The two-story townhouse in Columbia, Md., was just like the others in the complex — except that it was empty and had been sitting on the market for about a year.
Jaclyn Riedel was hired to transform the shell into an inviting space in which buyers could see themselves living.
In less than a day's time, Riedel swooped in, mapped out a plan and brought in enough furniture, accent pieces and artwork to fill the two-bedroom home. Within two weeks, an offer was made on the $254,900 house.
"I came in and I put in items that were relatively neutral and not offensive to the general population … items that were going to please a broad range of people," said Riedel, who has worked as a wardrobe stylist and set designer for TV shows and films, including "Veep," "House of Cards" and "The Wire."
Welcome to the life of a home stager. These fast-moving, detail-oriented workers are called in by real estate agents or homeowners looking to better display a home's decor so prospective buyers can envision themselves living there. Ideal for vacant homes, recently flipped properties or hard-to-sell houses, stagers and their clients say their work helps homes become more attractive and cuts the time they are on the market.
Services range from as low as $250 for a simple walk-through and organizational consultation at a smaller house to about $10,000 to decorate a five-bedroom home.
"Staging homes allows a buyer to come in and see the home at its best," said Allison Sheff of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in Baltimore. "Stagers have a great sense of style. They're not too wild and not too flamboyant."
Sheff, who has been a real estate agent for 12 years, said home stagers have grown in popularity over the past year — especially for vacant homes.
"I think that Realtors are seeing the value in it," she said. "They are seeing that giving a home that shine and special treatment really does work."
Chip Frye, owner of Mount Washington-based Charm City Staging, also has seen a recent upswing in the demand for home stagers.
"The market calls for it," said Frye. "People have become more savvy about the process. They watch an awful lot of HGTV. They are seeing the value of a staged home over not staged."
Last year, Frye staged 237 properties, and he's in line to do a similar number this year.
"Most of the properties I stage sell within five to 10 days," he said. "Oftentimes, I've had them go overnight."
Unlike the work of interior designers, which often focuses on the taste of a particular client, home stagers aim to create a look that has general appeal.
This more basic approach was what appealed to Drew Foxwell, who has been working in the home-staging industry for two years.
"I was always interested in interior spaces, but I was never interested in the interior design aspect of the business. It's too detailed," said Foxwell, who launched his company, Downtown Home Staging, at the end of last year.
Foxwell, of Parkville, Md., has worked as a licensed Realtor but prefers the work of a home stager.
"On this side of the business, I find that I can be successful making things look good," he said. "I'm just in there to make things look good and I'm out. I don't have to make sure the customer likes the color. It's a simpler form of design."
Unlike interior designers, who typically purchase new furniture and accents for clients, stagers use pieces — many from their personal collection — to decorate. Amassing such large amounts of furniture requires stagers to master a bit of organization — a storage system is key — and utilize resources such as furniture rental contacts.
Riedel credits her organization skills with enabling her to stage a home in less than half a workday.
"I have everything in Rubbermaid storage bins," said Riedel, who has all of her furniture and accessories stored in her attic and a utility closet in her Columbia home, and in the basement of her parents' nearby home. Everything is labeled and organized in a computer system.
Frye stores his furniture in a 3,000-square-foot warehouse. With the size of his collection, he's able to stage 40 homes simultaneously.
Customers such as Brian White swear by the work of stagers.
It was White's Columbia townhouse that Riedel recently transformed. As a result, he's referred her to friends and Realtors.
"I thought the overall appearance and touch was really ideal for the space," White said. "The comments from open house visitors generally spoke to they could see themselves in this one. That is the greatest feedback they can give."