Selling Your House? Why Staging Should Reveal Nothing About You, and More Tips

For home shoppers touring one property after another, homes for sale become a blur. Here's how to stage yours, affordably, to make it stand out from the rest.

If you are thinking of listing your home for sale, consider staging it. As you know if you watch home-decorating TV, the idea is to clear out your possessions and carefully present each room in a way that’s calculated to appeal to buyers.

When home shoppers visit a property for sale they are trying to picture themselves living there, experts say. To help eliminate distractions, professional stagers advise erasing all traces of yourself and furnishings and then decorating just enough to let shoppers see the possibilities.

Professional stagers say that the practice helps sell homes faster and for more money.

A survey of 2,373 members by the National Association of Realtors lends some support to these claims.

“Realtors who work with buyers say most buyers are willing to offer more money for a staged home compared to a similar nonstaged home,” the report said, adding that:

  • 49 percent of selling agents surveyed said staging usually has an impact on how buyers view a home.
  • 47 percent said staging only sometimes has an impact.
  • 4 percent said staging made no difference in how buyers respond to a home.

Even so, staging is not necessarily for every home — and it can be costly. So before you decide to go ahead, view listings similar to yours online and in person to see if those in your price bracket use staging. If they do, maybe you should, too, so your property doesn’t suffer by comparison in buyers’ eyes.

The cost, if you engage a staging professional to do the whole job, runs about 1 to 1.5 percent of your home’s sale price, according to Angie’s List. That’s around $4,000 for a home listed at $400,000. But the NAR survey found that the median cost (half cost more, half less) for staging was $675, which suggests that many homeowners do much of the work themselves.

Bottom line: With elbow grease and imagination there is much you can do while keeping costs low. Here are 11 tips for staging a home on a budget:

1. Find an agent who’ll pay for staging

Couple shaking hands with realtor.Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

The NAR survey found that 62 percent of its selling agents polled have paid for staging their clients’ homes.

How agents contribute to staging for clients runs the gamut. Some with expertise do the work, while others advise clients on what to do. Some, usually in large firms, have stagers on staff and even have warehouses of furniture to use. Other agents contribute money for staging and view it as a cost of doing business.

When you negotiate with agents for your home sale, ask about including this perk in your contract. If this is a sticking point for you, keep shopping until you find an agent you like who covers at least some part of the service.

2. Get rid of clutter

Living room ceramic knickknacksLeonardo Emiliozz / Shutterstock.com

Your stuff is beloved treasure from a life well-lived. But to strangers, your stuff can be a barrier to visualizing themselves in your home. Nashville, Tennessee-area, Realtor Sarah Milligan tells The Tennessean:

“Anything smaller than a basketball is a knickknack and needs to be packed up for your move. More space equals more money.”

So get ruthless and get it over with.

We’ve got more inspiration and ideas here:

3. Focus on high-impact rooms

Staged living roomArtazum / Shutterstock.com

If you can’t stage the entire home, focus on the rooms that matter most to buyers. In order of importance those are, according the National Association of Realtors survey:

  1. Living room
  2. Kitchen
  3. Master bedroom
  4. Dining room
  5. Bathroom
  6. Children’s bedroom
  7. Guest bedroom

4. Remove personal touches

Needlepoint "God Bless Our Pad" hanging.iofoto / Shutterstock.com

It’s important to remove all traces of your life from a home you are selling. About.com’s staging expert, Kristen DiNobile, says the goal of staging is to “take the personality out of the place.”

That’s one way staging differs from decorating, where the point is to reflect homeowners’ lives and taste in their decor. With staging, you want to make a home universally appealing. Think of upscale hotel rooms and display windows at trendy home-furnishings stores.

5. Scour everything

Man cleaning countergpointstudio / Shutterstock.com

At this stage of the game, you cannot clean too much. A deep and thorough cleaning accomplishes two things: It makes the home attractive to buyers, and a scrupulously clean home also conveys the impression of a place that has been well-maintained.

Remove even the faintest odors, especially if you’ve had smokers or pets. Ask friends to give it the sniff test after you’re done cleaning.

4. Paint the interior in warm neutral tones

Man painting room with child on shouldersChepko Danil Vitalevich / Shutterstock.com

Chose a warm neutral color and use it in most rooms. This lends a clean, light and airy appearance and lets the eye move easily from one room to the next, giving the impression of more space.

Save strong colors for carefully chosen spots, for example, a small bathroom, an accent wall or to point out an architectural detail.

6. Paint or stain outdated cabinets

Woman painting kitchen cabinetsBenoit Daoust / Shutterstock.com

The kitchen is an important focal point for buyers, but you need not remodel for new appeal. Brighten worn or outdated cupboards with stain or paint. Replace the knobs, pulls and exposed hinges with updated ones — chrome and nickel in a satin finish are in; brushed nickel and brass are out — for a fresh, contemporary appearance.

7. Use furniture in groupings

Purple and orange living room furniture set.ParvinMaharramov / Shutterstock.com

Another staging trick is to pull furniture away from the walls and into groupings. Use only a few of your best furnishings (store, sell or dump the rest) to form a conversation group or two in the living room around focal points like a fireplace, window or entertainment system.

Organize groupings around function. For example, pull a chair and side table into an empty corner to create a reading nook. Group a handsome bench, side table and mirror in the entry. Experiment with using bedroom pieces in the living room or bathroom and vice versa. Rent or borrow furnishing to fill or accent a space.

8. Collect ideas

Young woman reading magazine at table.Veles Studio / Shutterstock.com

Gather inspiration and ideas for your DIY staging from magazines, HGTV real estate shows, Pinterest, YouTube (you’ll find loads of videos by searching for “home staging”) and visit homes for sale, in person and online.

9. Eliminate eyesores and objections

Rusty faucetYakov Oskanov / Shutterstock.com

While you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on staging, it is important to remove any objections buyers might have to purchasing it. That means that your ugly old carpet will not be OK after cleaning. Don’t kid yourself; rip it up and replace it with inexpensive new commercial carpeting or easily installed floating floor tiles or planks.

To get top dollar for your home, address (remove, repair or replace) all the problems you’ve been meaning to fix. Make each window open easily and each toilet flush perfectly. Fix faucet leaks, regrout tile and apply new caulk.

In a slow market, you should bite the bullet and do all the repairs you have neglected. But in a hot sellers’ market, which describes many urban real estate markets right now, you may not need to do as much. Talk through the options and costs with your realtor.

10. Turn up the lighting

Lightbulb pendants forming a heart against a brick wall.pavel7tymoshenko / Shutterstock.com

Give each room plenty of light from a variety of sources. The American Lighting Association advises combining three types of lighting to create interiors that are stylish and functional:

  • Accent lights: Track lights and lamps used to highlight an architectural detail, a painting or a decorative object.
  • Ambient (or general) lighting: Illuminate a whole room with ceiling or wall-mounted lights, chandeliers or track lights.
  • Task lighting: Throw light onto work spaces — for instance, in the kitchen at cooking and food preparation areas, at desks for reading and working and in bathrooms for grooming. Task lights may be pendants, table or floor lamps, track lights or under-cabinet lights.

11. Curb appeal

Front door with shrub on each side.David Papazian / Shutterstock.com

First impressions are everything, especially to shoppers who view lots of homes in rapid sequence. Make sure your home stands out in shoppers’ minds when they review what they’ve seen at the end of the day.

The basics: Groom the landscaping. Trim grass, pull weeds, clip shrubs, prune trees and apply a layer of fresh mulch on garden beds. Clean porches and decks meticulously and stain or paint them.

Make it memorable: Paint the front door in a strong, carefully chosen color that complements your home’s exterior (Better Homes & Gardens tells How to Choose a Front Door Color). Remove porch clutter, including shoes, bric-a-brac, toys, tools and old furniture. Keep porch decor minimal and striking: Add a new doormat, a chair and side table or other well-chosen furniture, and two or three of pots with flowers or evergreen shrubs.

For more tips on this topic, check out: “Selling Your Home: Here’s How to Create Maximum Curb Appeal.”

Have you staged a home or toured homes that were staged? How do you think it affected your experience? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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