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  • Writer's pictureSylvia Westphal

Why Every Luxury Home Needs a Presale Design Service—and Which Service Is Right for You

Here’s one little real estate secret that’s not really a secret: a home that is organized and beautifully decorated will sell faster and likely at a premium.

Almost every home will benefit from a design service before going on the market. For many mid-market home sellers, staging is a common choice. But for luxury homeowners, the aesthetic and design needs, budget, and scale of the home can vary greatly. So for many homeowners, a different design service, like styling, can make more sense.

Deciding which presale design service—staging, styling, or a hybrid of both—is right for you, comes down to 3 main considerations:

  • Budget

  • Scope

  • Timeline

We’ll walk you through how to navigate each of these factors so you feel confident in choosing the right presale design service for your home.

Staging and Styling: What’s the Difference?

First, a quick overview on how we define staging and styling.

Staging: After removing most or all of the home’s existing furniture (unless the property was unfurnished), a staging company brings in their inventory of furniture and decor to finish the space. The staging company charges a fee to install the furniture and loans it to the homeowner until the unit sells. The staging company can also provide decor items from its inventory: decorative objects, bedding, towels, etc.

Styling: A styler’s goal is to revamp the home by strategically analyzing key spaces and deciding on the best approach, which can sometimes involve significant work like painting or removing wallpaper, painting kitchen cabinets, redoing bathrooms, or finishing a basement space to create a playroom. The styler also advises the home owner on organizing the home, and editing its existing furniture.

Budget: Understanding the Costs of Presale Design Services

Selling a home, especially a luxury home, will almost always require an owner to allocate a budget for staging or styling, or a combination of the two. The question is which service makes the most sense for your home.

The cost of staging can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. For ultra high-end projects that bring in custom artwork and high-end furniture for larger homes, staging can run well into six figures. Not only are you paying to have furniture, artwork, and decor pieces installed, but you’re also paying to rent those pieces until the home sells.

Staging can transform an outdated home by infusing it with newer, neutral furniture that appeals to the current buyer. Homeowners often question the ROI on this kind of upfront cost, but the answer is unequivocally yes. In the luxury home space especially, staging and styling are increasingly becoming a necessity.

For many luxury homes, styling can be a smarter financial investment. Many high-end homes already have custom, expensive furniture. So rather than pay to bring in furniture from a staging company, which may not complement the existing style of the home, a more curated styling approach focuses on removing or rearranging pieces, adding new decor items, and organizing the space. This process will enhance existing features and bring a cohesive, market-ready look to the home, often for a greater return on investment than traditional staging. With staging, you’re paying to rent inventory; with styling, you’re investing directly in your home, getting a more custom design, and keeping any pieces you purchase to bring to your next home.

Scope: Deciding on a Design “Overhaul” or an “Edit”

Deciding whether your home needs a full overhaul or an edit largely depends on the age, state, and size of your home, as well as the type of furnishings you own. Broadly speaking, staging works well for homes that need to be completely revamped with a new style of furniture.

White sofa with natural wood table and houseplants
Staging can be a great solution for empty homes or homes that need a complete overhaul of furniture. By necessity, staging companies tend to carry pieces that conform to a certain aesthetic and that aren’t as custom and high end. Photo by Mike Butler.

Styling a property requires a different lens than staging. Its services generally boil down to editing, adding, and organizing.

Stylers will find ways to enhance the features of a home by using as much as possible of what’s already there before bringing in special pieces. For example, a styler might revamp an existing set of high-end sofas by custom-designing modern pillows that better complement the room’s furniture and window treatments.

In some cases, we might recommend that owners sell, store, or donate some pieces to declutter a room; then we’d help them purchase new furniture to both refresh the room and to take with them to their new property—a financial win-win. Some examples could include turning a stuffy library into a playroom, or making a guest suite into a home office.

What Does an “Edit” Actually Look Like?

The homeowners of a significant Boston estate recently approached us for a presale design consultation. They had lived in the home for over 20 years, and they needed guidance on the right approach to revamp their home before putting it on the market.

After visiting the home, our team recognized that using a traditional staging service would be unnecessary—and unnecessarily expensive.The house was magnificent and had great bones; but the walls were painted in darker tones, and some of the rooms needed style overhauls. We recommended that the owner spend their resources on painting key rooms, organizing, and styling the home with new decor pieces. Here are a few of the key “edits” we made to the space (and yes, the home successfully sold in a short period of time, off-market):

Living Room: We removed furniture and knickknacks to let the room breathe and added more contemporary decor items and plants. The room immediately felt larger and more modern.

Dining Room and Sunroom: We painted the room and removed heavy drapes to allow more sunlight into the room. Simple but elegant decor and new plants complemented the scenes. A subtle but powerful change.

Primary Bedroom: We painted the room, updated the bedding, and styled with lamps and decor items.

Primary Bathroom: We painted the walls white and removed drapes to brighten the space.

Bedroom: For this child's bedroom, we recommended replacing the furniture to make it more universal. The client was able to take furniture we helped source along to their new home once their house sold. (We brought in a fantastic estate sale company to help our client sell furniture. If you're looking for an estate sales company, contact us and we can help connect you.)

Laundry Room: We decided to save our clients some money by keeping the wallpaper in the laundry, as there were several other rooms where the cost of removing wallpaper and painting was better spent. Instead, we focused our efforts on organizing the laundry inside and out and adding beautiful details like soaps and containers that made the space more welcoming.

Timing: When to Start the Presale Design Process

The most successful presale design outcomes—i.e., homeowners receiving excellent, off-market offers—usually come from engaging a presale design service 9 to 18 months before deciding to sell the home. Why the long timeline?

Many luxury homes are large (5,000+ square feet) or have been lived in for 10+ years (or both). Organizing and decluttering, bringing in or purchasing new pieces, and renovating key spaces will be imperative to a smooth selling process—but it requires planning ahead.

Homeowners often don't realize how much work is involved in getting a home ready for putting on the market. Starting the conversation about selling well in advance (at least a year) should involve the following topics:

  • A timeline that includes considerations for when to approach different spaces, and how. For example, interior painting can take time and be disruptive. Planning ahead allows stylers to schedule events like painting or bathroom remodeling when you plan to be away from your home.

  • A strategic discussion with a real estate agent. Involve a real estate agent early on in the process to offer expertise on where to spend more resources based on what buyers are looking for.

  • A list of services the styler will provide. Do they offer interior design services when needed, take inventory of furniture that moves with you and furniture that is to be donated or sold in an estate sale, or work closely with organizers to get the house in top shape?

Which Presale Design Service Is Right for Your Home?

In the high-end market, homes can have vastly different selling goals, design needs, budget constraints, and timelines. It’s why we’ve found time and time again that homeowners benefit from a custom approach to their presale design needs. Sometimes it’s strictly staging (if you know you’ll only need a staging service, contact us for some recommendations in the Boston area).

But many homeowners will get the greatest return on their investment from a styling or a hybrid approach. If you’re unsure which design services your home would benefit from the most, contact us for a complimentary consultation. We’ve helped clients navigate these same questions—what type of design will give them the greatest return on their investment for their house listing—and we’d love to help you do the same.

Sylvia Pagán Westphal is owner of Herringbone & Brass and Managing Director of the Client Experience Group at MGS Group Real Estate.

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