If the myriad home shows on HGTV have taught us anything, it's that staging a home can do wonders for attracting a buyer. Carefully arranged furniture, pictures, other furnishings and tchotchkes can whet the imaginations of prospective buyers and increases the likelihood that a house will get sold.
A 2019 survey of sellers' real estate agents conducted by the National Association of Realtors confirms the value of staging. Twenty-two percent of sellers' agents surveyed believed that staging increased the dollar value of a home on the market by 1 to 5%. Another 17% believed it increased the value by 6 to 10%. Five percent believed it ballooned the value by 11 to 15%. And 2% of respondents believed it increased a home's value by a whopping 16 to 20%. Only 19% of those agents responded that staging had no effect on a home's value. Thirty-three percent of sellers' agents were unsure whether staging had any effect at all.
A recent question from a reader wonders how far staging can and should go to shine a favorable light on a house. There are regulations from state to state that make it clear that sellers must not conceal problems in a house that might affect a prospective buyer's health including disclosure about lead paint. And it would be wrong to try to cover up or mislead prospective buyers about mold, termites, wood rot, or other major issues. But this question had more to do with a cosmetic fix than a major house issue and the reader wanted to know if a seller crossed a line.
"I saw a posting on a social media site where a seller asked if she could borrow a piece of artwork about two feet by three feet to hang over her circuit breaker cabinet," the reader writes. "She mentioned that it was the first thing you see when you walk into her house and she didn't want to draw any potential buyers' attention to it."
The reader found the request troubling and wanted to know if it was ethical to engage in what she thought might be a deceptive maneuver to hide one of the less-attractive features of the house she was trying to sell.
There is absolutely nothing unethical about trying to make a property for sale appear as attractive as possible when trying to sell it. Any responsible buyer and certainly any home inspector is going to ask to take a look at the electrical box in a home, even if a prospective buyer has no real idea of what he or she is looking at. Having to move a piece of art to get to the box might be a hassle, but if hanging it there is more appealing than leaving it bare, then the seller seems wise to consider doing so. The right thing when staging a house is to try to make it as appealing as possible but to stop short of lying to prospective buyers about the condition of the house.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
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