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Staging your home for a sale
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Since many of her housesitters work, they are not present during showings; the only sign of their presence is a lived-in feel, as well as a tasteful plaque next to a silk flower arrangement that reveals the home is occupied by a housesitter.

"It gives the homeowner the peace of mind knowing the home is secure, that prior to viewing a Realtor can count on the home being presentable and there won't be any of that vacant, musty, unoccupied feeling," she says.

Real estate agents aren't the only ones getting in on the staging boom.

Richard McIntire, a 59-year-old retired restaurant owner from Austin, Texas, has been a freelance housesitter for more than three years. In exchange for free housing and utilities, he'll stage your home inside and out, make it available for showings, and even hold weekend open houses until it sells. When the sale is complete, he'll take 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the deal, instead of the 6 percent to 7 percent commission of a real estate agent.

McIntire advertises his services on and His maintenance and landscaping skills, combined with plenty of good references, tend to give him a choice of houses to call home, if only temporarily.

"I have a doctor, a judge and two computer company executives who have used me," he says. "If you can't trust some of those people, you might as well go to a real estate agent."

A growth industry
At a time when many home buyers rely more heavily on the Internet than their real estate agent to find their next abode, home staging and redesign is slowly bringing about a paradigm shift, in which homeowners might one day secure a stager before they choose an agent.

Since 1985, Schwarz has taught more than 700,000 agents and interior decorators the finer points of staging for sales. Her new book, "Home Staging: The Winning Way to Sell your House for More Money," is the first comprehensive look at this emerging industry.

The IAHSP now offers two designations: ASP, or accredited staging professional, and ASPM, or master accredited staging professional. Some 6,000 Realtors have earned their ASP in anticipation of the growth path for residential specialists who have an eye for style and aren't shy about sharing it.

IAHSP recently launched a staging financing program called "Stage It Now and Pay for It Later" that offers zero-percent interest for six months.

The increased public awareness of staging might one day even topple the traditional commission structure in real estate.

"We are changing the way that real estate is sold. We are changing the economy," says Schwarz. "All of a sudden, the public is going to say, 'Wait a minute, agent. You should be paying the stager as part of your marketing budget, or I'm not going to pay you.' I think that either staging fees will go up or Realtors will have to step up to the plate."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.'s corrections policy -- Posted: March 16, 2006
More stories by Jay MacDonald
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