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The Real Deal: Staging A Home For Beginners

Updated on April 13, 2018

"My realtor will sell my house, all I have to do is wait around and twiddle my thumbs..

With all the different information floating around about how to stage your home for sale, it can be difficult to pinpoint how to start.

There are plenty of factors and conditions that can influence this decision. The first thing to keep in mind is regardless of the real estate market conditions, if no one is seeing your home than it will not sell. Some areas have more buyers than others so it is important to make your house stand out above the competition. Another important thing to consider is what do you expect to get out of staging your home? The goal should be to get the house sold. If you are in it to make more of a profit, you could be in for a big disappointment.

My husband and I have our own experience to tell . We invested a lot of money getting our first home staged for sale. We replaced the main bathroom’s tub ( it needed it), had new carpet installed in the living room and bedrooms (it needed it), freshly painted the living room,den and bedrooms, installed a new attractive front door, de-cluttered, added new décor like candles, fresh flowers, wall art and new shower curtains. We kept the home model spotless. Sounds great right?

Well the good news was we got an offer, but the bad news it was $15,000.00 below the asking price. So you may ask why did you do go through all that trouble if you didn’t even get the full asking price?

The answer is simple. Our home sold just shy of three months among fierce competition! If we did not make the changes and settle for a lower bottom line it could have been on the market much longer. At that time the housing prices were dropping at a very fast rate, we could of lost thousands if we were stubborn. Also, staging the home brought in the people you really need to impress, the agents. If you do not impress the agents they may not bring buyers to your home. Some agents will not show their clients homes that are mix-matched, cluttered, dirty or have loud paint colors in every room. We had about twenty showings, which was a lot considering the short time frame and deterioring market. From our experience we would like to share some tips on how to stage your home for sale. Keep in mind with these tips that all buyers tastes are different and you may not score high praise with everyone who sees your home. For example, most buyers did not like the size and shape of our yard so we just had to wait for that special buyer who did not want a big yard.

General Staging Tips:

1. De-Clutter- I know you have heard this one, but do you really know how to de-clutter? If you have not used something in a year, maybe its time to donate it or sell it at a yard sale. De-clutter the walls as well. You don’t want the walls to be completely busy or too personal, however they should not be bare. Try using neutral artwork, decorative mirrors etc. You may also want to de-clutter those areas that can be forgotten. Those include the outside/inside/ top of the refrigerator, inside lien closets, basement storage areas, front porch, back yard, side yard, sunroom, bathroom counters etc. So you are finished de-cluttering, now what? Some may move those cluttering items into the shed, garage, attic or basement, but that can make those areas look cluttered too. You may want to consider renting a small storage unit, keeping some things stored with family and friends or buying smart storage ideas that double as staging items, like a storage ottoman, storage bench or decorative baskets.

2. Organizing and Cleaning- We are all not neat freaks, but buyers could care less. We are real people, with real lives. Some of us work around the clock, have children and multiple pets, but effort has to be made in keeping a well kept home. Potential buyers usually want perfection and they see what they want to see. So organization and cleaning can be a critical part of staging. It translates to the buyers that you care about your home and are serious about selling it. This does not mean you have to hire a full time housekeeper. One suggestion is to start with a clean slate before your house hits the market and do some light cleaning and organizing everyday. Making sure the little things are always done like cleaning the toilets, making the beds, cleaning dirty dishes, putting laundry away and daily trash removal will ensure relief when a buyer just drops by unannounced. If you have children get them excited and involved in helping to keep the house tidy. A little tip to help impress buyers is to organize kitchen cabinets(including the spices), stack items neatly in closets, organized shoes, straighten up items inside the bathroom vanities and on shelves. It takes a lot of work, but most buyers check the inside of everything and are turned off by mess. On a personal note, our house was not perfectly clean, at times there was dust, and I failed to vacuum everyday. One time I left dirty dishes in the sink in hot soapy water when there was an unannounced showing, but I still got complimented on how clean my home was by the agent. That was because when you de-clutter and organize, the house appears to be cleaner.

Don’t forget to clean the walls, windows and the dust on the ceiling fan blades. If you have carpet, steam cleaning may not be a bad option. If you are smokers, get the honest opinion of a non-smoker to evaluate the smell in the house. If they say the house smells like smoke or anything else not appealing to the senses, it may be time to buy products that help eliminate the odor.

3. That Unused Room- Some buyers do not have vision and expect the house to speak to them. They sometimes expect the rooms in the house to tell the story of their purpose, so if you have an empty or mis-matched room this could throw off some buyers. For example, you may have an empty room off the kitchen and you see it as an office, but there is nothing there to suggest it is an office. Another example is using a spare bedroom as an office, storage facility and music studio. Some buyers want a room to have one purpose because it is easier for them to see themselves living there, it may sound petty, but its true. On a personal note, my husband and I had a spare bedroom with no purpose. We used it as storage, but knew once we put our home on the market it needed to change. We did not have children, so my husband decided to stage it as a kids room. He bought a twin size air mattress, covered it with fitted sheets and topped it with a Washington Redskins Comforter. He moved his Rock Band drum set to the room with his game chair. We moved his dresser from the master bedroom into that spare room and topped it with his old karate trophies, sports décor and an old bicycle pump. He staged the walls with the framed comic book movie posters that used to be in the den. It costs less than $50.00 because we used what we already had. The buyer thought we had a child. When it was revealed after the sale that we did not have a child, the buyer’s agent complimented us and said it was a smart move. Turns out the buyer had a young daughter and he was thinking of using that room for her when he was looking at our house. So to sum up this topic, give each room in the house purpose.

4. Paint- That whacky purple on the walls in the kids play room is fun, but what if the buyers don’t need a play room? That fabulous, bold bright orange in the bathroom lights things up, but will it turn off buyers? Most sellers are stubborn when they are told to paint their house. “ I’m not painting, if buyers don’t like it, they can paint over it”. My husband and I used to say the same thing, but we didn’t realize how important it could be in selling our home. We watched house hunting shows and couldn’t believe how many buyers could not look past certain paint colors, even the ones that did not seem so bad to us. It is hard to swallow, but when you are selling your house, it is no longer your house. You are now selling a product to the public. So you have to stage in a way you think the public will approve of, like neutral paint colors and what the décor trend is. It is a business, nothing personal. If you are unsure how to go about this, go to your local hardware or home improvement store and do a little research, watch house hunting shows or better yet get your real-estate agent involved. He or she may have the specific staging tips you need that is unique to your neighborhood. The bottom line a fresh coat of paint gives new life to a room.

5. Curb Appeal- Crab grass and weeds are never in style. Take the time out to groom your front lawn. Pull weeds, rake up leaves, trim bushes and keep the lawn freshly cut. Consider buying a welcoming mat and switching out that outdated porch light. Plant seasonal flowers or buy seasonal potted plants and hang them along the front path to your door. If you have the money and your front door is dated, replace it with an energy efficient door . If you have a front porch, stage it as a relaxing place to hang out by putting in a swaying hammock. Just keep everything clean and neat.

6. Natural Light- Don’t underestimate the power of natural light. Unless the buyer is a vampire, most love natural sunlight flooding into a room. It makes the room feel inviting and larger. If you have heavy drapes over the windows, you may want to remove them for showings. If you have blinds, open them up. If you have furniture or something that is blocking a window, remove it. On a person note, when my husband and I showed our home, we made sure all the windows were cleaned and that the sun was shining through. We also added extra light by turning on every light in the home, including the lights in the curio cabinets, the garage and ceiling fans. Sure we spent a little more on electricity, but it was worth it. If you have a room or closet that does not have any light source, add some. You can buy affordable lamps, LED lighting for closets that use an adhesive to cling to walls, floor lighting and more.

7. Outdated or Unattractive Furniture: “Our furniture doesn't come with the house, why do the buyers care what it looks like! ”. This statement is true, but for some buyers they can’t seem to get pass that stained up leather couch or grandma’s old lumpy bed. Some tv shows suggest sellers to rent new furniture or even buy new furniture to stage with. Personally I think that for most of the market it's unnecessary. You can spruce up what your already have by making a few changes, and if the furniture is that much of a disaster, you probably will get rid of it anyway. Lets face it you may not be able to afford big changes, but my suggestion is do what you can. Add a stylish slipcover to that embarrassing sofa, toss on a couple of decorative pillows and you are done. If you have a scratched up table you can buy a cheap table runner to cover it up and top the table with a cheap decorative vase with fresh flowers or candles (that is what I did). The bottom line is you can cover it up, paint it, or remove it, its up to you.

Tips For Specific Rooms:

THE KITCHEN: Add lighting underneath the kitchen cabinets. It is very affordable, and some require no tools. You can buy these at your local home improvement store. Add a bowl of fresh and colorful fruit on the counter. If you have not changed your cabinet hardware in ten years, chances are it's outdated. If you have money in the budget try to replace the hardware with something more trendy. Instead of remodeling the whole kitchen with new cabinets, counter tops and sink, make small changes. You may think that your home’s kitchen cannot compete with a home that has granite counter tops, but you will be happy to know there are buyers out there who may not prefer granite. You can get a trendy glass backsplash put in your kitchen for less than you think, or you can learn to do it yourself. You can change an outdated faucet with a more modern one, I would suggest looking for one that has been steeply discounted because I would not spend hundreds of dollars there. Update lighting and remember to clean and de-clutter.

THE DINING ROOM: Get used to eating on TV trays because now that dining room table needs to look staged. If you have a small dining room, there should only be a table with chairs, nothing more should clutter that area. If your table has a leaf in it, take it out. Decorate the table with fresh flowers and set the table like you would for dinner. Use cloth napkins with napkin rings, cheap long-stem wine glasses or nice decorative glasses. Paint color should be neutral. Make sure lighting is on, and you can use flameless candles on the table. Use cheap wall art or decorative mirror to pull the room together. If you must keep a bulky hutch in the room, make it work along with the room. Place a decorative tea pots in it or stem ware, the point is make it look like it belongs there. Keep the room neat and clean. Remember if the room has a window, make sure the light is coming in.

THE LIVING ROOM OR DEN: For the love of God, if you have a fireplace show it off!! So many sellers cover it up because they don’t use it or it becomes a collection spot for junk. Most buyers want to see that fireplace, stage it. Clean the fireplace of any soot inside and out. Make sure there is no clutter on or near the fireplace. Use the mantle for flowers, candles or light décor. If you want your fireplace to really be noticed, paint an accent wall ( a wall a different color than the rest of the room). Make sure the flooring is clean and if you have unattractive flooring you can add a stylish area rug to help distract buyers. Placement of furniture is important. Try to work with your real-estate on this one, they will know the shape and flow of the room and the exact size of the furniture. De-clutter the room and walls. The room should not be cluttered nor bare. Remember if you have windows or doors in this room let the light shine in. If you have an outdated ceiling fan you may want to switch it out.

THE OFFICE: Make sure you have a comfortable paint color that is soothing and neutral. Play up to the function of the room by adding an inexpensive desk and office chair. Add desk lighting for more light. Try adding some plants. If you already have a book shelves, make sure they are filled with books and décor. Make sure everything is crisp, organized and clean. Make the room feel sophisticated and one that you would love to work in. Buyers should love it. Make sure to secure private documents.

MASTER BEDROOM: Little changes can do big things. Most buyers want a master bedroom that can at least fit a queen sized bed. Bulky furniture in this room can actually make the bed look smaller, thus a buyer losing interest. It is all about illusion. If your bedroom is small, it may be a good idea to remove any bulky dressers or night stands. Make sure the windows in the room are not blocked. The paint should be a neutral color. The most important part of the staging in this room is the bed and the closet. The bed should be made up like it is something out of an upscale hotel room. You can find very affordable complete bed comforter sets everywhere, just take the time to look. Make sure you have plenty of pillows and decorative pillows, it will make the bed seem more luxurious. Stores also carry decorative pillow sham covers for pillows you already have. Make sure the walls are de-cluttered and there are cheap decorative pieces in the room to give it life. Make sure you make your bedroom closet seem as large as you can. Put away some hanging clothes or have them stored in boxes and taken out of the house. Organize shoes, handbags, ties, belts etc. Get rid of anything you are not going to wear within the next few months. Put lighting in the closet if it does not have any, buyers want to see inside. On a personal note, my husband and I stored away half of what was in our closet, the results were amazing, our closet looked three times bigger. We also added lights to the closet. Try to remove things that don’t belong in the bedroom like exercise equipment, gaming systems, crafting and sewing items etc.

OTHER BEDROOMS: The same as the master bedroom, however if it is the kids room, the beds usually don’t have to be staged the same way. Make sure toys are stored away and markings on the walls are removed.

BATHROOMS: Neutral paint will help update the room. Changing out that tired shower curtain may help. Use a plain mildew resistant shower curtain liner on the inside of the shower/tub area and a decorative cloth one on the outside. De-clutter counters and inside the vanities. Empty out most of your medicine cabinet, buyers don’t need to know what you are taking. Spruce up your bath vanity with cheap ideas like rolling up white face towels and stacking them in a pyramid or buy a new decorative soap dispenser. If you have a little extra dough, you could buy new towel rack fixtures, update the faucet and add a nicer shower head. You can also change the light fixtures, change out the mirrors or add bath décor. If you have peeling laminate floors, replace them with something tasteful, yet affordable. Adding small wall décor and candles can help. On a personal note, make sure the bathroom trash is taken out everyday, I almost forgot this little detail. Also put fresh flowers in the bathroom. You want the bathroom to be fresh and clean so buyers will appreciate it.

Hope you have enjoyed this article and find it useful. This article does not suggest in anyway that if you do everything in this article your house will sell, it is for informational purposes only.


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