Selling Your Home? Here's How to Stage Your House Like a Real Estate Agent

Skip the professional staging service and follow these tips to sell your home fast.

Modern interior of living room with beige sofa and wooden accents

If you have ever sold a home, you're likely familiar with the process of staging. Typically, this involves hiring a real estate agent or staging professional to style your space so it looks its best (and particularly attractive to the buyer demographic) as you prepare to sell it. This makes it easier for potential buyers to ignore all of the things that make your space yours—and allows them to envision living there, instead.

A well-staged home also lets your home's potential shine through, giving hopeful homeowners a peek at all the different things that can be done with the space. Here's the thing: Staging your home can be expensive, especially if you need to hire a stager (though, some real estate agents offer this service for a fee). To cut costs (and see the majority of that selling price), learn how to stage your home like a professional.

Why It's Important to Stage Your Home

Hiring a stager can feel like a necessary expense for some homeowners—but you don't need to be an expert to learn how to disguise problem spots or make your home's best features shine. It is important, however, to approach this process the right way. "Getting the 'home showroom' ready by arranging furniture and accessories to accentuate the space can be the difference between a buyer walking away or making an offer," says Margie Anderson, a real estate agent for HomeLister, who is licensed in Oregon and Washington.

The goal of staging your home is to make the space feel as light and inviting to as many potential buyers as possible and to highlight its best features, says Becki Danchik, a broker with Coldwell Banker Warburg and accredited home stager. Staging to appeal to the widest pool of buyers often results in getting the best value for your home, she says.

How to Stage a House for Sale in 5 Steps

1. Evaluate Your Space

Before you decide whether or not your home needs to be staged, evaluate your space—look at each room as though you're seeing it for the first time, says Anderson. "Take an unbiased look around the exterior and interior of your house, looking for obvious imperfections, wear and tear, and needed repairs," she says. Make note of the things that need fixing, updating, or changing so that you know what to prioritize.

Once you've made a list of needed improvements, decide which items you can do on your own and which you need to outsource. "You may be able to fix a leaky faucet, but a home inspector will be looking with a trained eye—so don't skimp on the major repairs and enlist the help of a professional where it matters," says Anderson.

2. Set a Budget

Even the smallest staging steps can add up, which is why it's important to set a dollar limit and stick to it, explains Anderson. "If you are planning on using a storage space for home overflow or any professional services (like weekly cleanings or yard maintenance), factor in these costs," she says.

3. Clean, Streamline, and Update

If you are still living in your home while it's being shown, take care to keep it neat and tidy. "Remove clutter from all surface areas and store appliances in cabinets (not on the kitchen counter)," Anderson says. Even spaces that aren't entirely front-facing should be considered: "All closets should be kept clean and organized," she says—since, yes, prospective buyers will open them.

You want to appeal to the widest range of buyers as possible, so stick with neutral tones and décor picks when bringing in any new furniture or furnishings (more on that later). And don't overlook the clean slate power of paint: "A fresh coat of white paint will give a new appearance and brighten the rooms," says Kimberly Jay a broker with Compass.

Modern Kitchen Living Room Hone design with open concept

4. Rearrange Your Existing Furniture

If your furniture is in good shape, definitely use it to stage your home; this will help you save a few bucks, says Anderson. "It's more important to declutter and organize current furniture in the most visually appealing way—which a friend with a good eye (and fresh perspective) can help with if needed," she says. Going it alone? Arrange your furniture to highlight your home's best architectural features, like a fireplace, and be sure to organize each room to speak to its specific purpose (so your dining room should look like one—not a makeshift office), adds Anderson.

When to Rent Furniture for Staging

With that said, if your furniture is too specific to your taste, it could turn off buyers who might otherwise like the home. Think of it this way, says Augusto Bittencourt, an agent with Compass: You're not selling furniture—you're selling your home. Don't take it personally if your real estate broker suggests swapping your furniture for rented pieces (many companies supply these types of rentals; do a search for businesses near you).

When you're ready to rent, choose pieces in a mostly neutral color palette, so buyers can focus on the home, explains Bittencourt.

Making Simpler Swaps

If renting furniture isn't in the budget, aim to make a few simple, budget-friendly swaps, which can have a big impact. "Consider replacing all old throw pillows or adding a few new ones," says Danchik. "A touch of greenery in every room is also key."

Just don't go overboard: According to Jay, you really can have too much of a good thing. "Less is more," she says. "One should set the furniture up to give each room flow and lots of space."

5. Remove Personal Items

Personal photos are some of the first items to go when you list your home, but the work doesn't stop there, says Anderson.

Photos and Other Keepsakes

"Generally speaking, potential buyers want the home to look bright, open, and magazine worthy," she says. "One of the best ways to do this is by removing personal photos, knickknacks, and kids' trophies—anything that personalizes the home to your family so that buyers can picture their own family in the space."

Clichéd Messaging

Clichéd items are also distractions. "What might seem harmless, but can be a real turn-off, are home décor items that have messages like 'Home Sweet Home' or 'Live. Life. Love,'" says Moira McCree, a real estate agent with eXp Realty.

Signs of Kids or Pets

This process may also involve making your home look like less people actually live there. "Something else that is overlooked is the strong presence of children and pets in the home," McCree says. "Although we love our kids and fur babies very much, their toys or personal items can be distracting to the buyer's vision."

Helpful Tips for Staging Your Own Home

Professional stagers have a good understanding of what today's buyers want, so you'll need to do a little extra legwork to see what's hot (and what's not) in the world of home décor.

Compare Your Home to Recent Listings

"Take a look at recently sold comps in your area and see how they've staged their homes," Anderson advises. "This will give you a good idea of what others are doing and what seems to appeal to buyers."

Similarly, take note of homes that have sold for higher prices and compare them to sales that closed at lower-than-average prices; see if the way the home was staged or repaired prior to listing could have played a role, adds Anderson.

Take Cues From the Hotel Industry

If you're struggling to find staging inspiration, look to your last overnight stay in a nice hotel, says Moira McCree a real estate agent with eXp Realty. "A hotel room is the perfect example of a 'neutral space' and has had tens of thousands of visitors," she says. "However, each time you tap your key card and push open the door of your assigned room, you feel as though you are its first and only guest. This is because the room is arranged well, with neutral colors and thoughtful design."

The living space of a hotel room supports conversation; furniture is also placed to create visual symmetry and balance, which you can replicate at home with careful staging, says McCree.

Remember Why You Bought Your Home

Remember that every home has positive attributes, says Jay. "Think about why you purchased your home. It's likely the next buyer will be attracted to the same thing," she says. "Make sure to focus on that aspect, be it a great view, wonderful natural light, a large eat-in kitchen, or a great flow."

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