When you think of selling your home, you think about cleaning it up, getting rid of some old things, and making it look good for prospective buyers. Many of us have heard the term “staging,” or hiring a professional designer to help give a home a fresh, salable look. But staging can entail much more than adding a few finishing touches.
So it's best, as when hiring any home professional, to have a clear understanding, memorialized in writing—one that explains exactly what the stager will do, on what terms, and by when.
Here are some of the key issues to cover in your written agreement. (Remember, even if the stager hands you a standard contract, you can negotiate for changes.) You will want to consult with your real estate agent about the contents of this contract before signing it, too.
A contract with a stager must be descriptive. Some stagers' contracts have a design clause that gives them artistic license to decorate your home as they, in their professional experience, see fit. But such an approach comes with risks; for example, that the stager leaves areas untouched that you thought could use attention, or vice versa.
Unless you are ready to hand over all control and give your stager full artistic discretion, incorporate a checklist into your contract instead of, or in addition to the discretion clause. This list should provide a detailed rundown on the work to be done, the rooms in which the work will be done, and the exact area of each room the stager will work on. It is wise to include drawings with measurements, so that the overall scheme is fully laid out in clear terms.
It is important to clearly state who is responsible for completing each item on the to-do list within the contract.
Who will buy (or at least pay for) any additional items needed to complete the work? Most stagers keep a number of items (furniture, art, and other decorative items) in storage, and will loan you these, but what if the stager decides that your home really needs items he or she doesn't have? Perhaps fluffy new matching towels in each bathroom, and an extra-large mirror to brighten a dark hallway?
Which items, exactly, will the stager be loaning you? Will the stager be doing all the work or subcontracting some of it? Oftentimes, stagers hire contractors for substantial improvements such as new storm windows or flooring. You also want the right to get additional estimates for such jobs, if you are not completely satisfied with the contractor your stager proposes to hire, or think the price might be high.
Timing is very important. The goal is to complete the staging so that your home will be ready to sell sooner rather than later. The contract must include an exact start date and completion date, or at least a date range for when each item on the to-do list will be completed.
There must also be a clause stating what will happen in the event that a project takes longer than anticipated. In that case, you will want the option to renegotiate and create a side agreement to complete that portion of the staging in the most efficient manner.
If the stager provides furniture and other items on loan, the contract should specify the length of time those items will remain in the house as well as the rental fee for these items. You will also want the option to renew any rental agreement for these items in the event that your home takes longer to sell than originally expected.
In the event that a dispute between you and the stager cannot be reconciled, or the relationship sours, you need what's called a termination clause in the contract. It's as simple as saying something like, “either party has the right to terminate this agreement by giving the other party 30 days' notice in writing.”
Make sure you know when you are responsible for paying the stager and/or contractors, and of course how much.
Typically, stagers require a deposit before they begin work. After work begins, stagers often ask for payment for supplies they have acquired or a partial payment based on a portion of the work having been completed. Make sure that the terms and time of payments are clearly stated so that the project does not come to a halt while you discuss financial matters.
You will want the stager to provide you with an itemized bill that includes receipts for all the items purchased, regardless of whether you owe reimbursement for these or not. This is for tax reasons—both you and the prospective buyer will factor these into calculations concerning potential capital gains obligations. (For details, see Avoiding Capital Gains Tax When Selling Your Home: Read the Fine Print.) Make sure this bill is either made part of the contract or an addendum added to it.
Lastly but not least importantly, make sure to allocate who is responsible for any damage or accident that occurs, whether due to the stager or involving the stager's property. (It's not unheard of for burglars to enter an empty home and steal some of the stager's articles.)
It is wise to have a clause in the contract stating that any damage done in the course of staging is the responsibility of the stager. Also, make sure that the stager and all contractors are fully insured for any damages and accidents that may occur.
Staging is a useful tool that can not only decrease the time for selling your home, it most like will increase the sales price of your home. So it's best to know what you are getting and what you are paying for ahead of time, so that a useful process does not become a headache.