the front door a nice color. It’s an easy fix.

Q. Does it help to paint inside, too?

A. Buyers go in the house thinking that repainting is not only a major expense but also the trouble to find a good painter that doesn’t leave a mess all around. That house goes to the bottom of the list. We have a painting crew. We have worked with Sherwin Williams to create for us a certain palette. We choose the exact color combination that’s going to sell that house – neutral, light because we need the house to be light and airy.

Q. What do you do if the seller is going to stay in the house while it’s on the market?

A. We may rearrange their furniture and sometimes they may need some piece of art or accessories or a rug or lamp to give that house a new life. Sometimes when it’s a lot of furniture, we ask them to remove it because we need to have an open flow. We can get everything ready in half a day.

Q. Are all homes staged the same?

A. Every single staging is catered to the style of the house and the price point and what is the target market. So if I’m doing a house in downtown Tampa and it’s a single professional, I’m not going to do a kid’s room or very traditional furniture. If I have a modern light fixture and everything is tile and gray walls I will not bring in brown colors – but if the house has a traditional chandelier I will go more for traditional staging and bring in heavier colors. We have two warehouses full of furniture but we do not sell the furniture; we want to sell the house. Every piece of furniture and accessory has to complement the house’s features.

Q. How do you market your business?

A. We market to Realtors. Our goal is to create this long-term partnership with Realtors who are movers and shakers that want to be successful. They know they have to stay on top of trends. We have taught classes (on staging) at GTAR (Greater Tampa Realtors), Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker, Berkshire Hathaway University. I’m doing this on a volunteer basis; I do not charge.

Q. Showhomes has a program called “home management.” How does that work?

A. That is the best program we ever had. A lot of times these big homes need staging, and traditional staging means a monthly fee upfront for the furniture and the seller has other costs. Let’s say it stays on the market six months. They have to pay electricity, insurance, security. So what we do is not only stage the house, but we have somebody live in the house called the house manager who pays the utilities, the lawn. The seller has peace of mind because the house is not vacant. And the seller pays on the back end (when house sells), not upfront.

Q. Do many people really want to live in somebody else’s house temporarily?

A. We have at least 12 home managers active. We can help them move in. We can set up the house in 12 hours. The home manager is going to live in this beautiful home and have a very high living (standard). We interview them; we meet all the family members; we do criminal background checks. They are part of our team.