5 tips from a home stager on how to sell your house


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

Blog author Donna Freedman

Longtime personal finance writer Donna Freedman lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska.

Published March 18, 2020 | 5 min read

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Featured Image 5 tips from a home stager on how to sell your house

Planning to sell your home or condo? It’ll likely sell a lot faster if you made some simple, but effective updates.

That doesn’t mean filling every available wall with framed art and every flat surface with knickknacks. It also doesn’t mean replacing your appliances and furniture with higher-end stuff. A few simple changes will give prospective buyers a chance to dream about their new lives.

“We want to create a product that the buyer can emotionally attach to,” said Andi Hurley, a home stager with Premier Home Staging in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

When it comes to home staging, less really is more, and it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. It can cost anywhere from $500 to $600 per room, per month to use a professional stager. But the median total amount spent on home staging is only $400, according to the 2019 Profile of Staging from the National Association of Realtors.

Why staging your home can cost you

Why is this? Some homeowners hire a stager just to do a report on what needs to be done, rather than have the stager rent them furniture and accessories. This service typically costs between $300 to $600. Basic staging tactics are also fairly simple and can often be done using what the homeowners already have, plus a little sweat equity.

Here are a couple examples.

When Hurley first started working as a stager in 2012, almost all her work came from realtor referrals. But now, she hears from quite a few homeowners, some of whom call her before they even think about listing their houses. The popularity of TV shows like “Staged to Perfection” and “Property Brothers” have made people realize how a few changes to your home can result in faster and more profitable sales, Hurley said.

But the staging process doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it can be summed up in five "D"s.

1. Detachment

It’s tough to look at our own homes objectively. We no longer notice little drywall divots, dated kitchen cabinets or the faint odors our pets have left in the carpet. We may love overstuffed, brightly colored furniture and bold paint choices – but not everyone does.

“We’re staging for the unknown buyer,” Hurley said. “We want to open the market, not narrow it down.”

If you hire a home stager to do a report, do not take the suggestions personally. The home will sell faster if you make it visually accessible to the broadest possible market.

If you’re planning on doing the inspection yourself? Have a couple of friends come over and walk through the place and point out small imperfections (like those drywall divots) or larger issues (like those teal ceilings).

After you have your report, fix them. After all, potential buyers can better imagine their own stuff in your minimalist space – but they can’t unsee that family room with its crimson walls and trio of sofas.

Two tips for neutralizing the space:

  • Paint. A couple of coats can do wonders toward making rooms feel larger and cleaner (as well as less jarring).

  • Judicious use of color. A too-bare place can look sterile, so focus on what Hurley calls “movable color” – art, accessories, accent pillows that provide a little pop of color without overwhelming the eye.

Here are the paint colors that can help you sell your house.

2. Depersonalization

Remove family photos, trophies, framed diplomas and other personal items. The goal is to let a potential buyer imagine themselves in their new home, rather than to feel like a guest in yours.

Hurley also suggests packing away religious or political items. A political sign in front of your home or a religious shrine inside it can feel off-putting to some buyers, she said.

Here's the best time to sell your home.

3. Decluttering

You’re moving, so you need to pack anyway. Get started now. Personal items can get boxed up along with collectibles, knickknacks and hobby items.

Unless you’re a minimalist, it’s likely that some of your furniture also needs to be packed away. Rearrange what’s left so that there’s as much room as possible to move around a space. This lets potential buyers think about where they could put their own stuff.

If at all possible, don’t store your furniture in the garage. Potential buyers need to get an idea of how they’d use that space, too, which they can’t do if it’s full of chairs and boxes. You’ll also need to declutter your pantry, cabinets and all closets. Aim to take out at least one-third of your dishes, cookware, linens and clothing.

“Storage is very important to buyers,” Hurley said. “If it’s wall-to-wall clothes and shoes, it looks like there’s no space.”

Tips for decluttering a space:

  • Use this as your chance to finally deal with all the junk you’ve accumulated. Get ruthless about donating or tossing. Here are some tips on tidying up your space.

  • Invite friends over to claim things you don’t want to take with you. One man’s trash…

  • Rent a storage space until it’s time to move.

4. Deep-cleaning

Selling a house and packing to move are very stressful. It’s tempting to skimp on (or skip out on) cleaning and minor repairs. But don’t do this — the more items you move out of the space, the more issues could come to light.

“Buyers only know what they see,” Hurley said. Someone who walks into a house with noticeable carpet stains might turn right around and walk back out.

Your home likely needs a seriously deep cleaning, not just a vacuuming and dusting. Pay special attention to appliances, because buyers sometimes open refrigerator and oven doors.

Aim to make the place look brand-new. If you can’t do that level of cleaning, hire a service. Your real estate agent can likely recommend one.

The outside of your home might need some help, too. Power-wash the deck or pavers, weed the flowerbeds and prune the shrubs.

5. Details

Attention to certain details can turn a dated look into a more modern one. Replace those light fixtures. Paint the cabinetry.

“Little things make a difference,” Hurley said.

While a clean, minimalist look has broad appeal, choose a few careful accent pieces. A staged house doesn’t necessarily mean everything off the walls and all surfaces. But the place shouldn’t look like a furniture store, either.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money. We want you to invest your dollars where they’ll do the most good,” Hurley said.

Want more tips? Here’s a guide to selling your home.

Image: DProductions