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For most people, staging a house before a sale usually involves a good cleaning, a fresh coat of paint, some new throw pillows and maybe a $10 orchid from Home Depot.
But for the super rich, getting a home ready for sale has become a high-priced production. Today's mansion stagers are dressing up their clients' homes with custom furniture, expensive artwork, lamps, books, table settings and even sports cars for the garage.
"We do everything to dress the house so that it looks its absolute best and it sells for the highest price as quickly as possible," said Heide Ziecker, head of design at Meridith Baer Home, which stages high-end homes.
With prices for luxury homes on the rise again after the recession, staging trophy properties has become big business. Meridith Baer is now working on more than 100 properties a month, with 150 employees and monthly sales reaching $2 million. Their celebrity clients include Matthew Perry, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow and Rhianna.
Super-staging isn't cheap. Costs range from a "small job" of $5,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the size, scale and location of the home. Yet Baer insists the price is worth it: a staged property on average sells 88 percent faster and for 20 percent above asking price, it said.
Most of the time, Baer's team will come to a property, paint the walls white, move your furniture out and start fresh with new artwork, furniture and even bathroom towels. The firm neatly wrap books in paper before putting them on shelves to make them look more orderly, and they leave robes in the bathroom. The staff will commonly leave a cookbook open to a certain page in a kitchen.
CNBC watched the Baer team stage a home in Los Angeles that was about to be listed for $19.9 million. The price for all this prep: around $45,000.
"When you think about a home of this value and the carrying costs," Ziecker said, "You have every month that it doesn't sell, it really is a small investment. If your home sells even a month earlier than it would have not being staged, on a home this size and this budget, it ends up being really worth it for homeowners."
—By CNBC's Robert Frank and Jamie Corsi