Is My Home Stager Legit?

Anybody can stick a bunch of letters behind their name. ASP®, RESA®, CSP® AHS, LEED AP, PhD. YADA. YADA. YADA. Do those letters mean anything? Well in the case of PhD, RN, and Esq., yes, they do. In the case of PhD only a person holding a Doctor of Philosophy degree can use these letters, RN is for Registered Nurses, MD for Medical Doctors, Esq. for a person practicing law. But what are all those other letters behind your staging professional's name and what did they do to earn them?


Designations in the Home Staging Industry

Really when it comes down to it, the letters ASP®, RESA®, CSP® AHS, mean that somebody paid a fee of somewhere between $200 and $2200, attended a class of 1-3 days, took an exam that is nearly impossible to fail, and continue to pay a yearly fee to keep that designation.

Check out the complete breakdown of requirements for each designation below.

These designations do not mean they are a better or worse stager than the next one with different letters behind their name. The staging industry is completely unregulated by any single agency. Like any other business, you must have a state issued business license to operate the business, other than that, it’s caveat emptor. 

Fun fact: Caveat Emptor is a Latin phrase for "let the buyer beware." The term is primarily used in real property transactions. Essentially, it proclaims that the buyer must perform their due diligence when purchasing an item or service.


How To Find A Legit Home Stager

In order to find a home stager who is worth their salt it will, unfortunately, take research on your part. Like finding any good service provider, you will need to use your network. 

Ask Your Realtor® And Network

The best place to start is with your Realtor®. He or she most likely knows all the local home stagers and has seen a vast majority of their work. If they don’t you may have another problem to deal with first. The next place to look is your friends and family network. Who sold their house recently? Who did they use? Did they do a good job?

Research Online

After you have a list of names, head to the internet. Take a look at the stager’s website. Is it beautiful? I know that seems like a silly question, but you are relying on this person to make people fall in love with your most expensive investment.  If they can’t build a beautiful, easy-to-use website, how in the heck are they going to make your house beautiful? 

The only thing you should not pay attention to is the testimonials on their website. The stager has control over these and were able to pick and choose which ones they posted, and even more importantly, did not post. Outside reviews like those on Yelp, Google+ and Houzz are invaluable. Your home stager does not have control over these reviews. Read the good and bad reviews and see how your home stager responded to the negative ones. Did they conduct themselves in a professional manner?

Schedule A Consultation

Once you have this information, schedule a consultation. There is no standard for the price of a consultation. Many stagers charge a fee of $75 to $500 for the first consultation. (I personally think it is odd to make people pay me to sell them about my services, so our staging consultations are always free, but that’s just me.) 

During the consultation, ask your home stager about their education. Spade and Archer requires all of our Design Managers to have a four year degree in interior design or a related field. That being said, a vast majority of the resumes we receive are rejected because the applicant does not have formal training. Find out how long your home stager has been working in the field and what they did before they became a home stager. 

Every day I meet people who want to come work at Spade and Archer. A vast majority of them sell themselves on passion. They have no experience and no education in design and feel that I should hire them because they really, really, really like interior design. As much as I enjoy these people’s company, it is not a sound business practice to hire on passion alone. I hire based on education, experience and temperament, you should too. 

Spade And Archer’s Unique Credentials

Let’s talk about the pink elephant in the room. My name is Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP. Yes, I too have a bunch of letters behind my name. 

According to the US Green Building Council which regulates LEED Certification, LEED AP is a “professional credential earned by an individual person, and reflects a level of competence and education relating to green building.” LEED AP stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional. Keep in mind, completing the LEED AP exam is no easy task. There is only an estimated 30% pass rate

Before I founded Spade and Archer Design Agency in 2009, I received my Bachelor of Architecture  from the University of Hawai’i, was an architect for 7 years and a general contractor for 5 years. I spent six months preparing for my LEED exam and may well be the the only LEED AP home stager in the world. If you find another, send them my way, I’d like to shake their hand. 


Final Thoughts

When it comes down to it, the letters after a home stager’s name, including LEED AP,  have nothing to do with how competent a home stager is. There is no governing board who grants the right to become a home stager. Anybody who “says” they are a home stager “is” a home stager. The question is, are they a competent home stager? 

The truth of the matter is, reputation is everything in this industry. Learn everything you can about your home stager and move forward from there. 


Additional Resource: Requirements for ASP®, RESA®, CSP® AHS Designations

The following are the requirements for ASP®, RESA®, and CSP® AHS as of April 2016:

ASP® - Accredited Staging Professional

ASP® stands for Accredited Staging Professional®. The requirements for the ASP® designation are as follows:
    •    Pay $1,795.00
    •    Attend a three day course
    •    Pass an oral, open book exam. (When I called to ask what the pass fail rate was for this exam, I was told “Nobody has ever failed.”)
    •    Pay a yearly fee of $230

RESA® - Real Estate Staging Association®

RESA® stands for Real Estate Staging Association®. The requirements for the RESA® designation are as follows: 
    •    Pay $235.00
    •    In 45 minutes or less, receive an 80% or better on an open book ethics exam with 20 questions
    •    Agree to follow the RESA® code of ethics
    •    Be in business for at least 1 year, as a professional home stager
    •    Have proof of home staging business insurance  
    •    Have a business checking account
    •    Pay a yearly fee of $190

CSP® - Certified Staging Professional® 

CSP® stands for Certified Staging Professional®. The requirements for the CSP® designation are as follows: 
    •    Pay $2,199
    •    Attend a two day classroom course
    •    Attend a one day in-field, hands-on staging
    •    Pass an open book proficiency exam and practical assessment with a 75% or higher (When I call to ask about the pass fail rate, I was told if you do not pass the first time, you are welcome to come back again for free to try again.)
    •    Pay a yearly fee of $225

AHS Stands - Accredited Home-Staging Specialist

AHS Stands for Accredited Home-Staging Specialist. The requirements for the AHS designation are as follows: 
    •    Pay $199
    •    Take a 4-5 hour on-line course or attend a half day or full day in classroom course.
    •    Pass an open book exam with an 80% or higher (When I called I was told that out of 10,000 attendees, one had failed.)
    •    Pay a yearly fee of $99

How Not to Decorate

  • By Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP (orginally published by Oregon Home Magazine 2.24.17)

“Will you come over to my house and tell me how to fix it?” My brow furrows, eyes start to well, mouth opens in horror, the look of absolute terror fills my face. I get this question often, like all the time. It makes sense to ask me. I have a degree in Architecture, 25 years in interiors experience and own a very successful home staging company. If your going to ask somebody, ask a somebody with experience, right? The problem is that most people who ask me to work for them for free are friends and family. Because they are friends and family, I of course, would never charge them for my work, but I really cherish my relationship with them so I would also never say anything to hurt their feelings, and that’s the rub.
If you are asking a friend for interior design advice, prepare your self for one of two scenarios. One: They will just lie to your face so that your feelings will not be hurt. Or two: They will be brutally honest with you and hurt your feelings. Either way the outcome is not exactly what you’re looking for.
My best advice is to hire a professional (who is not a friend) to help you. Pay them for their time. Get honest unbiased advice.
That being said, most folks don’t have piles of cash allotted for interior design so here are the top things I would love to tell everybody to never put in their home.  These are the mistakes I see most often. They will never, ever be ok. Like never.
(photo at top)
You live a real life, with real people and you eat real food. I understand that you may not have a green thumb and real plants might die in your care. That is really ok. I kill just about every plant brought into my house. That does not mean I should run out to buy a bunch of “real” silk plants to fool people into thinking I am a super good horticulturist.
Whoever said that houses have to have plants in them in the first place? I think some silk plant maker in Po-dunk, Nowhere started that rumor. Stop listening to them. If you need to have something plant-like in your house, consider a weekly trip to buy fresh flowers after work on Fridays. It will start your weekend off on the right foot and let you enjoy the flowers when you are actually at home instead of at work.

Colors come and go… neutrals are forever. First, let’s define color. Think the rainbow as in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and all the colors in between like mauve, puce, and cyan.  The neutrals on the other hand are not found in the rainbow. They include white, cream, beige, grey, brown and black as well as neutrals in between like charcoal, buff and tan.
Decorating can be expensive. In order to keep that expense down, relegate your colors to items that are not expensive like art, throw pillows and blankets, accessories, and coverlets. Your expensive items like sofas, carpeting, chairs and tables should be purchased in neutrals. This way, the hope is that they will stay in style longer. If you purchase a red couch and get bored with it, you will need to spend thousands of dollars to replace it.  But if you bought a neutral couch and a few red throw pillows and blankets, you could change that couch to a blue or orange or even a puce sofa with less than $100 by simply swapping out the throw pillows and blankets.

This one is so popular right now and I fully blame a certain home decorating catalogue that comes every week. Big black and white photos of perfectly lovely families hung smack dab over the sofa in the living room or the master bed are not OK. The Victorians had a perfectly good rule to follow when it came to family pictures. Family pictures belong in hallways and areas of transition. By hanging a picture of your family in your living room you are telling the world that YOU feel your family is so beautiful that they are actually pieces of art. It’s ok for other people to feel that way about your family but for you to feel that way, comes across a vein and shallow and just… eewww. Having a picture of your favorite people in a small frame on your nightstand, sure, why not. Having giant prints of your children hanging over your bed? Super not sexy.
Hallways are a great place to hang family pictures. Folks who visit can look at them to find out more about your family, your story, your life. Then they can step away and go back to your living room, dining room and kitchen and talk to you without being stared down by pictures of your family.

How many times will I write about word art? It is still just as terrible as it was the first time I wrote about it years ago. It comes in various forms, sometimes it’s lots of words on a picture frame like MAN’S BEST FRIEND, BOW-WOW, FETCH, SIT, STAY, FUR, ROLL OVER.  (Just in case you were wondering you are supposed to put a picture of your dog in this frame, I know… creative, RIGHT?!) There are signs you can hang on your wall. They are usually sets of instructions with words like LAUGH, LOVE, LIVE or DREAM BIG! (I am still looking for one that says BARF!) There are even vinyl words you can put right on your wall. They are often reminders of who you are with words like “THE JOHNSONS” or “EMMA” just in case you forget who’s house or bedroom you are in, a gentle reminder is but glimpses away. There is no situation in which word art is acceptable. Please stop buying it… NOW.

This one is just simple logistics. I see this often. I like wallpaper, seriously, I am a huge fan, but this is not about wallpaper, this is about glue. Kitchens and bathrooms are places where lots of moisture lives. Glue tends to lose its best quality (stickiness) when it comes into contact with moisture too often. Nearly every time I see wallpaper in these rooms; the seams are starting to rise, making even the best wallpaper look bad. Use wallpaper, knock yourself out, just relegate it to rooms that do not have plumbing fixtures. In rooms with moisture content, stick to wall tile and semi-gloss paint. You will be much happier in the long run. (While we are at it, just apply this rule to wall-to-wall carpet as well. Moisture and carpet go together like socks and flip-flops, its not just a no, its a hard no.)



Justin Riordan

Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is the founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. 

Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for twelve years, bringing an esteemed skill set and diverse background to home staging. With more than a decade of hands-on project management and design experience, Riordan delivers an unmatched level of precision, expertise and service to his clients. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared over 2,100 homes for market.

Bad staging

By Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP (Originally posed on on January 16, 2007)

There is good staging. There is bad staging. I mean, like really bad staging. In an industry with no regulations, no standardized accreditation system, and tons of “hobbyist professionals”, one gets what one pays for. The problem here is not if that inexperienced or bargain basement stager will do a good job, rather if they’ll actually stop your house from selling, dead in its tracks.


It’s true; good, thoughtful staging can most certainly help a house sell for more money and in less time. Bad staging can bring the selling momentum of a great house to a screeching halt. The absolute best way for bad staging to kibosh your sale is to have it offend potential buyers.

Here are five potentially offensive staging props that could threaten your sale:

Bad Staging Seattle Washington

1. Alcohol. Alcohol is a common thing found in many homes. It can raise both positive and negative emotions in buyers. We aren’t too worried about the positive emotions on this one as nobody is going to walk into your house and say, “They drink Chablis, I drink Chablis, let’s buy this house!” That being said, a potential buyer may very well be uncomfortable or even offended by alcohol for various reasons.  They could be in recovery or alcohol could be prohibited by their religion. For any reason, a buyer could be offended by alcohol sitting in the living room, on the counter, or next to the bathtub (tacky) in what could potentially be their new home. Even worse is staging with two-buck-chuck and offending the connoisseurs.

Bad Staging Portland Oregon

2. The tipi (also spelled teepee or tepee). Cultural appropriation is a hot button topic these days. I’ve noticed a good number of home stagers using tipis in kids rooms and play areas.  I spoke to a friend who happens to be a Plains Native American to help me understand why the use of a tipi in home staging could be offensive. He explained that the tipi is a very sacred structure used for ceremonies and rites of passage and to use that sacred piece of somebody else’s culture to sell a house is less than thoughtful. It would be like using the pages of a King James Bible to wallpaper a bathroom, pretty but disrespectful. Whether you agree that using tipis is offensive or not, it’s important to understand that it may raise questions and emotions that are not related to “buy this house”.

Dead Animal Parts Seattle Washington

3. Dead animal parts. These items are going-to-town, off-the-charts popular. Walking into staged homes all over the county is not unlike walking into an animal autopsy. There are pieces of the beast strewn on the table, tossed over the chair, laid out on the floor and even hung on the wall. Whether it is antlers, hide rugs, fur throws or pillows, these are all clearly recognizable parts of animals that were once alive and are now dead.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some creepy dead animal decoration, but I know that I am not in the majority. Truly, it’s a very popular trend right now, but many of us are offended by it. A potential buyer might be vegetarian or vegan, an animal rights activist, or even just have a weak stomach. Needless to say, if your potential buyers are any one of these things and need to walk over the ripped-off epidermis of a recently murdered bovine, they might think twice about buying the house they actually love but can’t stomach the though of purchasing.

Blow up matress Portland Oregon

4. Blow-up mattresses. Did you hear that? It was the sound of a blow-up mattress deflating. Or perhaps it was the sound of somebody crashing to the ground after sitting on a blow-up mattress, which was in-turn sitting on top of four 5-gallon buckets. It sounds an awful lot like a lawsuit, doesn’t it? Not only do blow-up mattress look like blow-up mattress (i.e. horrendous), they are unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst.  It’s a stager’s responsibility to demonstrate that a real mattress and box spring can get up the staircase and into that perfect bedroom your buyer had in mind.

Dream Big Toilet Up

5. Word art. Do you really need a 3-foot tall E-A-T sign to get a buyer to understand that this room is the dining room? Shouldn’t the dining table surrounded by eight chairs tell that story that this is, in fact a dining room, designed for the specific purpose of E-A-T-I-N-G? Word art is fun, isn’t it? I always love to add one extra word or phrase to each one I see like “Life, Love, Family… Barf”. Ultimately, the staging should tell the story of how happy, successful, and fulfilled one could be if they bought the house. Word art is simply a lazy way to ineffectively send your message. (P.S. My favorite one so far? A big pink canvas that said “Dream Big” next to at toilet, with the lid up nonetheless. Ugh.)

When it comes to home staging, we all make choices. You can choose to simply pick the latest trends that you love and take the chance offending your potentially buyer. Or, you can make thoughtful selections that keep your buyer paying attention to the house and not the staging. Choices, darling… choices.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company with offices in Portland, Seattle and Palm Springs. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Follow Spade and Archer on Instagram.