Staging on steroids: How agents and brokerages deliver concierge design services

by Jason Porterfield

 

From the latest fixtures to the trendiest hues, the art of staging a home to highlight its best features and showcase its potential has long been a valuable tool for agents. Even more so now, as coronavirus concerns mean agents need to deliver a compelling visual story that buyers can engage with from the safety of their homes. 

These days, the work goes way beyond traditional staging, however. Homebuyers are often looking for properties that are move-in ready, with the hard work of renovating and updating already completed. 

But sellers don’t always want to put in the effort or go to the expense of redesigning a home they’re about to leave. Some are already envisioning themselves in a new space, having mentally moved on from the tired and dated look of the home they’re selling. Others are overwhelmed by the idea of managing major projects like replacing windows, fixing persistent plumbing problems, or installing a new roof on top of orchestrating a move.

According to Jason Wieloch of the Wieloch Group with Compass, this shift in attitudes has led sellers to expect more from agents. They want more services and for their agents to be able to apply their knowledge of current trends to prepare homes for sale. He likened this ability to interpret current market activity to a wealth manager watching and evaluating stocks.

“When it comes to home preparation, that’s part of the puzzle,” he said. “I think more than ever folks lean on us to say, ‘Well, if I’m going to make some modifications to my home, which ones should I make? Why? I don’t want to spend too little. I don’t want to spend too much.’ We want to optimize their money so that we maximize the potential purchase price of the property. It’s about us knowing not only what to do but also being able to recommend the various styles or color schemes that are selling real estate in 2020 …”

Wieloch uses Compass Concierge, a program offered by the company to help agents manage pre-sale renovations on behalf of their clients. Other national brokerages such as Coldwell Banker offer their own versions of such programs. Agents whose brokerages don’t provide those in-house options can turn to the renovation and remodeling company Curbio to prepare homes for sale. 

 

The concierge treatment

Curbio’s services cover a wide variety of pre-sale improvements carried out by the company’s own professionals, rather than outside contractors, and works with agents from all brokerages. Sellers who use Curbio don’t have to pay any of the costs associated with the renovations until after their property sells, and the agents don’t have to manage the work.

“When an agent works with Curbio, we’re not only deferring payment, but we’re also handling the renovation itself,” said Rikki Rogers, Curbio’s vice president of marketing. “In order to maintain ownership of that really valuable relationship with homeowners, agents just take on more and more and more responsibility.”

Rogers noted that Curbio is different from other concierge services in that they do not require the agent to serve as the project manager. Curbio takes on responsibilities such as acquiring the right materials and managing subcontractors. 

Curbio  surveys buyer’s agents in order to keep up with what homebuyers in a given area are looking for in terms of fixtures and features. The company uses real-time sales data and provides clients with virtual estimates so that there aren’t any surprises after the home is sold. Automated communications and frequent updates keep clients informed of the progress of the improvements as they happen.

 

A growing field

Other companies offer varying levels of concierge service. Compass Concierge takes an approach that’s similar to Curbio’s. Aimed at helping clients sell at a higher price, Compass Concierge offers services such as staging, painting, roof repair, landscaping and electrical work. There are no extra fees or costs to the sellers. They reimburse the cost of any work carried out at closing.

Wieloch views Compass Concierge as a powerful platform that benefits individual agents and their brokerages alike. “The real estate business has become more agent-driven and company-driven,” Wieloch  said. “Any agent who aligns themselves with Compass that has access to something like this, it’s going to be mutually beneficial. I think agents are already seeing their businesses grow with Compass because of this platform, and they’ve shown statistics to the fact that the agents who are utilizing Concierge and presenting it in their listing appointments are winning more listings.”

Several companies under the Realogy umbrella provide clients with concierge-type services as well. Coldwell Banker’s RealVitalize home improvement service helps connect homeowners with service providers capable of carrying out a variety of work. The program provides these resources without up-front costs or interest charges. 

The BHGRE Moves program from Realogy subsidiary Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate comes at the problem from the other side of the transaction. This tool is provided to buyer’s agents and puts a slightly different spin on the concierge concept by connecting new owners with movers and utility companies to make it easier to settle in.

Last fall, Keller Williams began offering a concierge service under the company’s iBuying division, Keller Offers. Initially offered in California, Georgia and Texas, the program gives clients access to assistance with minor repairs and renovations at no cost upfront.

Curbio represents one option for agents who don’t have access to such in-brokerage tools. “The value to agents is both in the ability to compete for the listing and then also to secure the lifetime value of the seller,” Rogers said. “For independent brokerages or brokerages that don’t have an in-house concierge service, Curbio is a great solution because they can essentially offer the competitive service without the risk and the operational efforts of launching it on their own. For agents that are not from the really large brokerages that are rolling out these services, Curbio can be a way to level the playing field.”

Wieloch views Compass Concierge as a way to deliver the means to make pre-sale improvements to a home at an affordable price to his clients, while making sure the work is done properly.

“Many homeowners at all price points have a lot of their wealth and liquidity buried in their home’s equity,” he said. “The intention would be to do those things right. A lot of times they’re getting ready for a move. They’re buying another home and whatnot, and there’s a hesitancy to spend the dollars. But it really helps the client or the seller feel comfortable when they know that we can do all this up right and we’re not going to charge you any interest. We can use a contractor that we recommend or even a guy that you know. You have a year to sell your house and then you just reimburse the cost at closing.”

 

Competing independently

But some brokers prefer to take this work on themselves. Lisa Harris of RE/MAX Center in Braselton specializes in luxury properties, a sector where concierge-type services are more in demand. She focuses on making homes camera-ready and neutral so prospective buyers can better imagine themselves living there.

“Due to the importance of showcasing the property with photography and video, I have always encouraged my sellers to remove as much as possible from every room, including closets, to make the space feel more open,” Harris said. “I encourage them to remove anything that personalizes the space – this may include art, photos, rugs, decorations, etc.  We want the property to be neutral so that it appeals to the vast majority of  buyers. In my 13 years in the business, this has always been the goal. The paint color of the year will change. Popular fixture designs will change. We always want to find the best ways to highlight the best features and find creative ways to improve what can sometimes be perceived as negative factors.

Harris has been through the purchasing and selling process several times herself and also owns rental properties, giving her perspective on what kind of work needs to be done in order to prepare a home for sale. Her checklist of points to address includes pre-listing appraisals and inspections, roof inspections, dated kitchens and bathrooms, settling foundations, mold and moisture issues and radon testing.

“Sellers don’t necessarily have to do everything,” she said. “However, it’s extremely helpful for us to help them coordinate a couple of quotes so that we have them ready just in case the potential buyer has questions about the projected cost of the repair or improvement.”

 

Staging for success

Regardless of the scope of a renovation project, staging is a key component of ensuring that everything looks right. This is particularly true at a time when a global pandemic threatens to disrupt real estate markets everywhere. Making homes camera-ready for online photos, videos and virtual tours becomes even more important when social distancing is the norm and local and state governments issue “stay at home” mandates to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The National Association of Realtors’ 2019 Profile of Home Staging survey indicated that 40% of buyer’s agents said staging had an effect on how buyers see a home. Eighty-three percent of buyer’s agents said that staging makes it easier for buyers to see themselves living in the home. 

For some seller’s agents, staging is routine. The survey showed that 28% stage every home prior to selling, while 13% only stage the homes that are difficult to move. Harris believes staging helps everyone. The better a home looks, the faster it will sell, often for more than if it weren’t staged, but it takes knowledge of the market and an understanding of buyers to do it well, she said.

“It’s very easy to take a class and call yourself a stager,” she said. “However, staging a home to sell is complex. You really have to understand how the camera and video will interpret the space so that it will show to its fullest potential online. With more than 90% of buyers finding their homes online, this is crucial. It’s very easy to edit photos or digitally enhance features.  However, we need for the staging to remain intact until the buyers close on the property.”

The HGTV effect is real, too. Of the agents who responded to NAR’s home staging survey, 38% said that programs depicting the buying process have an impact on their business, and 10% said staged homes should look the way they appear on television.

“Buyers and sellers are exposed to HGTV and YouTube 24/7, so they often feel overwhelmed with too much information,” Harris said. “YouTube has two billion users watching over a billion hours of video every day. It’s our responsibility to advise our Sellers on what can be done quickly and cost effectively so that they may get the best return on their investment.”