By Christine Rae

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. Stagers say agents have asked for a referral fee.
  6. Stagers have been asked to “cover up” defects in a house (such as placing carpets over stains on the flooring).
  7. 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.)
  8. 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.

9 COMMENTS

    • apparently….lol. It may be more valuable to the sellers but as a buyer the home inspection (by a reputable inspector) has far more value.

  1. “Can you ever imagine a real estate agent asking a home inspector to do a partial inspection?” Don’t need to imagine, the struggle is real #everysingleday

  2. Actually staging of any kind is fundamentally dishonest . You are creating a picture story that has no bearing on the actual value of the property . It won’t be there when the new buyer moves in . It’s actually intended to deceive the buyers . Pictures that distort the property’s should be monitored as well . Example , Your selling a 1000 square foot 3 bed room bungalow . There is no way you can have big expansive rooms yet the picture has elongated the living room to make it look away larger than it is ./Todays fancy cameras can do that . Oral and written misleading information is not the only thing we need to keep on top of , It should include photography as well ;

    • Staging is not dishonest, when done correctly to shows that a dining room can be in this location with this size table, or that the bedroom will comfortably fit a queen bed and making the bed with some nice bedding to add colour. Putting some towels in the bathroom to add colour as well as some living room furniture to provide a place for a potential buyer to actually sit and feel themselves living in the home. Further to comment on your point, a home that is lived in by owner’s also is vacant when they move out, and if they had nice furniture it may have given a feeling of added value, on the flip side homes that had bargain basement furniture may have devalued a property but when they move out, it is just as empty.

    • I am not sure that I understand why you think that photos taken (no matter what camera) have anything to do with staging. Also, people actually see the house prior to making an offer, so they know exactly what the room sizes are before moving forward. Staging will help them to imagine how nice the home can look when done up properly.

  3. Staging is not the same as a home inspection. And on occasion inspections have been specific to the Buyer’s needs. Such as only asking that the roof be inspected. So yes there is a such thing as partial home inspections.

  4. Well written Christine and a great perspective not only for the newer stager faced with these dilemma’s but for real estate agents alike, to see staging as a way to avoid as you well put it, equity jeapardy like the home inspection that can save unsuspecting buyers, a well staged home brings out the best of the spaces which can result in more interest and more interest equates to a more successful sale. The old adage; “good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good” rings true here.

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