In the last few months I have looked at 100s of homes for sale online, shortlisted about 100 homes, attended quite a few open houses and toured a few dozen. The homes we looked at ranged from beautifully staged (& photographed) to still having Halloween decorations (in May!). I have never sold a house so I never really thought about what it takes to sell a house quickly until now. Now that I am an experienced “home tourist” I have plenty of opinions on what the sellers could have done to sell their house. To validate and expand my knowledge I talked to different buyers in open houses and online forums, I also attended classes on home buying AND home selling (it is useful to know how the seller thinks!).
Staging alone won’t sell a house, but it will certainly help a buyer from dropping the house from their list like a hot potato. Basically by staging you are (1) Highlighting your home’s strengths – do not leave anything to the buyer’s imagination (2) Downplaying the weakness and (3) Selling a dream to the buyers. Perception is everything after all.
Here is a list of staging tips for selling your home quickly from the perspective of a buyer.
Image credit: Nancy Hugo
Home staging tips – Kitchen & dining
I have heard that kitchen and bathrooms sell a house. It really is true. I rejected quite a few houses because the kitchen was bad and looked like it had too little space or was not very comfortable to cook in. The point is, it looked like that, I am not entirely sure what it would have looked like if it was more clean or showed more counter space instead of having too many appliances stacked on top of each other.
- Wash the vessels and keep a clean sink: Needs no explanation.
- Put away all the small appliances: I used to think a few appliances won’t hurt but having many appliances on top of the counter makes the kitchen appear too small and unusable. Buyers will also wonder whether there is no space to put these things away. Put it away.
- Clear & clean the counters: Clean your kitchen as thoroughly as possible, as if the entire sale of your house depended on it, because it probably does depend on a clean kitchen.
- Remove extra furniture: Do you have a kitchen trolley or dining hutches? Remove them. Show off the space.
- Choose your décor tastefully: Choose one or two things to keep on the counter and the kitchen island – many be a bowl of fruits or simply a vase of flowers.
- Clean & wipe down all the appliances: Stainless steel appliances are popular, if you have them, show them off. The stainless steel appliance cleaner costs less than $5, use it to give your appliance a new shine and remove all fingerprints. Even if you don’t have stainless steel, clean appliances are any day better than expensive appliances with dried food all over.
- Take the trash out: I would have thought taking the trash out is a given but apparently it doesn’t seem odd to some people to have the smell of trash greet their prospective buyer when they enter the kitchen.
- Choose one centerpiece for your dining table: Do not fill it with collectibles and knickknacks. Who would want to have a meal with all of those in the way?
- Have a dining table to fit the size of the room: If you have a gigantic table that makes the dining room look too small or if you have to carefully maneuver to go around it, consider replacing it with a smaller one – borrow one from a friend or if your table is expandable, collapse it. And remove extra chairs.
- Remove magnets & photos from the fridge: We all have stuff all over the fridge – kids’ artwork, photos, coupons, whatever on the fridge door. Remove all of these; it makes the kitchen look cluttered.
- Clean: The baseboards, vacuum corners & under the counters, dust the ceiling fan, replace worn out bulbs and clean under the microwave or hood.
- Replace dirty drip pans under the burner.
- Polish the hardware on cabinets: Arrange your spices neatly. Wipes down the cabinets.
- Fix leaky or dripping toilet/faucets: It is not a big thing to repair and it will show up in inspection but leaky faucets show the prospective buyers that you do not take care of stuff when it has smaller defects. So what else have you ignored?
- Clean and close the toilet lid: I can’t explain this but a closed toilet makes the bathroom look better than an open one.
- Clean the tile and scrub the grout: It is disgusting to walk on grimy tiles and sticky/black grout. Make sure the tile, the tub or the shower doesn’t have any hair.
- Clear the counter: Put away makeup stuff, tangled hairdryer, curler, shaver, etc. This is not the time to show that extension cord with tons of appliances plugged in there.
- Remove all medicine from the medicine cabinet: Assume the buyers are going to open the medicine cabinet, remove all the prescription (or other) medicines from your cabinet.
- Buy new towels: Luxury hotels get rid of their towels as soon as they lose some fluff. There is a reason for that; towels can give an image of luxury and pampering. Buy a new set of matching fluffy towels and arrange them in an inviting fashion.
- Add some bling: If your fixtures are really old and mismatched (shower rod in white, towel rack in black and faucets in silver), check if you can get them all in the same modern color. I saw some Martha Steward collection for ~$70 in Home Depot. Sometimes a can of spray paint is all you need to have matching fixtures. If the cabinets are worn out, give them a makeover by putting new knobs or handles.
- Clean the shower door/curtain: Remove all the soap scum and the calcium residue from a clear shower door if you have one or if you shower curtain is old and ugly you can change it to match the whole décor of the bathroom.
- Change the cover of the light fixtures: To give the bathroom a makeover, if needed or remove them and clean thoroughly. Make sure you remove and clean the exhaust fan cover.
- Arrange the bathroom based on a magazine photo: Everyone knows bathrooms get messy but we all want a magazine-photo-shoot ready bathroom. Show them it can be done and let them dream. Don’t overdo it, but a few pillar candles and neatly folded, matching towels can go a long way. Hang a white robe, arrange a few bath products along with some fluffy towels and drop some flower petals around it… you get the idea. Give it a spa like feel without overdoing it – no need for half-filled champagne glasses on the edge of a prepared bath. Keep it simple and tasteful.
- Paint: A little bit of paint can go a long way.
- Clean: Remove dead plants & wilting flowers, sweep away dead leaves, clean cobwebs. The front of the house is the first thing the buyers are going to see.
- Nice hardware on the doors: This is something cheap that can have a great effect. If you have outdated, worn out hardware, swap it for a new modern looking one.
- Fix the front lawn: Trim the overgrown bushes and trees. If they are hiding the house, trimming them will make the house look larger and brighter. Plant some nice flowering plants.
- Remove the garbage cans: Large garbage cans welcoming the buyers do not a good first impression make. This will tell them that you either don’t care about the look of the house or that there is no space to put them away.
- Update the light fixtures and make sure they work: Light fixtures are another cheap item that can update the look of the house greatly.
- Power wash driveways
- Kill the weeds and repair cracks.
- Minimal decorations: If you had lots of small pots, cute collectibles, statues of animals and gnomes, pare it down. Keep one or two decorations that are well placed and tasteful (no pumpkins or Halloween decorations in spring).
- Remove excess furniture and décor: You want to show the living room as a comfortable area that has enough space for their furniture. Your furniture should only be there to gently nudge them to imagine the space as their living space. It should not overwhelm the buyers.
- Refinish worn out hardwood floors: Hardwood floors are beautiful, but if they are full of scratches and dull it might work against you. If you can afford to refinish, do that or else at least touch up and give it some life (talk to some contractors or home improvement store staff to see what you need depending on your floor type – engineered wood vs. hardwood).
- Remove wallpapers: If you have very customized wall paper, remove it and paint a neutral warm color. I rejected a few houses because of ugly wallpaper before I found out how easy it is to remove and repaint them. You might like the wall paper but the house is going to be someone else’s home soon, so remove personalization as much as possible. Let them imagine their taste in the room.
- Shampoo the carpet: Give your carpet a shampoo and make it feel fluffy again.
- Remove personal photographs: All the photos on top of the fire place mantel? They have to go. Personal photographs are something that can either go very well with some buyers or not at all. Personally I had two reactions to houses filled with personal photos (1) I only remembered the photos and the story they told me; nothing about the house. Looks like I paid more attention to the photos than to the house. (2) I felt extremely uncomfortable, like I am intruding horribly on someone’s privacy. So use your judgment on this.
- Create a good flow: Make sure the furniture is grouped so that it doesn’t obstruct traffic but instead makes the space more user friendly.
Bedroom is another area where you can create a luxurious feeling without spending any cash.
- Make your bed: Home buyers are not going to sit on your bed, but that doesn’t mean it should be messy. Make your bed and make it inviting. Add a few extra pillows and if possible, get neutral colored, plush bedding that doesn’t distract from the room.
- Add appropriate accessories: If the room is small, remove everything other than a side table. If the room is big, you can have a dresser and a side table. The point is to make the room larger and practical. Have a bedside lamp, either a table lamp on the side table or a floor lamp.
- Organize your closets: Yes, the buyers are going to open the closet to see how big it is. If you have clothes falling on top of them as soon as the closet doors open, well, that is not going to go over well. Move all the non-seasonal clothes or rarely worn items elsewhere and keep the closet organized and easy to access.
- Pack away any intimate photos, lingerie and any other stuff.
- Make the décor as gender neutral as possible. Remove or downplay any religious items as well.
When preparing a house for sale, the garage is probably one of the last things on people’s minds. So it is understandable that most houses I saw had a really messy garage. They wanted to de-clutter the house and moved everything from the house to the garage. I was specifically looking for how big the garage is so that my husband can have a workshop in there. Unfortunately, in several houses I could never judge the size of the garage due to a mountain of boxes stacked on top of each other. You don’t know what the prospective buyer is looking for, so prepare ALL the rooms including the garage.
- Organize the garage: If you have to, rent a storage space for a couple of months instead of using the garage as storage. Make sure the buyers can see how much usable space is in there. Messy garages also give an impression of a not so well maintained house.
- Wash the floors: Remove grease, oil or any rust spots.
- Trimming large bushes, will make the yard appear larger. If there are plants/bushes close to the house, trim them to have at least 6 inches in between them and the house.
- Paint the fence
- Make sure furniture is clean: If there is furniture, people will sit on it. I don’t think they will appreciate it if they got up with a big black spot on the seat of their pants.
- Create a focal point: If you have a pool or a fire pit that you want to highlight, make that as a focal point and arrange your lawn in such a way that it is the most noticeable feature.
- If you have a Jacuzzi or a hot tub, empty it and clean: Ugghh! I will never forget a house we saw that had Jacuzzi… not in a good way. The Jacuzzi for 8 people was included and advertised in the description. When we toured the house, I opened it to find it with full of water, probably filled ages ago with a dead rat and a few bugs floating on it. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!
The following tips are applicable to any room.
- De-clutter: A messy house informs the buyer that you are a slacker, which means, you didn’t take care of the house as well. Tons of stuff also makes the house smaller, which no buyer wants.
- Paint a neutral color: Paint is something very cheap to change but it will still affect buyers in a major way. A lot of people don’t want to paint the house before they move in, so a freshly painted house will put them at ease.
- Have the lights on: People want to see the house, so even if you are not around, leave the lights on. The real estate agent showing the house will not know where the lights are and you do not want them to spend the first half hour looking for the switch instead of concentrating on the house. If your lights are dim, check the maximum wattage and swap it for a higher wattage bulb.
- Open the curtains and blinds: Again, as much natural light as possible. It makes the house appear large.
- Adjust the temperature of the house: We usually don’t have the AC/heater on when we leave the house for work. That is understandable, but if your house is on the market, the buyer’s agent can request an appointment any time of the day, even if you are at work. You don’t want them to step into a freezing house or a sauna. Adjust the temperature to remain moderate throughout the day during the time your house is in the market.
- Do not spray perfume all over the place: Most houses had one of those super strong Glade scented things. It made me sneeze all the time! May be it is just me, but I hated it. I understand creating a nicely scented house is part of staging. If you want to do that, please bake some cookies or boil cinnamon in water to create the scent.
- Depersonalize: You might find someone who has the same taste and falls in love with your house/décor. But when showing you want to appeal to the majority of the people, so make it as non-personalized as possible.
- Leave! If possible leave during the showing/open house. May be some people want to stay and answer questions, I don’t know but in one of my appointments the agent and me walked in on a couple cuddling in bed. It was super awkward. The entire appointment my real estate agent was apologizing to them (yes, she did knock before using her lockbox and did announce our visit just in case, but they were upstairs and didn’t hear us). I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough!
- Do the repairs and updates: If there are lots of small projects you can tackle before putting your house on the market, do it. A turnkey house is a lot more attractive, esp. to first time home buyers than a house that needs tons of repairs, even if each of them is relatively small.
What I found NOT attractive with staging.
As I mentioned earlier I do find staging attractive but overdone staging can get very tacky. The key is to be simple and tasteful instead of making it a decorating contest. Here are some of the things I saw that made me go… ummm…
- Diagonal placement of beds: Some houses were staged with the bed placed diagonally in the bedroom with space between the headboard and the corner of the room. This was filled with a huge plant. It made the whole room appear small and awkward.
- Staged by… cards: Why would anyone try to get business from a buyer instead of helping your existing client, the seller.
- Framed photos of famous people: I initially thought the home owner was a fan of these celebrities so he had photos of them instead of any personal photos. Then I found out it is a recommended “trick” to depersonalize the home. I found it weird but I never had any celebrity photo anywhere in my house so what do I know?
- Blue water sitting in the bathtub: Instead of feeling more welcoming this felt yuckier. Is the water blue in this house? Why?
I know I repeated “cleaning” in every section; it is not to increase my word count. I was appalled by the number of houses we saw that didn’t even get a cursory cleaning. One of the houses we saw had a Jacuzzi with years old water along with a dead rat and few bugs to give him company. Another house had a sink that was overflowing with dirty vessels and dirty dishes all over the counter top. So, yes, if you can do only three things to make your house more attractive – clean, clean and clean again!
I have listed mostly cheap, DIY staging tips in this post. There are professional staging companies that will either completely furnish your house or rearrange whatever you own to make the house more appealing. From a real estate agent I talked to, this will cost about $1000 for set up/tear down & ~$500 per month for the rent of the furniture & décor.
Do not overdo, it shouldn’t looked “staged” or insult the buyer’s intelligence but should tell the buyers that the previous owners had great taste and took awesome care of the house.