Staging a House to Sell

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Soft-edged modern interior with wood colours and contemporary furniture Soft-edged modern interior with wood colours and contemporary furniture

By Marilyn Pribus – 

“It’s critically important to have a house show well when it’s time to sell,” declares REALTOR® Byrd Abbott, an associate broker with Roy Wheeler Realty Co. “Some tweaking and paring down often needs to be done because it’s so much easier to present a staged home.” 

What Exactly Is Staging?
Often it’s hard for homeowners to really see their own dwelling because they are emotionally and financially invested in it. It’s difficult to view it as a “product” competing with other places for sale. “Staging” invites potential buyers to visualize their furniture in the spacious living room, their china cupboard in the cheerful dining room, their family’s portrait over the mantel.

Also, first impressions are crucial, so maximize curb appeal with neatly trimmed bushes, a nice green lawn, and fresh mulch on the flower beds. Have bicycles, garden equipment, toys, and trash cans out of sight. Power wash the house if necessary and have a bright, clean front door. Professional window cleaning does wonders to freshen a property.

Once inside the front door, staging comes into play. Interior design reflects the homeowner’s taste, lifestyle, and color palette, but when a property is on the market, it’s time to provide a fresh palette that is ready for someone else to move in and make their own.

First, people shopping for a home don’t want a place that needs lots of work. The biggest problem in showing many homes is Too Much Stuff. It makes any house feel small. Be ruthless in disposing of items, or at least storing them off the property. Get rid of clutter.

Next, ‘de-personalize’ the place. Remember, you want potential buyers to see themselves in the house, not your family. Store away the wedding photos, get the children’s artwork off the fridge, and their sports trophies off the mantel.

“You don’t have to take down every single personal thing,” REALTOR® Abbott says. “You want buyers to see that a real family has enjoyed this home, but they don’t need to see every last horse ribbon.”

You want lookers to recognize a house that’s friendly, tidy, and clean smelling without overpowering air freshener scents. Be especially aware of  pet odors, since animals can be a big turn-off for some people. Hide pet items (especially cat trees and litter boxes) when potential buyers are expected and remove pets from the house and yard.

Staging may be most important in an empty house, Abbott comments. “Empty rooms are perceived as being smaller than they really are, “ she says, “and having some minimal furniture helps people envision how they could fit in.”

Room-by-Room Strategies
The lighter a room, the more spacious it will appear, so open the blinds and turn on lamps. Keep rooms from looking crowded by reducing the amount or size of furniture. Painting is an economical investment in optimizing the interior of any house. The best strategy is to use a neutral color throughout, but this doesn’t mean just plain white. There are hundreds of shades of white, and these days pale greys and greens are also deemed neutral.

Since the kitchen is a key selling point, make it bright. Having too many things on the counters implies there isn’t ample storage. Still, it’s a good idea to display a few items such as a set of up-to-date canisters, a bowl of fresh fruit, and some colorful dish towels to show the kitchen is usable. Floors, counters, sinks, and cabinets (including interiors) should be spotless.

It’s also best to present rooms as having a single purpose.  For instance, make the guest room strictly a guest room rather than a combination bedroom/office. If possible, make children’s rooms gender neutral and keep them tidy with covered storage tubs. At the same time, it’s good to have a “kid zone” showing there is plenty of space to play.

Bathrooms are very personal spaces so take particular care. Get bathrobes off the back of the door and make the entire room sparkle. Keeping toiletries (especially toothbrushes) in baskets makes it easy to stash them out of sight when lookers are expected.

Potential buyers don’t hesitate to inspect closets, so be sure they are orderly and clean with nary a trace of musty odors. Demonstrate adequate storage by minimizing items so there is empty space on shelves and clothes aren’t jammed together on the rods.

Although staging is less important in garages or cellars, they contribute to the overall impression of a property. Keep things tidy. Minimize mildewy smells. If garage walls are scarred, consider a quick coat of paint. People understand that when you move you’ll have packing boxes around, but keep them orderly or spring for a short-term storage unit. Remember, you always want to present a picture of generous storage capacity.

Abbott concedes that staging may not increase the ultimate selling price of a property, but it can definitely make a place stand out among the competition and may well reduce its time on the market. Whether you stage your own house or hire a professional, remember the key points to attract would-be buyers: de-clutter, de-personalize, and stay neutral. They can really make a difference in helping a property sell.


When Marilyn and her husband prepared to move to Albemarle County ten years ago, they staged their California house by putting nearly half their furniture in storage, keeping fresh flowers everywhere, and stashing the dog’s dishes in the dishwasher while they walked her around and around the block whenever REALTORS ® showed the property.

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