Whether it’s for a $500,000 South Florida condo or a $100 million-plus Beverly Hills mansion, hiring an interior designer to temporarily furnish, or stage, a property before it’s listed is a necessary expense in today’s real estate market, experts say.

“Unless the house is a teardown,” said Billy Rose, the founder and president of Los Angeles-based real estate brokerage The Agency, “I can’t remember the last time that I sold a home that wasn’t staged.”

That’s because staging is what tells the property’s story and wordlessly conveys information about the lifestyle a buyer could have if he or she lived there, said Meridith Baer, the founder of  Los Angeles-based premier home staging company, Meridith Baer Home, which also has warehouses in Northern California, Connecticut and Florida.

A staged foyer at the Naples penthouse perched on the top floor of the Seasons at Naples Cay, Florida

A staged foyer at the Naples penthouse perched on the top floor of the Seasons at Naples Cay, Florida
Barry Grossman Photography
“It’s not enough to just walk into a beautiful home and see the rooms. Buyers want to know how they’re going to live in that space,” she said. “Staging does that, and gives them a way to fall in love with the property.”

Staging enhances a property’s beauty while masking its imperfections, Mr. Rose said.

“If most people walk into a barren room, it can feel very forlorn and lonely,” he said, noting that most people also can’t understand the scale or the flow of the space. “But if you walk into a space that feels inspiring, you carry that energy with you.”

Staging at the Higher End

Although staging is important at both moderate and ultra-luxury price points, the design process can be significantly different, from the initial pitch to the price to the choice of furnishings and artwork, experts say.

While an initial meeting with a seller or developer for a more modestly priced property might involve a quick walk-through of the space and conversation about who the potential buyer is, at the luxury level, the start of the process is more tailored, and akin to working with a private interior design client, said Nicole Langelier, the owner and creative director of the Melbourne, Australia-based luxury staging and interior design firm, Design + Diplomacy.

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For instance, three recent clients had totally separate visions for what they wanted her approach to be. The first, who was selling a modern home by famed local architect Stephen Jolson in a high-end Melbourne suburb called Toorak, requested minimal and streamlined furnishings with bare walls. The home later sold for A$7.75 million.

The minimal and streamlined furnishings with bare walls at the Toorak residence, which was later sold

The minimal and streamlined furnishings with bare walls at the Toorak residence, which was later sold for $7.75 million
Image Factory, Andy Gibson
The second, who was selling an updated California Bungalow in Brighton East, where there are excellent schools and a family-friendly vibe, requested a Hamptons-style look with “lots of stuff,” Ms. Langelier said, like clothes hanging in the closets and dishes in the kitchen cupboards. “She really wanted it to feel homey and lived in,” she said, “while at the same time being polished and refined.” It sold for just under A$3 million.

The third, who was selling a new two-bedroom apartment in a Toorak complex that had mostly gone to retirement age downsizers, was looking for staging that was a little bit edgier, so they might expand their market.

In each of these cases, Ms. Langelier said, the key is to strike a balance between designing a space that is unique and memorable without going too far, and making it more about the interior design than the house.

“Our goal is always to highlight a home’s beautiful assets without overpowering it with the styling,” she said. “You want to have a wide enough appeal so that you can seduce as many people as possible.”

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How Much It Costs… and Why It’s Worth It

Then there’s the price. At the lowest end, when staging for a home that’s $500,000 to $750,000, the typical fee is $3,500 to $5,000, Ms. Baer said, which includes the design, installation and three months for furniture rental. After three months, the monthly rental fee is 10% of the initial charge—in this case, $350 to $500 per month—until the furniture is returned. But from there, these costs go up substantially.

While some designers price staging services by the size of the home, others go on the list price or sales price. In both cases, the cost works out about the same, with a $4 million home costing about $35,000 to stage—or just under 1% of the total cost—and much larger and more expensive homes costing $100,000 or more. Ms. Baer said she’s currently working on a project at the highest end with a $160,000 fee, and that’s for just one floor of the home.

Pictured is the interior staging of the world famous ‘Fleur De Lys’ mansion in the Beverly Hills by M

Pictured is the interior staging of the world famous ‘Fleur De Lys’ mansion in the Beverly Hills by Meridith Baer Home. It was sold for $102 million in cash in 2014. The fee for this project was $100,000, Mansion Global learned.
Ethan Pines
Although expensive, it’s money well spent, Mr. Rose said, because staging can help sell a home much faster, and contribute to a higher sales price.

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Selling the Whole Package

For Steven Gurowitz, an interior designer who opened his South Florida-based company,Interiors by Steven G., 34 years ago, the cost of working with him and furnishing a property is much higher. But that’s because he doesn’t take the furnishings back when the home sells. Instead, he said he creates unique model homes, in which all the furnishings are part of the sale.

Selling units that are fully furnished allows him to maximize each property’s potential, he said, and provides ultra-high-net-worth buyers with the instant gratification they crave. This approach recently worked in a Marina Palms penthouse, which sold furnished for $5.5 million practically overnight, Mr. Gurowitz said, as well as a 11,000-square-foot Naples penthouse, which set a record in the area when it sold furnished for $14.75 million about six months ago.

Marina Palms penthouse was sold furnished for $5.5 million.

Marina Palms penthouse was sold furnished for $5.5 million.
Barry Grossman Photography
“We install architectural lighting and televisions and sound systems. We hang great artwork and lay beautiful area rugs,” Mr. Gurowitz said. “When someone walks in, they fall in love with the quality of what we deliver, and all they have to do is go buy their dishes and sheets and move in.”

While the primary business for Ms. Baer and Ms. Langelier is staging homes, some buyers purchase request to purchase some or all the décor and furnishings rather than go through a separate interior design process when they move in.

This is exactly what happened after Cheryl Eisen, president and founder of Interior Marketing Group, a company that provides luxury staging in New York’s Tri-State area, staged the Baccarat Hotel & Residences penthouse in Manhattan, which sold for $42.55 million last summer—about three years after it was listed, but less than six months after it was staged. Included in that price was some furniture and artwork designed by Interior Marketing Group’s in-house art department. This, experts say, is something that you’ll only find in the highest-end luxury staging projects.

For the Baccarat penthouse, Ms. Eisen said her team built a custom window seat in the master bedroom, which they flanked in drapes, so it was like a romantic daybed. They similarly custom built a window seat for a staging effort at One57 in a 60th floor unit that had unobstructed views of Central Park, which remained in place when long-term renters moved in. “You’re selling that view, not the furniture,” Ms. Eisen said, “and the window seat blended right in so that potential buyers could appreciate the view without having to stand at the window.”

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When Everything is Customized

Like Ms. Eisen, Ms. Baer said that her projects include a lot of custom manufactured products, including about 80% of the upholstered, mostly white furniture, which is elegant, but also fades into the background so that the focus remains on the house.

As shown in this project by Meridith Baer Home, a custom-made white sofa fades into the background so

As shown in this project by Meridith Baer Home, a custom-made white sofa fades into the background so that the focus remains on the house.
Bernard Andre
Some clients want a curved set of sofas or a specific type of bed, that we’d never be able to find,” Ms. Baer said. “So, if we’re getting paid enough and if we have the time, we’ll custom make those pieces.”

At the Baccarat penthouse, Ms. Eisen said her team also created custom artwork, as well as a custom fabricated pedestal to create a higher plane for a sculpture that they wanted to rise near the dramatic spiral staircase, and draw the buyer’s eye to this stunning focal point of the unit. In another staging project at 66 East 11th St., Ms. Eisen said the team took it a step further, and created the massive white sculpture as well as the pedestal to achieve a similar aim. “It wasn’t easy to design and erect something like this in 12 days,” Ms. Eisen said, but because they couldn’t find the right sculpture to purchase, the job demanded it.

A dramatic sculpture at 66 East 11th Street draw the buyer’s eye to the stunning focal point of the u

A dramatic sculpture at 66 East 11th Street draw the buyer’s eye to the stunning focal point of the unit.
Evan Joseph Photography
While some stagers prefer to hang recognizable artwork on the walls, which could mean renting the highest end pieces from an art dealer if the client requests the “real thing,” Ms. Baer said, Ms. Eisen prefers that her in-house art department create custom abstract artwork for staging projects.  

“We don’t use expensive art pieces in our staging projects because we don’t want to distract from the home’s features, or the sale,” Ms. Eisen said. Instead, these custom works fade into the background a bit, but are the correct size, so that potential buyers can imagine their own collection on the walls.

“We want buyers to picture their Basquiat or Warhol hanging on the wall, if they have one,” she said, “not focus on or study the artwork that’s there. That’s not what we’re trying to sell.”