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Does decorating a vacant house with furniture, wall hangings and home furnishings really translate into quicker sales and higher prices?

Laurie Murphy, who has been operating Redesigning 4U, says the sales technique known as home staging really works, regardless of whether buyers or sellers have the upper hand in the real estate market.

In fact, home staging may be more important than ever these days, when so many shoppers start their search by going online and clicking on real estate ads.

“Photos online are very important,” Murphy said. Ads that simply show an empty house often don’t provide a lot of information about the property. But when an ad features pictures of a furnished home, potential buyers get a better sense of the house’s size, scale and design.

For years, Realtors have advised sellers to pick up clutter, rearrange furniture and do other tricks to make prospective buyers feel comfortable. But real estate experts say an expertly staged house translates into thousands of dollars in a higher sales price and shaves many days off the market.

Real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran, a regular on the venture capital-oriented TV show “Shark Tank,” is often credited for

observing that real estate buyers decide whether they’re interested in a property within eight seconds of seeing it.

Polly Kovash, owner-broker with Metro Realtors in Billings, says a properly staged house adds sizzle to the steak.

“I’ve seen people step inside the front door, turn around and say, ‘Let’s go to the car and write this up,’ ” Kovash said. Although the kitchen and living room are important, the master bedroom is typically the biggest selling point. “You can pretty much count on the eight-second rule,” she said.

“As a matter of course, I believe strongly in staging, and I pay for it,” Kovash said. “A lot of people have the seller pay for the service, but I consider it part of my marketing expenses.”

Murphy had previously worked as a designer, but decided to become certified in home staging and started her business nine years ago.

Since then, she has accumulated three warehouses full of home furnishings in different styles to stage homes, including a recently completed three-bedroom home at 5220 Burlington Ave. in the Vintage Estates subdivision.

For people who are trying to sell an existing home, Murphy will rearrange furniture, reduce clutter and will often recommend updates such as fresh paint or floor coverings.

“Anybody can stage their own home,” Murphy said. “But I believe a trained professional has the tools and experience to create an ideal atmosphere, where an untrained do-it-yourselfer doesn’t, no matter how much HGTV they have watched.”

Murphy said a home stager can soothe the relationship between a Realtor and a client who’s reluctant to spend money or make changes needed to improve its marketability.

“The stager is the third person. You are the professional giving advice, and you can tell the seller how crappy his house looks so the Realtor gets off the hook,” she said.

Some agents choose to stage the properties they’ve listed. But Kovash prefers to rely on Murphy’s experience and sense of style.

Pamela Lindsey, and her business partner, Terri Beede, started their business, Stage Right Personal and Realtor Home Staging, around the first of the year. Lindsey brought her background in real estate to the partnership, and Beede has a background as an educator and business owner. Both have always been interested in design and decorating.

Lindsey and Beede stage houses for real estate agents, builders and homeowners in addition to doing decorating projects.

“When I was 20 I decorated my friend’s apartment, and that’s how I got into it,” Lindsey said.

Beede said she has always kept her copy of Architectural Digest handy, even during her college years, when her apartment was furnished with used furniture and garage sale knickknacks.

“Growing up, I always watched my dad and helped him with different tasks and projects,” Beede said. “I enjoyed the labor part, getting my hands dirty and building things.” She put her building skills to work on a recent weekend by building three mantels that are used as focal points in houses being staged.

Lindsey and Beede spend hours shopping for new and used furnishings. “We go to every furniture and retail store in Billings,” Lindsey said. “When we hit the stores, we hit everything because we need to know what’s out there and exactly where everything is.”

Carol Stigen, an agent with Century 21 Hometown Brokers, said Lindsey and Beede were a big help when she decided to redo her own home. Among the nice touches they added to her home were a camel saddle and a rustic wooden ladder that she uses to store books.

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