While trying to make it as a real estate agent in the 1970s, Barb Schwarz found she was appalled by the condition of the homes she was trying to sell.

At a house one day, she turned to the owner and told him they needed to make some changes.

“I said, ‘Your home is like a theater and this is a set and everyday we change the scene for a play.’ It dawned on me that instead of appealing to a theatre audience, we were appealing to our buyers instead. It just clicked.”

Schwarz, has been staging homes for sale ever since, making it her full-time job in the mid-1980s. Her newest book is Home Staging: The Winning Way To Sell Your House For More Money (Wiley, 2006; $19.95).

Schwarz, now based in Chicago, recently gathered 35 real estate professionals from across the country for a 2-day home staging boot camp, in which they staged a vacant home that is going on the market.

“What is the first thing you do when you home stage?” Schwarz asked the class recently at her Accredited Staging Professionals (ASP) certification training at the Chicago Realtors Association.

“Get rid of the clutter!” The classroom shouted back.

Schwarz says that 80 percent of the time home staging involves getting rid of clutter (even in the linen closets) and giving the house a clean look. She suggests homeowners stand in the doorway and pick a “staging point” — which is the focal point of the room, often where the fireplace is located).

Schwarz says that many home sellers mistakenly believe that home staging is going to cost them a lot of money. In fact, staging often involves no cash.

Instead, Schwarz and her team look for extra cans of paint in the garage and basement to repaint walls. Other tricks include turning old drapes, clothing and table cloths into decorative pillow cases and lamp shades. Sometimes the only thing a stager needs to do is move furniture around, adjust some lighting, or fasten a linen table cloth into a new, stain-free shower curtain.

“The most important tools of a home stager are Zots (small pre-fabricated glue patches), wire clippers and twine. You’d be amazed with how many things you can make with twine,” laughs Schwarz.

Schwarz likes to bring the outdoors into a house. An avid naturalist, she often removes flora from the backyard and works it into her staging areas.

The house being staged at the 2-day seminar is owned by Carol Olivo and her siblings, who recently lost their mother and decided to sell their parents house. The house, decorated in 1950s wood paneling and mustard-colored kitchen floors, was in desperate need of updating.

“It’s absolutely amazing, I can’t even believe I’m looking at the same house,” said Carol Olivo, upon entering the house she grew up in and saw that the home stagers used her father’s fedora and mothers bonnets to decorate the foyer area.

“Everywhere I look I see things from my childhood. Lot’s of memories. My mother is probably somewhere smiling right now,” said Olivo.


Barb Schwarz


Other stories:

Barb Schwarz’s top 10 tips for Successful Staging Your House

5 Minutes with Barb Schwarz

April 10, 2006.