Are Model Apartments Worth The Cost? Tips and Tricks for Faster ROI

By Tori Lewandowski
Model Home WIDE

Staging luxury apartments, whether virtual or physical, is both an art and a science.It requires taste and talent and can't be thrown together after one trip to Wayfair.com. It's about creating a space that exudes your property’s distinctive brand.

And if you don’t have one of those yet, stop what you’re doing and read how to get one the right way here.

Model unit staging expenses can pile up quickly, and it’s easy to ask yourself what the ROI really looks like here. 

But let's face it, there's a fine line between "Wow, I can really see myself living here!" and "Who in their right mind thought this random pillar in the kitchen was a good idea?" Activating the space in a highly refined, true-to-brand fashion will serve as the most important stop on your tour route and a massive leasing accelerator for your site team.

Before diving into best practices, let's address the elephant in the room…

How much does apartment staging cost?

The average cost of staging an apartment is $2 per square foot. As a result, you can expect to spend around $1200 to stage a 600-square-foot apartment, while a 2,000-square-foot unit would cost closer to $4,000.

Similarly, professional stagers typically charge consultation fees for their design services. When you factor in the cost of furniture, shipping, and installation, staging can quickly become one of your bigger marketing expenses in a lease-up.

However, costs vary based on the provider and what services you choose to invest in. My favorite lease-up of all time partnered exclusively with West Elm for all of our amenities and model furnishings.

For context, a bedframe from West Elm can be $4000. But the ROI far outweighed the upfront cost. We had the best-dressed models on the market, and our target audience resonated with the space, where most of the apartments sold themselves. 

To help you navigate this delicate balance, here are some do's and don'ts for staging luxury apartments in the small multifamily market.

Do: Know Your High-End Audience

Before you start staging, understand who you’re targeting. A good creative partner will do full market research on who your target audience looks for.

The style and function of the staging should reflect the lifestyle and needs of your audience. For instance, young professionals might appreciate a sleek, modern design with a designated home-office nook, while adventure seekers might be more interested in sustainable yet elegant storage solutions and spaces that accommodate their lifestyles.

Don’t: Overpersonalize the Space

While it’s important to make the space feel distinct and to you, overpersonalization can be a major turn-off. Avoid family photos, quirky knick-knacks, or highly specific décor choices that make it hard for potential renters to imagine themselves in the apartment.

Stick to earth tones, high-end furniture, and minimal yet tasteful accessories. Think "elegant hotel suite" rather than "Movie enthusiast living room."

Do: Accentuate Your Finishes

Every boutique apartment has something special—make sure your stager highlights it.

Whether it’s a stunning view, a gorgeous backsplash, or a spa-inspired bathroom, draw attention to these features. If you’re starting to outsource virtual staging at this point, insist on high-quality images and subtle animations to showcase these areas being “lived in” and not perfect. 

For model apartments, arrange the furniture to maximize space and light, and consider adding some strategically placed mirrors to enhance the sense of openness.

Don’t: Fake it Till You Make It

I can spot a homemade model unit a mile away. It has an oversized canvas of a buffalo, plastic succulents, and a jewel-tone couch from Amazon. 

It is easy to watch a few episodes of Love It or List It and tell yourself you’ve got a knack for interior design. However, there are aesthetic rules and balances great designers follow that make or break a room’s first impression.

Trust the professionals. Please don’t do it yourself.

And if you are putting up the money to hire professional designers or stagers, nix any fake item you see on the order invoice. This means saying no to fake plants, TVs, computers, or appliances. They cheapen the model home's look and can be a major distraction. 

Authenticity and quality are key.

Do: Keep It Pristine and Clutter-Free

One day, I was going about my regular tour route with a prospect, and I quickly realized someone had forgotten to flush the lou in the model. 

I was mortified and had to think fast. I told the prospects to check out the walk-ins while I “killed a giant spider” in the bathroom.

It was a close call that could have cost me my deal. Every day since, I have walked those models morning, noon, and night to ensure they were pristine.

Clean, clutter-free spaces not only look larger but also more inviting. In virtual staging, make sure the images are crisp and clear, with no digital clutter.

For model apartments, regular maintenance is crucial—dust, vacuum, and ensure everything is in its place. I recommend making this a part of any leasing manager’s open and closing routine.

Don’t: Ignore the Power of Lighting

Warm, soft, inviting lighting can make or break an apartment’s appeal.

In virtual staging, ensure that the lighting is bright but natural-looking. Overly bright or dim images can be off-putting. For model apartments, use a combination of natural light and lamps, and avoid using overhead lights if you can help it. Soft and natural lighting creates a warm, inviting, home-style atmosphere.

Don’t forget to show how great the space looks at different times of the day! 

Do: Add a Touch of Lived-In 

There is nothing more offputting than a perfect, sterile, static model apartment.

There are little tricks the pros use to make prospects feel welcome when making a huge financial decision like renting a Class-A apartment. Stock the fridge with drinks and snacks. Leave one of the dining room chairs pushed out. Fold the bedding down. Play soft music in the back. 

The world is your oyster!

Plants are also a great way to add life and color to a space without overwhelming it. In model apartments, opt for low-maintenance indoor plants that thrive in low light, like a money tree or bird of paradise!

A little greenery can go a long way in making an apartment feel fresh, lived in, and inviting.

Don’t: Neglect the Outdoor Spaces

If the apartment has a balcony, patio, or any outdoor space, don’t forget to stage it!

For model apartments, set up the outdoor space to reflect a luxurious lifestyle—add some comfy chairs, potted plants, and perhaps a small outdoor rug. It’s all about creating an additional living space.

Do: Think About the Brand's Aroma

Yes, smells. They matter, especially in new builds.

As much as I love the smell of fresh paint and sawdust, it’s not everyone's cup of tea to live in a building that smells like Home Depot. 

But fear not, choosing a brand sent doesn't have to be complicated. This can be as simple as deciding on a diffuser that aligns with the distinct brand and placing one in every model and amenity space. In model staging, use subtle, pleasant scents to make the apartment more inviting. Avoid anything too strong or polarizing like a "butter pecan ice cream dream". Think fresh linen, clean cotton, or a light citrus. 

If you're unsure, you can't go wrong with a nice Teakwood & Amber scent!

The Finishing Touch

Staging is a powerful tool in the luxury multifamily market, but it requires a delicate touch. If you’re spending $4,000 to stage a two-bedroom home, you can very well make that ROI back after the first 40 days of a move-in.

Once stabilized, many boutique developers offer the model homes as an onsite Airbnb for resident guests to book out, and some even lease the model home at a furnished premium, effectively doubling the asking rent.

The goal is to create a space that feels welcoming and luxurious without overwhelming the potential renter with too much personality or clutter. By knowing your audience, keeping things clean and simple, and highlighting the best features of the apartment, you can turn an empty space into a leasing accelorator.

Now, go forth and stage with confidence. Remember, the devil is in the details, but so are the dollar signs.

Happy staging!

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