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November 30, 2013

Home Staging Secrets: Evolution of furniture rentals

Home Staging Secrets - Book Mark Miller

I was once asked by a local (Toronto) newspaper journalist how long my furniture rental company had actively supported home staging. I just looked at the curious writer and without attempting to be cute or seemingly arrogant, I simply replied, “Always,” which, in fact, is very true.

Furniture rental

Renting home furniture in Canada really started in the 1950’s when war veterans were returning home, Canadian immigration was being encouraged, and there was much urban expansion. Furniture was needed to fill these new two and three bedroom bungalows.

To make furniture acquisition more affordable, Rent-To-Own became a finance alternative for those who had no credit. It was a concept of renting furniture for a period of one year or more with the eventuality it could be bought for a small residual amount. That’s what was happening in the United States and quite insightfully, my father, Arthur Miller, saw that as an opportunity and attempted to apply that model in Toronto, Canada. It certainly took a number of years to reach a break-even point but it did; many customers were very grateful that it had.

Furnished model homes to entice buyers

Now, remember when I said that suburbia was being planned? Well, it ended up being an explosion. Master-planned communities such as Don Mills, just outside of Toronto were being constructed in new massive designs… and that’s where it started.

A decision was made to simply furnish temporarily a “typical” or as we call it, model home, as a marketing tool to sell future homes. So for $30 per month, Greenwin Construction Company decided to “stage” one of their newly built homes and rented furniture from my father. They had no idea that what they were doing was innovative. But it worked!

Families rented furniture for home showings

Now let’s fast forward to the late 1980’s. Still there were no words such as “home staging” in anyone’s vocabulary. We were just “helping” primarily home owners with odd pieces of furniture that would assist in showing their homes better.

Designers – needed high-end rented furniture

Then came the Designer Twins. For the purpose of this blog, I will protect their identity.

Two elegantly dressed, very attractive interior designers from Toronto, that just so happened to be twins, came into our showroom and asked for me – by name! They proceeded to tell me that they were furnishing a model home in a very wealthy area outside Toronto, in Oakville, Ontario. They further told me of plans to paint the walls, re-do the window coverings, paint the wooden floors and they required furniture that would lend itself to the house.

My first question was “How long would the rental be for?”

The reasoning for the question is that normally, furniture rental is priced according to two variables: (1) time period and (2) value of the furniture. Their answer, almost in UNISON was “OH, probably 6 months at the least but our client will ONLY sign for one month at a time.” Normally, I wouldn’t rent without the signed commitment but was intrigued by the project and at the same time, sub-consciously, seduced by these two very attractive women, on a professional level, of course.

I agreed and then my second question was, “what furnishings did they have in mind?”

They proceeded to show me furnishings from some of the most expensive furnishing importers in our locale. I mean Duncan Phyfe-styled dining room sets, Bergere chairs, four poster beds. The French neo-classic style for the family room and commodes that were rococo styled. A little bit out of my league at the time and quite simply I had to mention that the monthly rent would be quite high. Their reply was simply, “No problem.” However, I was still concerned about the lack of commitment I was getting.

I reiterated my feelings on this and they reassured me, this was at least a 6 month project. I calculated my monthly rate, based on 6 months and I was right, the rate was unusually high, especially considering the VALUE of all the furnishings they were about to rent. Once again, I heard “No problem.” OK, no problem even though I had no reassurances, but they must be right, they are “professional interior designers”!

We proceeded to acquire the specified furniture and furnish this massive home. I had to admit, when it was done, it was gorgeous. Without question, the owner must have put in $350,000 into the home’s “staged” appearance. I felt proud and the designer twins were elated. I distinctly remembered that we finished our installation on a Friday. My crew was exhausted. It was good to have the weekend to rest.

Open House Weekend Update

On Monday, I was reviewing our messages from our weekend answering service (correct, we didn’t have voicemail back then!) and I noted that the Designer Twins had tried to reach me on Sunday. Probably to update me about the open house on the weekend and that it had “failed”. I called their office and spoke to one of them, saying I was returning their message.

“Glad you called, Mark. I just wanted to plan the pick-up of your furniture. The house sold on DAY ONE at $400,000 over asking price!”  (Remember the timeframe was the late 1980’s)

Silence. “Hello Mark, are you there?”

That was my first real experience with a modern, strategically planned home staging project. Did I make any mistakes? Most certainly. Did I ever think that the concept would work that fast? Most certainly not.

Lessons learned by our rental furniture company about temporary home furniture rentals

I really learned a lot from the “Designer Twins” project. Firstly, home staging, although there was no name yet for what they were doing, really WORKS. Secondly, it has to WORK for its trade suppliers. It has to make sense for everyone.

I picked up the furniture knowing that I would only be recovering a fraction of its original cost, I certainly did NOT make money, but what I really gained was the experience and insight that furniture rental is a genuine partner in the marketing of real estate.

The biggest lesson I learned was that furniture rental and home staging WORKS! The concept WOULD sell homes, especially homes that MAY NOT have been originally marketable. To be successful in the business, one has to avoid mistakes. Allow me to elaborate on some of the Do’s and Don’ts that I have learned over the years about furniture rental and home staging:

1. Budget
2. Who is in control
3. Pricing
4. Merchandise
5. Future of furniture rental in home staging


1. There is a budget for everything



I have lived my life with these words. Both from a business and personal perspective. Home staging is a practical marketing technique that has to make sense to first and foremost, the vendor. With better understanding of the market, FMV (Fair Market Value) and real estate, better decisions can be made.

Staging your home to sell in essence becomes an investment with an expectation of return that exceeds the original investment. If a vendor is only prepared to pay a small amount for staging, then items such as furniture rental may not even be practical, but with such as small budget, the whole objective of home staging MAY NOT succeed.

Presuming there is an adequate budget for home staging, furniture rental can become a challenge: how much should be applied to structural changes? Painting, window covering, landscaping, and so many other necessities. I don’t think there is any set formula to budget furniture rental but on average, I have heard from various home designers a price of 60¢ per square foot. A 3,500 square foot home, according to this calculation would be $2,100 set aside for furniture rental. Makes sense to do a complete living room, family room, dining room, kitchen and 3 bedrooms for this price, but what happens if the budget is only $1,500?

Instead of cajoling the vendor into increasing the kitty let’s work a bit with the furniture rental company to see what they can do. Perhaps the rental company has product that may be discontinued or will soon clear; that would produce a reduction. Also, re-examine the project and determine priority rooms. Just furnish those rooms. Surely the third bedroom MAY only need a single bed and chest, to give the potential buyer a spatial perception, instead of elegantly furnishing the entire room.

Secret advice on discounts

Firstly, I apologize for shortening the professional title “home stager” and varying it… but there’s this thing called SEO (search engine optimization) and keyword stuffing (using the same phrase repeatedly).

Now let me give you some secret advice.

If you are a stager or are working with one that has a good relationship with a furniture rental company, chances are the furniture rental company will give heavier discounts “by exception”, if the budget is abnormally low.

In other words, dealing with stagers that use furniture rental companies consistently may be able to work on your behalf to keep the pricing within budget. This may be significant especially if the project needs to be renewed for a second month. Most rental companies will reduce the renewal month(s).

Let’s face it, rental companies really don’t want their furniture back too quickly and these renewals can be significant. Remember, it’s a partnership. Vendor, real estate agent, home design staging professional, furniture rental company, and other suppliers all working towards a common goal. Everything in business is negotiable.



Who is in control?


When it comes to servicing a project, it really is important to understand that, as mentioned above, there is a real partnership with the vendor – real estate agent – stager – furniture rental company.

Speaking from the latter’s chair (pun not intended!), I have found that the best projects are ones that allow the rental company to determine and be in control of its own services. Often, the home stager MAY be under pressure from the real estate agent or vendor to perform what MAY NOT be reasonably possible.

For example, I need to select my furniture this afternoon and have it delivered tomorrow. A statement such as this implies that the furniture rental company needs to reserve a slot for delivery tomorrow, although they don’t know what furniture is being delivered or if it is an actual deal, upon acceptance of the vendor. Such pressure never really is a good thing.

Conversely, it is important for the stager to be in control of their own parameters. Informing and educating the real estate agent or vendor of what is possible and what are reasonable time lines is very important. Everything is a rush when it comes to a quick home staging project, but when time can be slowed down enough just to ensure a well-planned staging occurs, the benefits are immense.

Shall we proceed?

If one is using the services of a furniture rental company, it really is to your advantage to understand the process involved in acquiring furnishings for home staging. Understanding can only lead to better relationships, less mistakes and happier clients.

Firstly, you have to find a home furniture rental company that will work with you. Referral from others is always a good start but actually interviewing the furniture rental company and asking questions is the best. Do they have a legitimate showroom? Would you hire an employee without finding out more about them?

You can go online and look at their websites to get an indication of how long they have been in business and how legitimate they are. Remember, don’t go just by price. What may seem inexpensive in the front end may be compensated in other ways by delivery charges, waiver fees, and even late charges.

If you are a professional stager, you really want to rent furniture from a company that also does home staging. Specialty of services usually means less conflict of interest and better focus on the servicing of furniture rental.

OK, you now have decided on a furniture rental company that you are interested in. You also must remember your MANTRA that you learned in your home staging course or what they do teach, in such training: “you are not showcasing the furniture, it’s the home that is being showcased.” That means lots of…

Basic neutrals and transitional pieces

The home has to appeal to a larger market, not just personal taste. This is a great opportunity to glamour up the house with current fashion coloured accessories, such as area carpets, artwork, table top accessories, toss cushions and accent chairs. All for rent…

Remember when I mentioned above the importance of slowing down time? There is a due process of rental that should be achieved. Miller’s Law: The more likely a home staging is to be rushed, the higher the degree of likelihood that things will get compromised, more chances of error and quality.

I have always SAID, if a rental company has the inventory requested, a very good delivery will occur in 2-3 days which is pretty good. Upon selection who’s going to make sure the size of furnishings selected will fit into the house: entrance, doorways, halls, stairs, and corners? For example, would a split box of a bed versus a full box be better to move up or down tight staircases (as well as armless furniture)? There are many questions that need to be answered to avoid disappointment.

Once the furnishings are selected, a formal quote is created. Please, please read the quote carefully to prevent any false expectations and disappointments at delivery. Follow ups cost everyone.

So, once the formal quote is accepted, it is key to ensure the billing information is correct. Who is paying? The home owner, realtor, or the stager? Normally, payment is received in advance by credit card.

The address for shipping must be precise. Often the omission of the word “road” or “street” can take a truck miles away from its original destination. More importantly, the furniture rental company needs to know where its investment is.

Transportation service included or extra

The furniture rental company will always ask if the home owner is providing their own transportation or if the rental company will be responsible for the delivery. I always smile when questioned about delivery charges. Normally, we would quote a blanket $150 within our city and $200 outside.

When you think about it, the cost of gas, truck and labour is about $75/hour. Normally, from leaving our warehouse facility to completing the delivery and installation it is a minimum of 2 hours each way. You do the math. What a deal for the end user. Beware when companies include delivery costs. It’s been compensated elsewhere.

Now the rental has been tentatively scheduled upon receipt of a signed contract and payment. When the home owner, real estate agent, or home stager completes the contract they should specifically look to find out who is responsible for what. What insurance stipulations are there? What happens if they floors are marked?

All I can say at this point, is that my company always takes complete responsibility for any damage that occurred prior to or during the delivery but outside any other claim, it has to be witnessed.

TIP: it is important that whoever is representing the home owner should carefully watch the delivery and pick-up team. It is too easy to point fingers at them after the fact, particularly when they did not do any damage and there was NO WITNESS.

Back to the process. There is a lot that is NOT seen after the product is selected from the showroom. Just as a reminder, furniture just doesn’t come off the showroom floor onto the delivery truck.

Furniture has to be picked, prepped, sterilized and wrapped for delivery.

It takes time and labour (my dad would say “man power”.) Now can you imagine when there are last minute changes to the order or cancellations? It’s tough for the rental company. That’s why all furniture rentals need to be planned out in advance.

It’s interesting how over the years one gets to know the successful home and condo stagers. Usually, the ones that exhibit high organization and planning skills are the most successful. Another tip I can provide: please don’t book photographs the same day as the delivery. There is such a thing as Murphy’s Law. It can be very expensive.

In reverse, the pick-up after the rental is finished should be methodically planned. Always be in communication with the rental company starting a couple of days prior to the pick-up. Call first thing, on the day of to get a better idea of when the truck will arrive. Try to get the driver’s cell number to be further in touch. Remember, furniture rental trucks have to go by a routing plan. Yours will not be there only delivery or pick-up scheduled. Any problems that happen in a previous call that day will certainly affect the timing throughout. Communication will save time and money.


3. Pricing

As previously mentioned, furniture rental pricing is dependent on two variables: value of the product and length of time the product will be out. Home staging is a relatively short term rental.

Now let’s once again consider the cost of the product the preparation of the product and the delivery and pick-up of the product. A competitive price has to be given that will compensate such effort.

Each rental company has their own formulas. I would like to think that pre-rented furniture should be priced less than when it was new and custom-ordered furniture should have a premium price attached to it. Also, I come from the school of “package deals”. The more one orders, the less priced individual items within the package will be.

Usually, all INITIAL pricing is good for the first 30 days. Rental companies need at least the initial month to help recover some of their costs. If the furniture needs to remain in the home for another month, most extensions are reduced considerably to assist the vendor, often on a daily pro rata scale. All these costs should be discussed up front before a contract is signed.

Let me conclude my discussion about pricing by simply saying that pricing of furniture should not be the primary indicator when comparing furniture rental companies. Money is not being paid for the furniture, rather it is being paid for the service of having the furniture on a temporary basis. You are paying for service. What you have, is the right to demand excellent service!

4. Merchandise


Furniture rental companies continue to keep up with the demand and trends of quality transitional furniture. Sometimes it can be very strenuous on a company to keep investing towards this goal. In large urban areas, such as Toronto, condominiums have become smaller and the need for smaller scale furniture is prevalent. Style, colour and quality are always changing. Most rental companies have clearance centres to assist in the disposal of used, worn out furniture and they, as well, donate many pieces.

The important thing is to have a rental company that has a good relationship with you. A company that will go out of their way to service you. If the relationship is good, they will provide product that you can’t find but would like to have. I believe listening to home (and condo) stagers and designers is the best way to keep up with upcoming trends.

5. Future of furniture rental in home staging.

Furniture rental companies will always support home staging. What is happening now is that certain entrepreneurial home stagers are either carrying small inventories of furniture which they will rent or have expanded into developing full service rental companies. I admire that, however, I do not believe in creating a conflict of interest to clients.

Many of my clients are home stagers but I would never replicate their services although we have been asked MANY times. We are a rental company that supports home and condo stagers, real estate agents and home owners. When I am asked if we do home staging, I proudly say NO. We will refer at least three professionals to them for their consideration.

National Coverage – Furniture Rental Companies

I believe the biggest challenge for furniture rental companies in Canada is to have the capacity of being NATIONAL and service remote areas that presently don’t have access. A Canadian furniture rental network is presently being planned that may address such challenges.

I could write a lot more about my industry since there is so much more to write about. After all, I once heard that furniture rental is the second oldest existing trade of mankind. However, in conclusion, I just want to emphasize the importance of teamwork with all players involved in a home staging project.

We all want the property to sell quickly, the vendor to maximize his or her investment and for home staging to get full credit for the sale. When the team is respectful to each other, open in communication, there really are no limits to what can be achieved. I am a lot better prepared now for the Designer Twins!! 🙂


You are invited…

I invite you to visit our Toronto Showroom – we have a 30,000 square foot building with thousands of options. Without bragging, it’s the largest staging showroom in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and with the best staff. Rely on our team to guide and support you.

Ready to place your order, browse our home furniture rental catalogue.

If you have a question or comment, please contact us. Call 416-785-0932 | 1-800-618-1733 or email

(To learn more about staging, read  a book that I co-authored, Home Staging Our Secrets: The World’s Leading Experts Reveal Their Secrets for Getting Maximum Value for Your Home with Minimal Effort. The book was released by CelebrityPress on May 9, 2013. All proceeds go to charity.)

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