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Staging has become a common, if not integral, step in the home-selling process, especially as savvy HGTV-fed consumers continue to tune into programs like Designed to Sell, The Stagers and Get it Sold.

"Years ago you could put your house on the market and nobody cared what it looked like," says Cindy Stocker, a property stylist at Vancouver-based Urban Presentations. "But people are more impressionable these days."

Blogs, articles and websites are awash in statistics championing the effectiveness of staging. According to Designed to Sell, for example, virtually all houses that are staged sell over asking price, while an AOL Money poll found that 87 per cent of people say home presentation makes a difference in most sales.

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In 2011, the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA) found that homes staged prior to listing, as opposed to those staged after sitting on the market, were likely to sell 79 per cent faster.

Of course, some find the idea of paying thousands of dollars to stage a home deplorable, and may argue there's scant genuine data proving its effectiveness to sell a home. These studies cannot possibly account for the slew of factors that may impede or facilitate a sale, such as market fluctuations, local market conditions, location and the structural condition of a home.

But others view staging as a relatively easy and cost-effective way to make a strong first impression on Realtors' Multiple Listing Service, to attract more interested buyers and to command a higher purchase price.

And most homeowners would agree that it can be difficult to bring a buyer's perspective to a property they've lived in for years. The mandate of the professional stager, then, is to bring this much-needed fresh set of eyes to ensure that the space appears well maintained and move-in ready to prospective buyers.

Here's what to expect in terms of services and costs:

Site visit - no cost

Most companies do not charge for the initial meeting, which generally involves a brief 15-minute walk-through of the space. This meeting helps the stager to help determine the estimate.

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Consultation - between $75 and $250

During the one-hour consultation, the stager offers advice on curb appeal and then moves room-to-room, pointing out areas that could use improvement, says Anne Bourne, the owner of Toronto-based StagingWorks, Depending on the company, they will follow up with report of recommendations, or the client will simply take notes during the walk-through and create his or her own do-it-yourself list.

Two to three-hour tweak - $250

This "once over" or "tune-up" service is for people with modest spaces, like condos, to get their places photo-ready. The stagers will use what the client has in the apartment, whether it's bedding, art or furniture, and suggest ways to improve the flow so that potential buyers can move through the space freely.

The works - from $800 to upwards of $5,000

The cost depends on the size of the space (i.e. 500 sq. ft. condo vs. 3,000 sq. ft. house) and the amount of "fluffing" that is required. If it's just art, area rugs, lamps and accessories that the home owner needs, the cost will run on the lower end of the scale. But when movers are involved to bring in a new sofa or dining room table, for example, or tradesmen are needed to paint the walls and make repairs, the price can escalate quickly.

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Ms. Stoker and Ms. Bourne say the average person will shell out between $2,300 to $2,500 for staging services, rental of furniture for a month and the hiring of a moving company. They also caution against stagers who offer cut-rate prices.

"Often you get what you pay for," says Ms. Stoker, who recommends getting a couple of quotes on the services or rentals before hiring the company.


The DIY approach

If hiring the pros is not in your cards, here are some quick-and-dirty ways to help you stage your home on a dime:

1. Remove 20 to 50 per cent of furniture and accessories in each room

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2. Stick to neutral paint colours on the wall, and add a fresh coat of bright white paint to the baseboards

3. Clean all windows and scrub all floors

3. Pick up a couple of planters and a new welcome mat for your front porch

4. Buy a fresh set of crisp, clean bedding and white fluffy towels for the bathroom

5. Edit your art. If your walls are plastered with wedding or baby photos, go out and buy a couple of works that are a bit more mainstream.

6. Ditch the shoe racks, small book cases or storage pieces. These will give the buyer the impression that space is tight.

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7. Freshen things up with flowers and fruit. Ms. Stoker says her team always puts an orchid or greenery in every bathroom and puts a bowl of fruit – lemons, limes, oranges – in the kitchen.

8. Don't use air fresheners to mask the small of tobacco, dirty laundry, cats or last week's leftovers. Try using a lemon-scented cleaner, says Ms. Bourne, to help remove unwanted odours.

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