Staging a house to sell

Furnished Living Room in Luxury Home Furnished Living Room in Luxury Home

“It can be hard for homeowners to really see their own dwelling,” declares Liz Blankenship, co-owner of Charlottesville’s Stage to Sell. “They are emotionally and financially invested in their home, so it’s hard to view it as a ‘product’ competing with other houses for sale.”

While staging may not increase the ultimate selling price of a property, it can make a home stand out among the competition and may well reduce its time on the market.

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

Abbott says sellers are usually receptive to staging ideas. “Honestly,” she explains, “I’m pretty good with suggestions. I just say, ‘Look, this would be a simple thing to do. We could do it right now.’ And we do it.”

Staging may be most important in an empty house, she adds. “Having some minimal furniture helps people envision how they could fit in, because empty rooms are perceived as being smaller than they really are.”

What exactly is staging?

Interior design reflects the homeowner’s taste, lifestyle, and color palette. Staging, on the other hand, 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. There are several aspects to staging.

“First, people like a place that’s ready,” Stage to Sell’s Blankenship says. “They 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.”

Since first impressions are crucial, start that clutter reduction at the street. Maximize curb appeal with bushes neatly trimmed, a nice green lawn, and fresh mulch on the gardens. 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, lookers should get a favorable impression from a house that’s friendly, tidy, and clean smelling without overpowering air freshener scents. Be super aware of any pet odors, since animals can be a big turn-off for some people. Stash pet items (especially cat trees and litter boxes) and when potential buyers are expected, remove pets from the house and yard.

Next, Blankenship advises, “You want to ‘de-personalize.’ Remember, you want potential buyers to see themselves in the house, not your family. Store away the wedding photo, get the snapshots off the fridge, and the kids’ sports trophies off the mantel.”

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

Room by room

The lighter a room, the more spacious it will appear, so it’s smart to open the blinds. Keep it 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 often a key selling point, Blankenship says, make it bright. Too Much Stuff 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 dishtowels to show the kitchen is usable. Floors, counters, sinks, and cabinets (including interiors) should be spotless.

Blankenship also suggests presenting rooms as “single purpose.”  For instance, make the guest room strictly a guest room rather than a combination bedroom/office.

Bathrooms are very personal spaces so take particular care. Get that old bathrobe 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.

Most 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.

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.

Although staging isn’t so important in garages or cellars, they contribute to the overall impressions of a property. Keep things tidy. Minimize musty odors. 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 stow in a short-term storage unit. Remember, you always want to present a picture of generous storage capacity.

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.

By Marilyn Pribus


When Marilyn Pribus and her husband moved from Sacramento to Albemarle County eight years ago, they spent time and money to stage their California house. They put nearly half their furniture in storage, kept fresh flowers everywhere (even in the bathrooms), and walked the dog around (and around and around) the block whenever REALTORS ® showed the property.

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