Podcast - Home Staging: How Does It Work?

Podcast - Home Staging: How Does It Work?





Have you ever wondered what goes into staging a home to get the biggest return?

In this episode, I interview Cailin Nicholson of Room Remedy. Cailin is one of the best home stagers in Ottawa and someone I work with on every home I sell. Room Remedy was the first home staging company in Ottawa, founded in 2002. A mother and daughter company, Cailin began staging professionally in 2011.

This episode is for our audience listing their homes to understand what a professional stager does and why we include it with all of our listings. 


NICK FUNDYTUS: Hey, I'm Nick Fundytus and I'm joined today on the podcast by Cailin Nicholson from Room Remedy.

Cailin, thanks for coming on today. 

CAILIN NICHOLSON: Thanks for having me.

So a little bit of background is that Cailin and I actually work together on every single one of our listings. Staging is something I really believe in, but I'm going to let her introduce herself and her company.

So tell me what you do.

So my name is Cailin Nicholson. I'm a home staging professional. I've been in the business since my mum started the business in 2002. 

So I originally was just child labor. Went away to university, got a marketing and human resources, studied marketing and human resources. And then from there I came back and worked for the big employer here in Ottawa. Government. But realized that real estate was really the pace that I enjoyed and went back into business with my mom and now have become a partnership with her and eventually will take over the business when she's ready to retire.

But she's the Energizer bunny and is still going strong. So we're a great mother daughter team and our whole point of business is to make sure that we are helping Sellers get ready for sale.  Making sure that they are putting the right investment into their home and making their property as sellable as possible.


In a nutshell, that's what I tell people a stager does too, is that we are helping  you show the home in the best light as possible. Best light possible. And it helps the house sell quicker and for more money.

That's right.

So you're a stager, you've said it a little bit, but what you do so talk me through a little bit what that looks like.

Right, okay. So we have multiple services and different stages do different things, but for the most part, the core is about getting you, the Seller, to market with the best return on investment.

And some of those things can be done really cheaply, like cleaning and decluttering. We can do those practically for free, short of like a little bit of cleaning supplies and boxes.

So our major bread and butter, the thing that we're known for is our consultations where we walk through the home with our Sellers. We start right at the front door and we discuss things like what's your time constraints, what's your budget and where are you going? That certainly helps us figure out are they going to be downsizing? Are they going across the country and they won't be taking their content? And it just gives us a really good understanding of where the Sellers coming from.

And then from there we walk through room by room to discuss all the things that will help elevate the home sale ability. So we're discussing cleanliness and decluttering, as well as, furniture placement and amongst many other things like lighting and updates that sometimes is because things are damaged but also because they may be no longer what the current demographic is looking for in a home.

Certainly we find that the numbers are that the average Seller is 57 but the average Buyer is 37. So we're constantly looking to make sure that we're bridging that 20 year gap and making sure that the Seller understands that it's not about their home and what they've done with it. How we live is entirely different to how we sell. 

I mean people always say oh, your home must be beautiful. No, don't come over. We're living in it. There's dishes out but when you're on the market you're selling something you would never buy the hamburger at the bottom of the bag from a takeout bag. You want the one that's on the commercial, the takeout joints. You want the beautiful… 

You want the sexy hamburger.

That's right. Exactly. And so that's kind of what we're trying to produce. So that's the main one is the consulting and really we're focused on getting you sold and getting you sold well. And by well I mean quickly and for the most money. So we work with whatever constraints that you have and obviously ideally you take all of our advice but we understand that you have two kids working from home like doing school from home and you might yourself be working from home, or on shift jobs, or whatever.

So we get that not everybody is cookie cutter and so every consultation is to the client themselves and for their home and not just a checklist of you know, you should move your family photos off the walls and replace it with a piece of art because everybody knows that. Now I think there's enough HGTV shows out there. So we do the more personal touch.

Now the other thing is that we do is staging services in terms of furniture rental and staging materials.

So, what's that like?

So that's more of when, for example, property is vacant. And here in the city of Ottawa we have a lot of that because we have a lot of government and Department of Foreign Affairs and military who have to move and they have to move ahead of perhaps when they can actually list.

So they take all their contents with them and then the home is vacant and the homes just don't sell as well when they're vacant because for one they just don't feel as warm and inviting but also because sometimes if the property is unique and unique is lovely. It's difficult to place furniture mentally. So the average Buyer can't really figure out the size of a room.

So what we do is we bring furniture in.

What do you mean by that? When the average Buyer can't figure out the size of a room? I know what you mean, but let's explain for the listener.

If I told you the room was 12 x 16, would you know what to put in it? Most people wouldn't.

So if there's a beautiful fireplace and gorgeous window and vaulted ceilings and all these things to look at and there's really nowhere, especially with open concept, there's no particular wall to necessarily put the sofa on. The Buyer looks at the home and goes, okay, this is a gorgeous room, it has lots of beautiful features, but I don't know what to do with it. So by bringing in furniture, it gives the Buyer something to actually establish their metric system on, if you will.

And so having that sofa in the room shows them that a three seater fits and you can get a chair and that there's an empty corner for my grandfather clock or my high chair or whatever the case may be.

So it not only obviously presents it better because it feels homeier, but it also allows people to understand what they're walking into and where their furniture is going to be placed.

That's perfect. And then the only other thing I wanted to go back to is you said people have different time constraints. Now that can mean a couple of things, but what does time constraints usually mean when you're kind of triaging like what you do in that time part?

Yeah, absolutely.

So sometimes we walk into a consultation and photos are tomorrow. And so we're going, okay, we're doing it. We got to think about what is absolutely necessary for photos for tomorrow. 

Now sometimes it's because they've already bought a house that's another time constraint is that they've bought one and they've got bridge financing and they got to go. And so we need to get them on the market as soon as possible.

And then sometimes it's just simply they've got three kids in multiple different sports, they're both very busy professionals and they don't have a minute to spare.

So sometimes that time constraint can even be a year ahead. They know that they're not going to be able to do this by tomorrow. We can come in as early as a year or even more ahead of time, or as late as the day before, and we will absolutely figure out what are the best recommendations and the best advice for you, the Seller who has whatever that time constraint may be.

And I can say that from experience, we have two mutual clients, at least at the moment, and one of them will be listing in a month. And we know that they're going to list in a month, but they've lived in the house for 35 years.

So there's 35 years of living and raising children and all so many gorgeous family photos and memories and things like that. But having that in mind, having you guys come in a month early, because we know that there's work to be done. We know that they're retired, they have time and they're young, retired, like they still can move all the things they need to do, but they want that cushion, so they're not trying to cram itinto a couple of weekends before.

And then somebody else that you just connected with, we don't know when they're going to move, but we know they are going to move. What we said is, why not have you in early and then you can take care of these things at your pace. You can take the full list, and if you really want to make the house look the best, you can do as much of that list as you can.

And I always tell my clients who work with you, I say that Judy and Cailin are going to come in and you're going to make a list together, or they're going to make a list or however you've arranged it, and everything on that list is a good idea, but everything on that list might not be feasible for your life. You still have to have a life.

And so you can ask them what are kind of the high priority things, or we can talk afterwards about what are the high priority things to get done in the time that you have available. So I totally get what you're saying there, and I think that's a good point for anybody considering staging their home, that it's not always, let's take your stuff out and replace it with cool new hotel looking stuff, but it's usually working with what you have and doing it in a really kind of figuring it out in a very human manner how to do it.

Yes, and a lot of times it might not. It often is a blend, actually. So we'll do the consultation and we'll see that you have great living room furniture, but that your dining room has a six year old, a four year old, and a two and a half year old who's been drawing on it. So obviously it's doing the job for the family. But when you want the best foot forward, your best first impression when you go to sale, maybe removing the arts and crafts table and bringing in a dining table and a couple of pieces of art to replace the family photos.

Because we love family photos, we love the term of it. But what we actually find, more so than the fact that the general rule is that people can't feel like they can see their own family there, is that they actually get distracted. I mean, now we've got really gorgeous family photos and wedding photos that are usually done by professionals and they're really interesting, and then they're missing the cove molding on the ceiling or the gorgeous bay window or the extended kitchen island counter that you've added, and they're busy looking at your cute babies. We want them focused on the property. I call it Buyer A.D.D. We want to keep them focused.

Yeah. Otherwise, what you end up doing is it becomes like an anthropological study of whoever lives in the house. You're trying to figure out who they are and how they are.


But really, you're trying to figure out if you can live in that house. And especially these days during COVID, where usually max, you have a half hour in a house to go show it. So you want people to be focused on what the house is.

Okay, so you've sort of answered this already, but when do you typically get involved in the listing process?


So I would say that, generally speaking, the realtor is who's bringing me in sometimes, like I've already touched on, it is a day before photos. Sometimes it is two years in advance. And what we're seeing today is that the market, which used to be that you would buy, sorry. You would sell your house, and then you'd go looking to purchase, given what you have in your pocket from your sale, is now kind of flipped on its head. And we're seeing a lot more where people are buying first and then selling once they've gotten their hands on something, because the stock in the city is quite low.

So what we're seeing is we're actually coming in far in advance of when people would necessarily be selling because they want to get a head start on the staging process and so that they're ready to jump when they finally find the house of their dreams, their forever home, then they can sell theirs, and they are ready to go because they're equipped with all the recommendations that we've already made.

Super. So how does staging make a difference? Are there any stats out there? This is one thing that I could never find, but I know it to be true because I've been in thousands of houses, and I've seen staged and unstaged, and I've listed staged and unstaged at different points. And I know it makes a huge difference, but how does it make a difference?

So there are stats. Canadian stats are terrible in terms of an organization that's actually able to equip us with content. Most of the information is coming in from the States, but really the statistics that are out there, albeit American, are really proving that it does, in fact work.

So they take it from an opinion. It's a staging profile by the National Association of Realtors from the States. And they interviewed selling agents and buying agents and got their opinions on what they feel that their Buyers and Sellers were feeling through the process. And basically, I think the numbers are up to, like in the 2021 survey, I think the numbers are up to like 83% of buying agents believe that staging has medium to large impact, and none of them think that it's detrimental. And a small group of them feel that they couldn't comment on the subject just because they were neutral.

That's the statistics from the States. The empirical that I have, I actually just did one recently in 2022 that I think is probably the best example, because staging really is about making sure that you're better than the competition, like your neighbour. So same market, likely similar home, similar price point. And I did one where the homeowner did, he was a builder who had multiple units that he had just built, and as they were being completed, he was putting them up and on the market.

He put his first one on the market. He had done the staging himself. He had done a great job, but he had done what I would call like a vignette. Just a little bit of touches here and there, and it wasn't really doing well. It had sat on the market in a very hot market for a little while.

His next plot had come to be finished. And this time he decided to hire us. The one that I was talking about originally, that one is larger than the unit that I staged and the one that I staged, or we staged. Remember Judy is involved. It was sold in a day.

So that for me, is a perfect example, of the difference between doing a half a step to put your best foot forward versus doing the whole thing. I do want to bring this back to the open concept conversation is that the less walls we have, the more open concept it is, the nicer it is to be able to have that communication with the next room and being able to be able to watch TV perhaps from the kitchen. But it does mean that sometimes that your furniture has to flow and when you don't have that example of where the furniture is supposed to go and can visualize where we're supposed to be placing the furniture, I think a lot of people do truly struggle. The numbers now are 98% of the Buyer pool is non visual, so there's only 2% that can look past your stuff and the rest of them need to be shown.

So I mean, that right there, it's a no brainer.


Okay, so the most pointed question out of all of these. So it's a Seller's market, though it's 2022 right now, as we record this. Properties are selling quickly, like a week feels like it's a long time and that's only because we're delaying offers. So if a home is going to sell anyways, why do we need staging?

Sure. And it's a perfectly reasonable question.  We're getting that a lot right now.

I think first and foremost is it absolutely is a Seller's market. There are way more Buyers out there than there is content to be able to be sold. So there are Buyers who outnumber the Sellers. But with that said, the Buyers are still very picky. They may not be as picky as they were when it was a Buyer's market, but certainly now that we're looking at what is being sold, what we're seeing is if you are a good price and well presented, and by that I mean you're taking the recommendations of your stager, you're doing all the steps that you can, again within budget and time constraint. We're seeing that those are not just selling at asking, but going well above and beyond the asking price.

And that comes into time as well, is that time on market is reduced. Because usually we're seeing that offers are being presented before perhaps this offer date. That the conveyance of offer date that a lot of properties and listings are presenting now.

So if you're well priced in the neighborhood and you're well presented, of course you're going to sell. But the more recommendations that you can do in terms of what your stage is recommending, the more Buyers that are going to be interested and handing you offers. And that's what you want. I mean, that's everyone's dream is that they have offer day comes and there's ten offers with all really good listing prices or offer prices with it and they're clamoring for your property. I mean, how does that not feel great?

Yeah, and not just as it feels great, it feels pretty great in the bank account later as a Seller, if you've listed the place and it's sold faster and for more money and maybe anecdotally maybe that neighbor who said you'd never sell it at that price, you get to go say, hey, no, we didn't sell at that price. We sold it for $50,000 more.

Yeah, that feels pretty good, too.

Now, you said there's two different is it kind of two different levels of staging or is there more like there's a consultation and then there's physical staging, or is there something in between?

Yes. So the consultation, we have two options. We have a verbal and a written so that if somebody has a baby in their arms and they're trying to also make sure that the kindergartener who's just gotten home has a snack and they have no hands left to be able to write with, certainly we can provide a report with our consultations. And let's say that same example of a Seller is going like, I work a full time job, my husband has been deployed, my hands are full. I absolutely believe that your recommendations stand true. I just don't have the time. Can I employ you? That's where we can absolutely help with the decluttering, the styling, and we also have a project management and shopping service. So if you do need to trade in where I'm good, I can change the light bulb, but I'm not necessarily going to change your electrical. I'm not going to change your dining room. Chandelier or something like that.

Yeah, well, we can oversee an electrician coming in and doing that. And then certainly if you don't know what Chandelier to buy, again, that's something that we can do. We can purchase on your behalf. And then yeah, we basically try to, our whole role is to give you all the information that you can, and if you can do it yourself, that's great. And if you can't, I have somebody who can or I can do it myself to make sure that this is a seamless process for you. 

Because moving after funerals is one of the most stressful times in people's lives. So we want to reduce the stress. We get that it's a stressful time And sometimes we forget in the industry that this is not normal, that this pace is crazy. So we always want to make sure that people are enjoying their experience so that if they're not comfortable in their home and they want to move again, that it was an enjoyable time last time or at least not as painful. And that certainly that's something that they would be comfortable to get again, because we are trying to take the pain out of moving because it can be.

Okay, so even without your professional eye before you came in, or somebody's in a different market, like some little town, and they don't have a stager up there, what could somebody get started on themselves to get their house ready before you show up, right?

Generally speaking, we would say that, for example, if we're going to go in to do a staging consultation in a week, but the people are very excited and they want to get started, but they don't want to do anything that is what I'll later say was not the right recommendation. I always recommend making sure to start with decluttering, clear off your counters, clear out your closet where you can take anything that's out of season or out of size and pack it up. Luggage is a great way to be able to store things that are out of season. And then as well, we all have that drawer, that tupperware drawer or whatever it is for you that is just a little too full. The more interested the Buyers are in your home, the more likely they are going to be able to touch and engage with your kitchen. So you do want to make sure that the things that are behind the doors are also tidy. 

And then just generally cleaning, making sure that the grout in the bath is clean and that the silicone around the sink and around the tub is not filled with black mold because it happens. It's just life. But making sure that that's cleaned out and given a good scrub and that the appliances look really good because cleaning a fridge doesn't take five minutes. So those are all great ones that you can do that just makes the home feel fresh and well taken care of.

And then from there, once we actually arrive, that's when what we find sometimes is people, they go, Okay, I'm going to declutter, and they empty their bookshelves. And then we get there and it's empty and we go, Okay, you went too far. Because if you have textbooks in your bookshelf, and certainly those are things that we're going to tell you to take down, but you do have to bring it back. You do have to look like you still live there. You want Buyers to be engaged with your home, and the first thing that you want to do is to make sure that humanity is still there or else it looks like you're disengaged and you're gone and you don't care. So you want to make sure that it conveys that you're still interested in your home.

And then in terms of somebody who may be from a smaller town or out of this town where I can't help, per se, then really what I would start with is contacting a Realtor who works with a stager. And you may not know that right away, but certainly contacting a Realtor will certainly help. They'll put you in touch with somebody who they trust and otherwise I know that Nick has learned a lot of tips along the way.

And I have but when I sold my last house a few years ago, what did I do? I had you do it, and I was happy to do it because I knew we would be better. Plus, it has the added value of the advice coming from somebody like the advice going to my wife from somebody who's not me, which makes a world of difference as to whether it lands or not.

Yeah. The objectivity is really important.


Because I can think of few people who have less sort of influence on her opinion than I do.

Oh, okay, I feel honoured. Yes. Us redheads, we have strong opinions.

Yeah. So now you said about taking stuff off the bookshelf. Is there anything else that people will screw up when they stage their house or if they try and do it on their own?

Anything they will screw up? Screw up is a strong word. Because most screw ups can be at least taken care of, like, after the fact, they can be reversed.

Yeah. So, like the conversation I was saying, like making sure that if you're taking photos down, that you're either cleaning the wall after if it's hung on the wall, because often they'll leave little scratch marks or nail holes. So making sure that those are patched or putting a piece of art up, because it can be very lonely looking if you've removed all the family out of the room and then you haven't put anything back up.

So that's one of the ones that I would say is more of like the styling portion. One of the things that I find that people don't pay enough attention to, especially in the winter, is making sure that your front walkway and the exterior isn't properly prepared for the Buyers to come in. 

We thank you for saying that for everybody.

We have this freeze that freeze thaw. It's called like third winter, second spring type of thing. And the driveway has become this sheet of ice. But you have to be prepared that your Buyers are going to come in and love the house. And the last thing you want is them to slip on the ice on the way out and fall on their duff. That does not send a good impression on the way out.

So making sure that the exterior is really well groomed, for lack of a better term, and making sure that your mailbox is dusted, your light fixtures are clean with the proper bulbs working, because a lot of the showings are night showings.

And then just remember that it takes a minute for the Realtor to open the iBox. So while they're fiddling with the lockbox, the Buyer is looking around, checking the front door and the porch and everything. So you want to make sure that all the cobwebs are gone and that if we're out of Christmas season now, that the Christmas lights are taken down.

And that goes the same way in the spring. As soon as we have the melt, the snow melts, we want to make sure that those gardens are looking really good. And I feel like people forget about that. 

Otherwise it's really about making sure that the inside of the home is at minimum the broken is fixed. So if you have a faucet that leaks, you're not attracting anybody with a leaky faucet. So making sure that that's either repaired or replaced and that can be simple things like a crack in the wall that's non foundation related whatsoever. It could be seasonal separation, but you're not going on the market in a month when it fills back in. You're going on now. So you got to make sure that those items are dealt with.

So at a very minimum, it needs to be clean and it needs to feel well taken care of after that. Styling is really important and certainly that's where Judy and I come in and make sure that the Sellers are really well aware of where to put their best dollars. Because the return on investment after painting being number one, lighting being number two, styling is number three. Because it really is really important, its really important to the overall look and the engagement that Buyers are going to have.

Wonderful. So last few questions here then.

So assuming that somebody is not in Ottawa, because here we have you and I'm very confident that you're the best stagers that I know. And so someone out of town, they can't hire you, how do they go finding a great stager in their town?  Because not all stagers are created equal, right? So what are they looking for? How are they finding somebody who's really good?

Right, first things first. Like I said, I would contact my Realtor of choice. They are likely to have a stager in their pocket that is going to be a really good fit because they've vetted them already. If you're not ready to start speaking with a Realtor and you want to get a head start before even the Realtor, then I would look at reviews online. I think the Better Business Bureau is a great way to do a little bit of research on what the quality of the stager is. Now granted, there's all sorts of different accreditations that the staging professionals can have, but I think really what it comes down to is word of mouth and referral.

So if you've got friends who've sold recently, what did they do, who do they work with? And making sure that you're really doing your due diligence. Ask some questions like beyond what do you charge, how many years in business have you been? What's the property that you're proud to have and why? Those are simple questions for me.

I've been in business since 2011. I have a lot of different ones that I'm really proud of. But certainly some of the ones with the biggest transformations are always the funnest to discuss. And certainly you'll get a good feel from the stager that you're speaking with once you've gotten the best way to figure out what they're going to do in the future is to talk about their history. 

And then the very last thing, how can people find you to hire you or ask you questions or send you fan mail?  To send me fan mail.

I would love fan mail. So our website is www.roomremdy.ca also email us at info@roomremedy.ca. And then if you want to call us because  we're happy to talk to you, email you, or we have a contact section on our website. Our phone number is 613-837-5068. I should know my own phone number. That looks right. 

Yeah, I can see it on the screen.

So thank you very much. I'll add that contact details in the show notes as well as a transcript too.

Thanks so much for joining.

Absolutely, it was a pleasure. And thanks for having me.

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