Selling your house? Have you hired a home stager?

Earlier today, I took my four-year-old to her preschool picnic, one that they hold every year after the last day of school and right before the summer begins. And as I stood there, underneath a canopy of blue sky, watching mostly three and four-year-olds dashing about, scampering on playground equipment and burying each other in the sandbox, I began talking to the mother of one of my daughter's classmates.

Not long after we began talking, I learned that she is a home stager.

I find it both exhilarating and a little frightening that I can go through life perfectly happy and then one day discover that there's yet another profession I had no previous knowledge of. I'm just thankful I'm very happy in my chosen profession of freelance writer. I'm sure I'd be crafting a stern letter to my high school guidance counselor right now if I had left the picnic in a funk, thinking that home staging should have been my calling.

Although that would be a little unfair to my guidance counselor, who couldn't know what she didn't know. According to Wikipedia, home staging didn't really come into its own as a profession until the 1990s, when I was well out of high school.

And so in case any of you out there are like me and have no idea what a home stager is, let me enlighten you. They are the professionals who prepare a house for its close up when it's on the real estate market. In other words, if you're going to sell your house, the idea is that you really should have a home stager involved first. It's that home stager, even more than a realtor, that can really set the mood for the buyer by decorating the house with a certain "buy me, live here" flair.

After this mother-entrepreneur explained the concept to me, I suddenly flashbacked to the spring of 2000 when I was house hunting with my then-financé. The house that really captured our attention, where I'm writing this post from right now, was currently lived in by a family of four, but you'd never have known it. No half-filled cereal boxes on top of the refrigerator. No unwashed dishes in the sink. Not a toy out of place in the children's bedrooms. In fact, it looked like a giant doll house that had just come out of the box.

Everything was in place and felt perfect. In the background, there was soothing classical music, hardly loud enough to let you know it was there, but just loud enough to give a calming, soothing backdrop to the stresses of house buying. In the air, scents of Norwegian mountains and pine trees wafting through the hallway. The house was so deliriously attractive, I never noticed that the closets were a bit small, talked myself into deciding that the tiny hole in the kitchen floor couldn't possibly be indicative of a problem down the road, and I couldn't even imagine that the roof might leak.

And when I returned home and began looking up "home staging" on the Internet, what do I find? You can be an accredited home stager and get training. In fact, they're everywhere, from Maine to Montana. And, of course, I found the web site of the mother I spoke to, and plenty of other home staging companies throughout Ohio. And apparently home staging can get very serious. One rental company I found on the Internet was pitching its services to home stagers, suggesting that you might want to bring in new furniture into your house if, for instance, the couch you currently own is rather dumpy.

Incidentally, I'm not suggesting home stagers are doing anything wrong or ominous or that the sellers are, and mostly, I really do like my house. I don't think a home stager can make you fall in love with a house you would otherwise hate. But I think they can help stir the complex pot of emotions we all bring with us when we're looking for a place to live, and that a good home stager truly knows how to set the mood.

Now that I think about it, there have been plenty of scenarios and situations in my life -- from disastrous first dates to job interviews that didn't quite work out -- where I probably could have used a home stager advising me beforehand. I wonder if they just work with houses.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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