First impressions can mean everything when it comes to selling property. With the Chinese real estate market booming and maturing, real estate agents are turning to more innovative ways of attracting buyers and tenants, including the use of home staging services.
Popularized in the West over the last decade, home staging is the process of bringing out the best in a property. Prior to going on the market, or when an often-rejected property needs a shot in the arm, sellers and agents hire home stagers to clear out the clutter, brush off the dust, and create a "model home" that’s absent of family photos and personal knick knacks.
The point is to create a generic, aesthetically-pleasing environment for which buyers are likely to pay a higher price.
A different market
Still, home staging in China is in its infancy, and despite encouraging evidence, agents and landlords remain tentative about potential gains.
Claire Schoch, who trained as an interior designer in the UK and qualified as a stager while living in Germany, came to Shanghai to introduce the real estate practice in China. She said her biggest challenge has been overcoming a lack of awareness of the service, even in a hot property market like Shanghai.
"I’m fighting to make property owners understand that by spending a little money, they are improving their chances of renting their properties faster and for a higher rate," said Schoch, director of Claire Schoch Property Styling. "But it’s a hard battle."
While the majority of staging work in the West is carried out on homes for sale, Schoch has found that Chinese agents and owners are more interested in staging to rent.
"Although my business plan set out with the goal of selling, everything has developed very differently. I have stayed open, and I’ve had so much positive feedback and suggestions from agents that they influenced my direction," Schoch said.
Joanna Real Estate has made similar changes that show the increasing use of staging for rentals. The China property agent, which specializes in real estate services for expatriates, has opened a new department dedicated to sourcing furnishings for staging rental properties.
"We provide the service to landlords who may not have the time or ability to keep up the standards they’ve given themselves," said Greg Wollner, Joanna’s business development director.
After being chosen as the sole agent for a property, the company offers to maintain it as a staged home for a fee of US$150 per month, plus a one-time commission of one month’s rent when the property is leased. As more property agents introduce staging services, the hope is that there will be a rising number of sellers who utilize it too.
"It’s catching on well here in Beijing, and it’s even hotter in Shanghai. Joanna has been a pioneer of different things in the past, so landlords have confidence," Wollner said.
For home staging to reach critical mass, though, property sellers and agents will have to be more willing to experiment and take an aesthetic leap of faith. Wendy Lee, an agent at Shanghai-based Alanda Property, did just that when she contracted Claire Schoch Property Styling after one of her houses sat empty for a year.
"Even though lots of clients visited and I reduced the rental, I still did not get any offers. Claire called me to introduce her service, and I thought, ‘Why not have a try?’" Lee said. "After being staged, the house was very different. It had a fresh feeling and was much more cozy. I got two offers within two weeks."
According to home stagers, styled homes sell for 3-10% more than non-staged homes, suggesting that buyers are easily influenced by the technique.
Lee confirms that Shanghai is no exception. Though the house she struggled to rent out was initally priced at US$2,800-2,950 per month, after a professional clean-up its value increased to US$3,680 per month.