A home in Los Angeles, California.
A home in Los Angeles, California. - 
Listen To The Story

Walk through enough open houses in Los Angeles, and you’ll find that they share a similar vibe: Midcentury modern furniture, fuzzy pillows, a surfboard on the wall, a vintage record player and zero clutter. 

Those are the tell-tale signs of a “staged” home: one that’s been cleared of the owner’s actual possessions and replaced with rented furnishings and decor that’s designed with the buyer in mind. 

Meridith Baer has made a living staging homes in hot real estate markets across the U.S. In Southern California, her company stages about 30 homes a week.

In earlier decades, staging was primarily used by the rich and famous to impress wealthy buyers. Today, it’s a tool nearly every LA owner considers when they list their home, even for midrange bungalows and ranch houses.

The reason? Sellers (and their realtors) increasingly see staging as a sound investment, one that will pay for itself through higher offers from dazzled buyers. 

For smaller homes, Baer charges as little as $3,000. For mansions it can cost $150,000 or more.

“You know we can’t do a big home in Bel Air without a piano,” she said. 

A home in Los Angeles, California.
A home in Los Angeles, California. - 

Baer estimates there are at least 70 staging companies in the LA area. One of them is owned by Michelle Goode, who gave a tour of  an LA home she recently staged for the price of $8,000. Inside were pristine furnishings, a sparkling kitchen with stemless wine glasses just waiting for a cork to be popped, and a cookbook turned to the perfect recipe. 

"I think the goal ... when you stage, is to make it slightly aspirational for the buyer," she said.

That means if you buy this house, you are also buying an idea of a better version of yourself. One who might whip up miso salmon on a weeknight, has no dirty laundry on the floor, no electrical wires showing and chilled Zinfandel ready at a moment’s notice. One survey by the National Association of Realtors estimated staging increases prices anywhere from 1 to 15 percent.

Real estate agent Rob Kallick said he recently had a listing where some potential buyers looked at the house before any staging was done and offered $1.4 million.

“I told the owners, I said 'I think you can get more'" with staging, Kallick said. So “They moved out, we staged it, it was gorgeous … and they ended up getting $1.5 [million]," or an extra $100,000.

As more homes get staged and prices tick up, it can put homes even more out of reach in a city that’s already tough to own. LA has one of the lowest homeownership rates in the country.

Meredith Baer acknowledged that her business can play a role in pushing prices up, but she said her responsibility is to help sellers.

“It is our goal for people to get their very best price for their home,” she said.

“I think the best compliment I can give is not to say how much your programs have taught me (a ton), but how much Marketplace has motivated me to go out and teach myself.” – Michael in Arlington, VA

As a nonprofit news organization, what matters to us is the same thing that matters to you: being a source for trustworthy, independent news that makes people smarter about business and the economy. So if Marketplace has helped you understand the economy better, make more informed financial decisions or just encouraged you to think differently, we’re asking you to give a little something back.

Become a Marketplace Investor today – in whatever amount is right for you – and keep public service journalism strong. We’re grateful for your support.