It was a dark and stormy night... ok it was actually probably broad daylight. But we are adding drama because it FELT dramatic. We had just finished staging the home the day before when we got the call-- the home had been broken into and our stuff had been robbed. When anyone experiences a break-in, it feels personal. It feels creepy. We had just been there. Were they watching us? Did we narrowly escape being tied up by armed bandits screaming at us for cash and jewels?? Ok probably not. We may or may not have watched too many episodes of CSI and Law & Order. Most likely, it was an inside job.
We've been Staging for over 10 years now and in that time we have only had about 5 of our Staged homes broken into (and about 20 other times when one item went missing). This is actually an astonishingly low number when you consider the huge number of homes we Stage each year and that vacant homes are notorious for being targets for burglars. Here are our #StagingStudioSecrets to keeping that number so low.
Require a Supra Box
A Supra box is different from a lockbox. It is soooo much more secure. Instead of giving out a lockbox code that can be shared with anyone, a Supra box requires a Supra key. This key is specific to the key holder and the Supra box keeps a record of who uses their electronic key to open the box. When a lockbox is in place, there may be 10 different contractors who know the code for the box, making it impossible to identify who exactly entered a home. Supra boxes are also practically indestructible, unlike lockboxes (we had one opened with a hacksaw once!).
The Supra box and access are available only through your local Board of Realtors. Only real estate agents and affiliates (like inspectors, appraisers, and home stagers) are eligible to carry a supra key. Regular contractors do not have this secure access.
Another reason to have a Supra is that you add so much more value to yourself when you can tell the agent they don't need to meet you with a key -- You can just let yourself in! Your clients will definitely appreciate the convenience.
We mentioned above that break-ins are usually inside jobs. We meant that often it can be a sub-contractor who has been working on the property and has the lockbox code. But thieves don't always use the lockbox. One time we had someone get in through a window. But we knew it must be an inside job because of how they got in. They left a trashcan dragged over to the only window left (conveniently) unlocked. It is best practice to only stage after all the work on the home is done. This is not just for theft reasons -- things end up broken when moved by contractors or splattered with that neutral paint you recommended!
We recently made an exception to that rule and allowed further work to be completed on the home after we staged it. But then we were unable to get good pictures of our work since wallpaper and light fixtures weren't hung and there was painter's tape everywhere. When the homeowner saw that we did not put anything in the powder room, they were upset as well. We had to gently remind them that there was no way to hang art before hanging wallpaper and that we couldn't put even a hand towel or faux plant in the tiny room for fear that it would get knocked over or covered in paint or plaster.
Protect Yourself In Your Contract.
In all of our contracts, we include a clause that says that the client is responsible for all missing or damaged items. Just like an insurance company, we charge the client the retail replacement cost. Of course, every client and situation is different. Our most recent theft was in an investor flip (without a Supra) and it was the first time they had used our services. It was an up-and-coming neighborhood and they had actually been nervous about a break-in from the beginning, so we worked with them a bit on what they owed. As a small business, you need policies and contract clauses to protect yourself, but you also have to know when to make exceptions. It is always possible to lower a fee, but impossible to add one! Set the expectation and then you can have grace and come back off of that, but you have to have a place to back up from. Note: our full contract template is part of the forms and resources included in our expert level course.
Have an inventory management system.
When an obvious break-in occurs, careful attention would be taken to account for any missing items. However, we have had many (about 20) one-off pieces go missing from homes. A piece of art here, a rug there... things we might not ever even notice. Recently, we had a cowhide rug go missing from under a dining table. Someone had to move the entire table and all 6 chairs... and then they put it all back and we almost didn't notice! Thankfully, our inventory management system flagged that we were missing it. A good inventory system means there will be no question as to whether everything you brought to the home goes back on your truck in the de-stage. We use Stageforce, but there are a few good inventory systems including Darby. Stageforce enables you to keep track of how much everything cost, so the replacement cost is not difficult to calculate. It also works on RFID technology so that you can walk through a home (or walk around your truck) and check it into your inventory. Another benefit of Stageforce is that the RFID tags can be printed with your company name on it so that if it is ever found stolen it might be easier to recover. (We have not been so lucky yet.)
Cover yourself with good insurance.
Although we have never actually made a claim on our insurance (knock on wood!), we are so glad that we have it. We have 10 questions to ask that we recommend real estate agents ask before hiring a Stager. #7 is to ask if the Stager carries insurance. There are many ways to be covered by insurance. RESA has come out with a new way of adding insurance coverage as an optional fee to pass on to your clients. We use Fellers Insurance and have been very happy with our coverage (they handle all of our insurance needs: workers comp, general liability, auto, etc). If interested in them, contact [email protected] and tell her Staging Studio sent you. The important thing is to be covered.
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