What happens when a tenant moves out?  Most landlords inspect the apartment, make sure it’s clean, that nothing is broken, take a few photos with their iPhones and proceed to list it on Rentals.ca or a major rental listing service.

Generally, landlords don’t pay attention to how the unit presents to prospective tenants aside from cleanliness.  However, listing and showing an empty apartment can result in lost income potential (in some situations).

In this article, we’ll examine why staging services should be used more widely by landlords and list a few tips.

Not Just For Real Estate Investors

When landlords hear “staging” the default is to assume that it’s a strategy exclusive to real estate sales.  For the most part, this assumption is right.

The goal of a rental staging isn’t to show a fully furnished unit to prospective tenants.  That would be cost-prohibitive since most staging services cost a few hundred dollars a month to hire.

Rather, staging a rental involves professionals decorating the unit for a day and hiring a professional photographer to take pictures for the listing.  When it’s all done, the staging company removes their furniture and leaves. The unit is then shown empty to prospective tenants.

Psychology Of Staging A Property

So why spend the money doing this?

By having those perfect photos up, the listing will attract more prospective tenants because they can envision themselves living in the rental and see how their furniture will fit in.  Think of it as building blocks for their imagination.

Staging companies are experts at choosing furniture and colours that suit almost everyone’s taste.  They’re also trained (yes, there are home staging courses) to leave wide open spaces for a viewer’s imagination to fill the voids.  For example, by leaving a space where an armchair should go, a viewer will think “hmm, that spot would work well with that armchair I have in the old place”.

Simply put, almost anyone that views a staged property will have the feeling they belong in that space.

Now you’re probably wondering why you should spend money just for pictures.  After all, won’t the unit be shown empty anyways?

When it comes time to show the rental to a prospective tenant, they’ll already come in with a formulated vision of how their future apartment will look like.  Instead, the focus of the visit will be on the other selling features such as cleanliness and maintenance.

When Staging A Rental Isn’t Worth It

Like all things real estate, staging isn’t a cookie-cutter tool that can be applied to any or all situations.  There are some situations when staging a rental simply isn’t worth it.

For example, landlords who find themselves in a competitive rental market in an upscale part of town can probably skip staging a property.  The property will rent easily regardless whether it’s staged or not. The leases are probably inflated and it’s unlikely a unit will fetch more just because the listing pictures present well.

The same applies on the other end of the spectrum: in a low-income neighborhood staging is unlikely to result in higher revenue.  A beautifully decorated living room isn’t likely to persuade a paycheck-to-paycheck tenant to pay more per month.

For these types of situations, it’s a question of meeting the tenant’s requirements.  Is rent within budget, are there enough bedrooms, is it close proximity to amenities, etc?

When It Works Best

Staging becomes interesting for properties in areas that attract a wide demographic mix.  Every city has neighbourhoods where the working class rubs with professionals. These are the areas where investing a few dollars in staging services could lead to higher revenue or lower vacancy times.

Landlords of micro units (ie 250-350 sq ft) in cities like Toronto and Vancouver could also benefit from staging services and professional photography.  Successfully photographing such a small empty space is likely out of the grasp of even the most seasoned amateur iPhone photographer. Not to mention that a few well-selected pieces of furniture can make space look more livable and inviting.

3 Tips For A Successful Rental Staging

In order to master a successful rental staging, landlords should consider the following tips before hiring a professional service:

Identify Flaws

This involves going room by room and finding what is broken, needs a fresh coat of paint or replacement.  It’s usually best to bring someone who isn’t familiar with the property like a relative or close friend.

The goal is to find anything that a dream tenant would identify as problematic and fix it.  This way, during the staging and even during apartment viewings, tenants won’t wonder what else is broken.

Replace the Basics

Go around the unit and identify anything under $50 that can be replaced with a fresh version.  Think shower curtain, door mat, antiquated light fixtures (Ikea sells modern looking ones for cheap), door knobs, etc.

A quick refresher of these basics will not only photograph better, it’ll show prospective tenants that the unit is well taken care of.

Ensure Thorough Cleanliness

This goes beyond a basic broom and vacuum.  Everything should be thoroughly cleaned and be spotless.  Think spots on the stove or mold growths in the shower won’t show up in the pictures?  They will.

Cleaning the unit thoroughly will also decrease turnaround time during the viewings.  Remember that the goal of all this is to make it easier for a tenant to see themself in a unit.  With a clean and well-maintained apartment to look at and the pictures in the listing helping mentally place their furniture, the tenant will have nothing else to focus on but how he or she belongs in that apartment.

Consider Virtual Staging Services

Over the past 5 years, virtual staging services have exploded in popularity.  Not only have they become photorealistic and almost indiscernible to real photos, but a competitive marketplace has driven prices down.

The process is fairly straightforward.  Send pictures of the rooms you want staged and they’ll digitally add the appropriate furniture and decorations within 24-48 hours.  Price depends on the service request but can range between $40 to $75 a room.

What’s great about this process is that going virtual skips the hassle of booking a physical staging company.

Wrapping This Up

Staging a rental unit isn’t for every landlord, however in some markets it may mean the difference between securing that perfect tenant or fetching a few more dollars on a lease.

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