The professional integrity and standard business practices of those working in the real estate industry (agents, lawyers, mortgage brokers, banks, title searchers) are understood to be ethical, honest and fair.
Real estate professionals are bound by a strict code of ethics, requiring compliance with the law, government legislation, professional knowledge requirements and competence. Failure to adhere, observe and comply with the code may bring about disciplinary action or even render them not fit to hold a license.
Here is the quandary: Staging is a non-regulated industry, so none of the above applies! Every day, real estate staging professionals struggle to maintain professional boundaries with real estate agents and their clients while delivering quality service and exceptional results. Stagers’ work performance is frequently compromised by requests or actions of well-meaning real estate agents or a non-educated seller.
Real estate agents and sellers need to know when hiring a stager that there is no universal code of ethics, there are no standards for pricing, payment, policies, contracts or even insurance requirements. There are four staging associations. Some work to foster professionalism among members, provide advocacy and they do have a code of ethics, but membership is not required to operate a staging business. Stagers choose to belong and membership only requires payment of a fee. There are no minimum standards such as education, licensing, certification or insurance, hence the challenges.
Here are some of the ethical issues that crop up in the staging industry. Spoiler alert: It’s not always the stager who is guilty of unethical behaviour.
- Shockingly, many stagers do not have rudimentary best practices for their business; they don’t know what they don’t know, they aim to please and in doing so compromise business standards for stagers as a whole.
- Cheap pricing usually means sacrificing service or quality, resulting in compromised satisfaction levels. The same is true in real estate staging. Going by the lowest price is not the way to select a surgeon, a mechanic, a home inspector, an electrician, a restaurant, clothing or even detergent. Increasing pressure from agents for stagers to keep fees low results in disappointment, because compromised staging results in either more days on the market or equity loss.
- Some stagers buy furniture and accessories for a staging and then return it to the store. This is highly unethical and banned by the real estate staging association; it is regrettably a common practice with stagers who struggle to keep pricing low. It is reported that some agents encourage their clients to do this or even do it themselves.
- Some stagers plagiarize the work of others, displaying photos that don’t belong to them on social media and websites. Some even use stock photography!
- Stagers say agents have asked for a referral fee.
- Stagers have been asked to “cover up” defects in a house (such as placing carpets over stains on the flooring).
- Some agents delay payment, won’t pay the stager or refuse to honour the standard practice of payment upfront. (In my opinion the seller should be paying.)
- Stagers are being asked to only do a partial consultation or even a partial staging. I am sure the request comes from a place of conservation of feelings or cost, but what is at stake? The National Association of Realtors reports that 90 per cent of homebuyers can not visualize beyond what they see. If what they see isn’t what they want, they will move on.
The dilemma for a stager
“I am being asked by a professional working in a regulated industry to do something I know to be unprofessional and likely unethical – should I do it?” When they don’t know what to do, stagers cave and both industry standards are compromised.
Stagers must hold themselves accountable to a higher standard. The real estate industry as a whole needs to adjust its perspective of staging. Staging is NOT decorating and NOT everyone can do it well. Executed properly and thoroughly, it is as valuable as a home inspection. Can you ever imagine a real estate agent asking a home inspector to do a partial inspection? Sometimes, compromises have to be made; they need to be made by the seller. If the seller wants to play “equity jeopardy”, they must be given a full understanding of what is at stake.