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As the Canadian real estate market drops from record-breaking levels to a more traditional sales pace, more listings are coming on the market and competition for buyers is heating up. It's perfect timing for a new book from home staging expert Christine Rae and journalist Jan Saunders Maresh, who recently released Home Staging for Dummies.

Home staging, which the authors say leads the eye to the attractive features of a property and minimizes, but doesn't try to hide, the property's flaws, is a relatively new industry in Canada. The first mention of the concept in REM, Canada's real estate trade magazine, was in March 1993 when Barb Schwarz of Seattle spoke to a Toronto-area group of Realtors. Schwarz was a pioneer in the industry and is credited with inventing the term "staging" -- in its early days, the concept was also known as "fluffing".

Rae has become Canada's best-known stager after spending the first 32 years of her career in business management. In the September 2002 issue of REM, she said: "The way that you live in your home and the way that you sell your home are two different things … . I think home stagers are like home inspectors in that when they first came out, people were skeptical about the service. 'Who's going to pay for this?' people said. But now, of course, you wouldn't think of buying a house without one."

Although the first home stagers were often decorators or interior designers, things have changed and there are now certification courses specifically for home stagers. Rae developed the Canadian Certified Staging Professionals and Certified Staging Professionals courses in 2005.

The book sets out the differences between interior designers, interior decorators and stagers. "One big misconception professional stagers overcome time and time again is that staging the property means overdecorating or something akin to set design for a magazine shoot," says the book. "Nope. Decorating appeals to the person living in the house; staging is removing the owner's personal connection and targeting the buyer who will purchase your home."

Maresh and Rae offer a wide range of home staging tips in the light, funny, easy-to-read format of the Dummies series.

Many of the chapter titles in the book give you a pretty good idea of what they are about, such as Popcorn: Great for Movies, Bad for Ceilings. There's also Eradicating the Scent of Wet Dog, Eau de Cat, and Other Signs of Pets, and another chapter called Protecting Precious Goods (Or, "Grandma's In That Jar!").

The book makes extensive use of before-and-after photos to show how the various rooms in the house, as well as the exterior, can be updated. Along with recommendations for the physical improvements that will improve a home's chances to sell, there are tips for dealing with the emotional side.

"Over and over we talk to sellers who really haven't faced the inevitable; they know one day they'll have to pack everything and move – one day – just not now," it says. "The memories you made in a house connect you to it, but those memories also can be roadblocks to successfully marketing your house if you wait until late in the process to uncover them. Severing any emotional ties early saves you equity later by freeing you to make the changes you need to make to sell the house (like saying goodbye to the orange shag carpet you had installed when the kids were little)."

The book also highlights some of the benefits that staging offers for real estate professionals. "We know how tough it is to tell a seller his house smells like a wet dog," the authors write. "We're trained to explain the why behind what we're doing so they won't be offended." Staged properties also look better in print and Internet advertising.

With increasing awareness about "green" products and services, Home Staging for Dummies includes a chapter about EcoStaging. It provides information about energy retrofit programs in Canada and the U.S. that offer grants and rebates for energy efficient upgrades, which buyers consider to be increasingly important. The chapter also recommends "earth-friendly" products for cleaning and painting, as well as suggestions for flooring and water conservation.

The book concludes with several lists, including mistakes that sellers often make, "tricks of the trade" to help sell a house, and 10 ways to prepare your house (and yourself) for the sale.

If there's anything about home staging that isn't included in this book, I don't know what it is. It's available in bookstores now for $21.99 CDN or $19.99 US.

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