In our new “I am a home stager” series, we’ll meet with some of the industry’s best home stagers, ask them about their business and learn their stories. Today, I’ve answered all the questions I’ve asked dozens of other stagers. So, here is a little more about me, Melissa Marro.
How long have you been a home stager?
I opened my home staging company, First Impressions Home Staging & Interior ReDesign in December 2005. Really that was just training, gathering data, creating business plans, etc. I didn’t actually start marketing or working with clients until Spring 2006.
Why did you decide to become a home stager?
I had been watching Designed to Sell and realized that I was really good at figuring out what changes sellers needed to make. I was working in a real estate office and just couldn’t believe that people actually were trying to sell their homes the way they looked. Since I had been told my entire adult life that I should be an interior designer, I thought I would go for it.
What did you do before you were a home stager?
I was the Administrative Manager for a real estate company. I processed contracts and helped agents do the business side of real estate. Prior to that, I was in retail and customer service. My favorite job was actually selling cosmetics and fragrances at JCPenney.
Tell us a little about your business, how it operates and who your clients are:
I recently sold my Charleston based home staging company to another stager that I actually trained in my first home staging class back in 2007. Most of our business was vacant home staging, probably around 95% of it, actually. Our average priced home was around $250,000 – $300,000. Right before I sold the company, we started doing a lot of business working with apartment complexes, staging models where they purchased the furniture and we shopped and set everything up.
What’s your favorite part of the business?
I would like to say it was something really cool like shopping for days on end, or working in beautiful houses that I would never have otherwise had the opportunity to be in but, while those are fun things about the job, my honest to God favorite part was the business and marketing. Not the paperwork, but the parts where you figure out what’s next. I always think of it like a strategy game. I gets me really amped.
What’s your least favorite part of the business?
Accounting and paperwork is by far the worst part of the job for me. They are the first things that I hired out for. I like to make money, and I always want to know about profitability, but I don’t really think about the actual dollar sales or billing. I paid someone else to do that.
Who are some of your favorite stagers?
That’s so tough. There are so many good ones out there. Matthew Finlason, his work blows my mind sometimes. Birgit Anich, she’s very classy. Michelle Minch, I love the rugs she uses and the timeless way she puts things together. And trying not to make the list too long, Annie Pinsker Brown. She has a great use of color and artwork.
Tell us about your best staging experience.
My favorite staging experience would be the one hour contract. We had an investor that was working on a big house in downtown Charleston. He had called us several times to quote on the vacant home. The figure never changed and honestly, it wasn’t that much considering the price of the property.
After more than eight months of this house sitting empty, he finally decided to pull the trigger. We staged the property and it had a showing about an hour after we left. It received a full price offer at that showing. The owner was convinced that it was a coincidence and wanted a partial refund since it was only staged for one hour. Three days later the property received a second offer, also full price.
After eight months of sitting empty, it received two full priced offers within three days of staging. We did not refund any of the staging fees and the investor never hired us again. I don’t believe he is currently in business in Charleston any longer; we however, had the best year of sales ever in 2011.
Tell us about your worst staging experience.
This one is easy. We call her “Barbie”. It’s the only job I ever walked off of. We spoke on numerous occasions prior to staging. They wanted champagne and caviar on a ritz bits budget. We were very clear as to what we could do on their budget. Still, on staging day she showed up to the house – looking every bit like Malibu Barbie, pink velvet jumpsuit, high heeled white tennis shoes, silver Mercedes Benz Geländewagen, botox, bubble gum pink lipstick with orangey white, over tanned skin, platinum hair pulled in a high pony tail – and proceeded to rip apart every single item we put in the house in an exceedingly rude way. I told my guys to take everything and put it back on the truck. I wrote her a check, on the spot for the rental fees, we kept the staging and delivery fees, and advised that she was not our client. I then called the agent and advised her that we don’t work with clients who do not respect our team. Period.
What was your favorite room or art or accessory? (if you have a photo, please include it)
Selling my home staging company means giving up all kinds of great furniture, accessories and artwork. It makes me really sad, honestly. Sometimes I sit and think, “oh man, I’ll never see x or y again.” It’s hard to pick a favorite when you’ve done so many. The few that really stand out in my mind are featured in this blog.
If you were to pick a theme song for your career as a home stager, what would it be?
Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sarah Groves. It’s all about things changing when you aren’t looking. Sometimes you just want to go back, but you really can’t. Instead you move forward and realize that it’s just where you are called to be. Nothing is constant except for change.
If you were going to write a book about your staging career, what would it be called?
I’ve never liked roller coasters, so why should my business be one?
Every business has its highs and lows, but it doesn’t have to be a roller coaster ride.
What would you tell someone new, thinking of getting into home staging?
Learn from those who came before you. When I started there wasn’t near the information and technology that is available now. Also, don’t start this thinking it’s going to be easy. It won’t be. It’s work. It’s a business. Think about this the same way you would think about starting any other business, except party plans. If your choice is between becoming a 31 consultant or becoming a home stager, become a 31 consultant. We aren’t a party plan business. This takes serious time and financial commitments. (FYI, nothing against 31 consultants, my sister is one, it’s just an example because it’s popular right now.)
But if you want a rewarding career that can make you grow and stretch, while still being creative, I can’t think of a better one.
If you are a home stager and would like to tell your story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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