Renting out part of your New York City apartment or townhouse is, for many, the dream—spurred on by idyllic Airbnb listings and “super hosts” who are seemingly raking in the dough. Or maybe you are more realistically looking to earn extra funds to help cover the steep cost of living here.
Given the increasing competition (according to one recent report, there are some 38,500 active listings across NYC), getting your place to stand out from the crowd is essential in reaching your property’s full potential.
That’s where hiring a staging company can help. These businesses specialize in creating spaces that are fresh, appealing, and (importantly) comfortable. Think of it as an upfront investment that can pay off in the long term.
This is especially true now that surcharges and hotel and city taxes take a big bite out of your profits—and add significant costs for your guests.
Plus, in NYC, you have to stay on the right side of short-term rental laws by being on-site for stays of less than 30 days (so no renting your apartment while you spend two weeks on a Greek island). You must also register your property with the city. Those rules and regs can impede your income stream.
And there’s only so much some people will be willing to pay, so your goal is to capture the most attention from the very first impression. Cathy Hobbs, celebrity interior designer and founder of Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, puts it this way: Real estate is a numbers game and it’s about getting as many eyes on your listing as possible.
You’ll also want people to click “reserve”—and leave you a glowing review at the end of their stay. Meaning what they see better be what they actually get in terms of an elevated experience.
Scroll down for the ins and outs of hiring a staging company so you can decide whether it’s a good fit for your own rental-vacay reality.
How does staging a vacation rental differ from staging when selling?
When staging before selling, it’s about creating a temporary “aha” moment—then, once the deal closes, everything is removed. With vacation rentals, it’s about staging your space so it photographs well but also provides an elevated experience for your guests.
“If we are staging a property so it is photographed in pristine condition and marketed for rent or sale, we go way in on styling. The bookshelves are gorgeous and the coffee table assortment is photo ready,” says Jane Saidenberg, CEO of NYC-based Waverly Staging + Design. “But if someone is going to inhabit the space we pull way back on the styling. Number one, the stuff is going to get lost, broken, or taken. And number two they are going to clear the stuff so they can eat dinner on the coffee table while watching ‘Succession.'”
Einat Bar, founder of UpStager, a staging company in Brooklyn and Manhattan, reinforces these ideas.
“If I were staging something for everyday use, I wouldn’t pick the same couches or dishware and would use better mattresses, so it differs down to the basics,” she says. And while she uses only vintage lighting when staging to sell, she might not do that for an Airbnb. (That said, she furnishes her own upstate NY rental with vintage pieces and prides herself on her art collection, and sometimes things get damaged or disappear, “which is infuriating.”)
That said, you still want the space to resonate with the widest possible audience, and staging professionals have the tools and experience to achieve that.
Whether renting or selling, they will do an initial consultation at your property, draw up plans, and either rent you the pieces from their own inventory (and handle delivery and installation) or help you source the items, often from their preferred vendors.
For an A-to-Z approach, RHOME by Quadra creates turn-key rentals for corporate housing companies like Synergy and Furnished Quarters. “We also do it all the time for individuals who want to put their vacation listing on Airbnb or VRBO,” says Robert Sablic, principal and co-founder, adding that the team continues to service the client for the duration. So if something needs replacing or repairing, they are on it. You can choose among four tiers of furniture suites (prices available upon request).
Can you do partial staging?
Just as when staging before selling, you can hire stagers to do the entire space or partial staging—say, the living area and bedroom, both
“If someone has lived there for 30 years, or they are still living there, I’m happy to go through and in an idealized sense say get rid of this, this, and this, but the budget often doesn’t allow that to happen,” Saidenberg says. “The hardest part though is designing into someone else’s aesthetic. The result is usually not as good as staging from scratch when it can be perfectly designed.”
She is quick to dispel any sense of casting judgment. “This has nothing to do with you or your taste. We are creating an idealized version of what a home looks like to a million different eyeballs who will view it and love it, which is cool. It’s not interior design.”
How does staging help boost rentals?
To get your rental to stand out, you need what Hobbs calls a “scroll-stopping” listing. That starts with a clean, fresh, and welcoming space but you also want to define your niche—and like anything in real estate, that’s largely dictated by your location.
“The big question is who is going to be shelling money out for your space, and that will be different if you’re in Brooklyn Heights vs. Tribeca vs. the Upper East Side,” Saidenberg says. “So as much as time will allow and the client finds it useful, we love deep diving and getting personality profiles.” (This is de rigueur in her large developer jobs, where they’ve already done their legwork.)
Besides helping id your target market, Saidenberg says her team will drill down into questions of whether you need sheet sets or even quality mattresses. “Do you need us to stock the kitchen with more than just a pretty bowl of fruit? You might need plates and cookware. We find this extra layer fun and interesting in meeting people’s needs,” she says.
How much does it cost?
Many companies—including Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, UpStager, and Quadra—usually base their fees on the square footage or number of rooms. But that’s for full-service staging, such as before selling. (See “How much does it cost to stage your NYC apartment or brownstone?” for more details.)
According to Saidenberg, Waverly’s fees are based on the number of pieces (furniture and accessories) they will be bringing in. “Our payment demand changes depending on the client’s needs—no two of our jobs are the same, so it’s a negotiation like anything else.”
Generally speaking, she says Waverly charges a “sizable” security deposit to cover normal wear and tear of the furnishings along with a startup cost that covers all labor—consultation, design planning, delivery, and installation plus removal. There’s also a monthly rental fee (and a $10,000 minimum total job cost).
But if you only want to pay for an initial consultation and sourcing but not rentals, then you can expect to pay a one-time fee of anywhere from $250 on up to $2,500 or above, depending on the size and scope of your project and if you are doing full or partial staging. Photography will likely be extra.
Hobbs, who is also a full-fledged interior designer with a background in film production, says Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes specializes in e-design—aka virtual or remote services—and offers different packages running from $295 for a virtual “talk + take notes” consultation to $1,695 for remote staging with shoppable links. “This budget-friendly, DIY option allows clients to be able to purchase designer-selected furnishings on their own,” she says.
What if you want to DIY?
There’s lots of advice out there about how to create an appealing vacation rental—even Architectural Digest has weighed in with “Design Dos and Don’ts” for Airbnb rentals. (Do: Embrace a theme for your rental. Don’t: Let a theme overwhelm your place.)
Much of the guidance is conflicting, especially about taking design risks. But Saidenberg says that depends on the price point and target market. Generally, however, she says don’t do it. “You want people to be comfortable and to love it.’
She should know, having rented her second home in the Hamptons on Airbnb in the summer. “It has to look amazing for people to want it over other listings, so the photos are everything.”
For example, they just rented the house for July to a discerning couple from California who are in the film industry. “The wife told me ‘I spent several hours in your photos,’ which felt a little bit revealing, like being undressed. But people do that—they spend a really long time trying to figure out where to stay.”
And because they still enjoy the house themselves, they put all the personal belongings the family of four has accumulated over 25 years in a big closet. (Rule number one of styling a vacation rental: People don’t want to see your family photos.)
“Then of course when guests show up, you still have to deliver. That’s the whole other side of owning an Airbnb—the internet is going to go out or whatever,” Saidenberg says. “You can present a beautiful tableau but it needs to be what you sell it as. Those lead to bad reviews, which are everything. People get pissed off when they’ve spent all this time and money to get there.” (Relatedly, check out Brick’s guide to managing a vacation rental remotely.)