STAGING TIPS FOR SELLING (OR JUST SIMPLIFYING!) YOUR HOUSE
How should we stage my house to sell? Should we take down all my family photos? I’m not selling but we want my house to look good for company- give me some tips! Do we need to add a lot of decorative accessories? Or, wait are we supposed to be taking things away and decluttering?!
These sentences (and about 642 more) have all been slung at me every time we mentioned that I’ve been working on the side as a home stager for a local realtor for over a year. If you haven’t heard about that you can catch up – and get a few bonus stories and tips. But in this extra-beefy post. I’ll cover why we love staging, my favorite money-saving tricks, and I’ll share some before & after of a few of the homes I’ve helped get ready for sale. Can you tell we love this topic?
WHY STAGE A HOUSE?
To me, the goal of staging is to leave each room feeling as open, light-filled, and welcoming as possible. Unlike everyday decorating, you’re not trying to show off your style or the decor – you’re trying to show off the actual house itself. So, you never want to overfill a space and detract from features like hardwood floors, large windows, light filled nooks, built-in storage, or any of the other things that come with the house. Got a room that’s small and dark and boasts none of those features? We can see why you might be tempted to fill it with stuff to hide that fact… but DON’T! That’ll just make it feel more cramped & cluttered! Any accessories or furnishings should just help buyers imagine how they might live there – so my entire staging mantra is K.I.S.S (keep it simple, stager).
We normally LOVE the challenge and instant gratification of staging a house. In a few hours, a home can completely transform (for very little money – and sometimes none!). Some stagers bring a giant truck full of furniture, rugs, etc. – but we don’t do that type of staging. We are hired through a local realtor for homes with homeowners who typically have a lot of stuff but just need some help editing, refining, and adding some extra style – so that homeowner can sell their house faster and hopefully for more money.
And staging works! we hate to jinx ourself by even saying this out loud, but none of the houses I’ve ever staged have sat on the market for more than three days (one even sold within 12 hours for over asking price!). So as awkward as it feels to toot my own horn, hopefully sharing my “record” can help to establish that staging can definitely make a giant difference when it comes to getting more buyers in the door, more offers on the house, and maybe even a higher sale price in the end.
THE STAGING PROCESS
The approach to staging is largely about removing unnecessary items, like big furniture that crowds a room or general clutter that makes a home feel chaotic. These are simple edits any homeowner can make before they put their house on the market (or just anytime, to enjoy a more peaceful feeling at home). Seriously, it’s so amazing to see what a difference it can make in other people’s houses that weoften come home and do the same thing to our rooms – even though we have no plans to sell this house for at least a few decades.
We normally don’t bring much to the home we plan to stage, just a large bag or two of accessories to add polish to areas that I’ve simplified or decluttered. You know, things like: art, vases, bedding, pillows, and other small items like a white ceramic soap pump. Because, again, the bulk of what we do is just to work with what the homeowner already has. I’ll further explain that – and share photos of some of the items we bring – later in this post, but in most cases, I’d describe the process as 3% addition (of a few new decorative items) and 97% subtraction (of things already in the house that are crowding the home and hiding its true potential).
Where does all the subtracted stuff go? Well, the realtor and the homeowner typically predetermine an area for me to put the large items that we remove (like an overstuffed chair that’s crowding a living area or a bench at the foot of the bed that’s making a small bedroom feel smaller). Those predetermined areas might be a garage, a storage pod outside, or the attic. For smaller clutter we might remove, they often leave out a few empty Tupperware bins or a large laundry basket or two so we can walk from room to room and fill them with little stuff that doesn’t need to be out on display (later they can tuck those items into drawers or cabinets if they need them to stay in that room – or put them in the attic if they don’t).
The photo above is from someone’s master bedroom. We don’t have a before photo for you but let me paint you a picturebut staging isn’t about making a room look “perfectly decorated,” it’s about painting a picture of life in that home. Plus, a rug would have hidden those shiny hardwood floors!
The point is, you want to enhance the fantasy of living in the house. Who wouldn’t want to picture themselves sipping coffee on a cold morning in their master bedroom’s sitting area with the sun shining in through the large windows and the fireplace on while gazing up at their pretty built-ins?! That sentence has like four selling features in it!
EASY STAGING TRICKS YOU CAN DO
We know you guys are looking for more detailed suggestions than just to “simplify and declutter” – so we’ll get to some before & after pictures in a second, but first we wanted to list a few easy things you can do right away (and many of them cost zero dollars!). These are usually things we do the second we get into a house that I’m staging – and it instantly makes entire rooms feel lighter and more spacious.
In kitchens and bathrooms, remove almost everything. Clutter can make even the fanciest kitchens look bad, so stow away as much as you can – especially stacks of paper clutter or small appliances. Same rule for the bathrooms – hide those messy toothbrushes and makeup compacts. We often find that those countertop items can easily fit in the kitchen or vanity drawers, under the sink, or in the medicine cabinet – and if you like having them out for your day-to-day use, that’s completely understandable. But when you’re trying to sell your house, you don’t need people staring at your immersion blender and its long cord just junking up your kitchen counter. Or glancing at your q-tips and picturing you poking your ears with them in their future bathroom. Tucking all of that away can help people see all of that nice surface area for them to someday fill with their own stuff.
SIMPLIFY OTHER SURFACES
Find ways to clear off other household clutter-zones, like: kitchen tables, coffee tables, nightstands, and bookcases. Even wehave to fight my instinct to “over style” sometimes – because in our everyday lives, seeing our stuff around makes us feel at home. But when you’re trying to make someone else feel like this house could become their home, you don’t want your junk stealing their attention at all. You want them to really absorb what makes the house so cool – not notice that you collect frogs or heart shaped rocks.
Here’s an example of a bathroom after it is staged. See how there’s nothing hygiene-related in sight?
DON’T REMOVE ALL PERSONAL ITEMS
About removingthose framed photos, some stagers and realtors say that no family photos are allowed at all if you want to sell your house because it takes people “out of the fantasy that it could be their home.” We normally don’t fully buy into that. We didn’t remove family photos when selling our own homes, and I’ve yet to strip them completely out of any of my staging projects either. I’d argue that most brains can picture their family photo there in that spot instead of yours – just as they can picture their bed in the bedroom instead of yours – or their couch in the living room instead of yours. But I’d caution you about using too many family photos everywhere just because walls generally need to breathe to feel more open and less crowded – plus too much of anything can be overkill, so just use moderation and they’re probably fine.
We are just as likely to remove a ton of frames with non-family photos or art as We are to remove actual family photos (especially clusters of smaller ones) because I’m generally just into decluttering walls, floors, and surfaces. So, what’s in the frames rarely changes things for me – we just want the walls to feel open and expansive, so the room doesn’t feel choppy and interrupted. You know, so things like the crown molding, the windows, a nice wide doorway, or the pristine floors will get noticed instead.
ACCESSORIZE WITH CAUTION
we feel like I’ve talked so much about taking stuff out that you’re wondering what the heck we leave in! Once spaces have been simplified (which means that we leave out just a few simple items like lamps, pretty storage baskets or boxes, lovely glassware, pretty stacks of books, etc.), We often add a few additional accents and accessories to further neutralize or simply things. For example, switching out an old green plastic bottle of soap by the sink for a white ceramic soap pump. Or putting some wooden spoons in a white ceramic utensil holder next to the stove instead of a ton of mixed and matched silicone baking spoons in a distractingly bold patterned jug.
DON’T OVERDO IT
The favorite formula for dining tables and kitchen tables is, a bowl of fruit. It’s so easy to bring a nice simple bowl (or find one in the house!) and fill it with fresh apples, bananas, clementine’s, anything! we have even invested in a bag of faux green apples that we bring to every job because they’ll never die and, in a pinch,,we can use those. No need to break out the perfect place settings or candelabras – they’d just add clutter to the listing photos and distract from the actual room itself. This isn’t no dinner party. It’s a house-selling party and hopefully you’re invited.
STAGING A KITCHEN
Ok, now let’s go room-by-room, starting with the one that is often the make or break space for a potential buyer. Here is a before photo of a kitchen we staged. Just stare at this photo for a second and see what you notice before scrolling down. How much of the kitchen are you noticing and how much of the stuff in the kitchen are you registering instead of the kitchen itself?
Here’s the room after it is staged, as it looked in the professional listing photo. The first photo was just a phone pic, and this one was taken by the professional photographer, which explains some of the slight differences in the cabinet and island color. But NOTHING was majorly changed in this room.
Here’s what is done:
- Removed almost everything from the countertops, except for a few anchor pieces
- Removed everything on the side and top of the fridge
- Added a white soap pump and a white pitcher with free yard cuttings
- Put a few decorative objects on the shelf above the microwave
Simplifying this kitchen helped people SEE the kitchen itself. Suddenly you notice the nice stainless double oven, the side of the fridge looks clean and pristine, even the pendant lights seem to get their “due” instead of blending in with a ton of other small things in the room. And except for the soap pump and the pitcher, every single item we used to stage this room was already there. So again, we generally find that editing is a lot more important than buying/adding.
Here’s a kitchen that took a bit more work to get ready to sell. The homeowners had been planning to update the room eventually, but a sudden job change forced them to move and we highly encouraged them to make painting the room a priority (they’re very handy and were willing to take on the task). Below is the before photo from the previous seller’s listing. Stare at this kitchen for a second. Really take it in. That is what they started with. Then scroll down to the after below.
Yup, this is the same room. Some of the changes had already been made before we came to help (they had updated their appliances to stainless, swapped out the island counter for Ikea butcher block, and installed simpler pendant lights). So, the only thing they did at my recommendation was paint those cabinets… and get this, they even PAINTED THE BACKSPLASH!
The backlash was porous travertine tile, which actually takes paint amazingly well. Soaks it up just like brick, which we have been painting with success for over a decade (any unsealed tile is typically great for paint – it’s the sealed ceramic and shiny porcelain stuff that might chip or flake off). So yes, if you have unsealed travertine tile or any other porous stone that you hate, it might work to paint it. It definitely helped to make this kitchen feel a lot fresher and larger.
Beyond those bigger paint-related updates, we did the same editing and accessorizing that we always do in a kitchen that I’m staging. We didn’t grab a before photo, so you’ll just have to imagine this kitchen looking lived in. You know, the same paper-cluttered side of the fridge and overworked countertops that most of us have going on at home – especially in those busier seasons of life. But when you’re staging a house, you just have to stash that stuff. And it’s amazing how simplifying the space can make it feel so shiny and new and buyer-ready. Oh and there’s my trusty white pitcher with free clippings from outside. Let’s call him Old Faithful.
STAGING A LIVING ROOM
This first living room is from the same house as the painted kitchen. Again, the homeowner was willing to do some painting, which was a very good thing because the blue walls were overpowering the space and distracting people from everything else that it had going for it. And an abundance of furniture was making the room feel more cramped, even though it’s a generous size.
Here’s the room after the homeowner painted the walls & the fireplace, and We came back in to stage it. SUCH A DIFFERENCE, right? Now scroll back up. What do you notice about the two photos? Which room would you say looks bigger and lighter and more welcoming? This room looks nearly twice as deep as the one above – and they’re the exact same room.
Here’s what is done to update this space after the walls got a more neutral paint color and the fireplace went white to match the wainscoting:
- Reduced the amount of furniture and swapped in lighter furnishings they had in another room
- Added a large rug from another room to show off the size of this space
- Decluttered and brought in simple accessories
Not a single item of furniture (or the rug) was purchased for this. They had more furniture than they needed in many of their rooms – including another family/TV room and a bonus room upstairs. So, it was just about removing the extra stuff (a lot of the larger darker furnishings went into the attic) and spreading out the lighter stuff for a more simplified and less full-feeling arrangement in each of those areas.
This is also an example of how staging differs from real life living. In real life, someone might want a sectional or another chair in this room (and a coffee table!), but for staging, lightness and openness is a good thing. So just because you can seat 10 people in your living room now (and you love that fact!) doesn’t mean you have to keep all that seating when you stage your house to sell. Especially if moving a few items out can make a room feel twice as big. A larger feeling room will be more attractive to a potential buyer than a room that’s chock full of seating and furniture to the point that it feels cramped every. single. time.
Speaking of that difference, here’s a living room we photographed right after we designed/decorated it and then later after we staged it to sell. It’s my friend’s living room that started off like this:
Last year the space was updated using a ton of stuff she already had, plus a few inexpensive new items (from places like Ikea and Amazon.) So, the picture below is when we were aiming to create a polished and accessorized living room that felt layered and a lot more interesting than the bland before.
You might think you’d want your living room to look all layered and accessorized like a magazine spread in your listing photos and showings. But I’d argue that you shouldn’t go that far. You run the risk of people noticing all the details and accessories and textures that you brought into the room instead of noticing the true bones of the actual room. Again, which is what they should be noticing! This is that same room staged to sell:
It’s not a major difference, but we wanted the room to feel more open, so here’s what we did:
- Removed the seating area in the foreground so the eye continues further into the room
- Cleared the ottoman off completely
- Reduced the number of items on the shelves by about half
It only took about ten minutes (most of which was spent taking the ghost chair to the attic) but it really helps you notice the true stars of the room: those gorgeous glass doors and the extra tall light-filled windows.
STAGING A DINING AREA
Here’s a great example of how a room itself isn’t dated… but the furniture and the curtains are making it feel that way. The bones of this room are great: crown molding, chair rail, nice big window, and hardwood floors. But do you notice that here? Nope. That dark looming (and giant!) china cabinet + those ornate window treatments are making this room feel old fashioned and a lot less fresh than it could be.
These homeowners had already repainted, removed the curtains, and swapped out the chandelier for an inexpensive pendant before calling me in, so the room had come a long way already. And the remaining finishing touches took it even further:
- Bringing in a secondhand dining table with chairs (scored for $72!)
- Moving a rug in from another room
- Accessorizing with – you guessed it – a bowl of fruit
Would we call this room “finished” if we were decorating it for a magazine spread? Nope, I’d probably add curtains, art, a buffet, etc – but when it comes to staging, this room feels spacious, full of light, and you finally notice things like the crown molding and that nice big window. Mission accomplished.
ITEMS TO BUY WHEN STAGING A HOME
We hope I’ve made my point in this post that you may not need to buy a single thing when staging a home (whether you’re selling it, or just simplifying it for a nice airy feeling that you can enjoy every day while living there). Decluttering and cutting free things from the yard can make an enormous difference alone. But if you feel like your efforts are falling short, or you’re looking to stockpile a few items for your own staging business (or just want some pretty objects for your house that are flexible crowd-pleasers), here are some trusty things we have in my staging arsenal:
- Fluffy white bath towels (they always bring that spa feeling)
- Extra-long white shower curtain (bright or patterned curtains can make a bath feel busy)
- White duvet cover (to neutralize busy/bold bedding, which can be more polarizing)
- White utensil holder for next to the stove (keep counters mostly clear otherwise)
- A few solid colored accent pillows (to add color to a sofa, loveseat, bed, etc.)
- Various small bud vases for yard clippings (we always have at least 3 on hand)
- One large accent vase (this alone on top of a dresser is all you need)
- A plain white pitcher (can also double as a vase or a utensil holder)
- Neutral affordable rug (it’s available in lots of sizes and an 8 x 10 is $200!)
- Large framed art (to break up any big empty walls)
- Smaller framed art (for weird dead spaces – like the spot above the toilet)
- White soap pump (to simplify a sink that’s cluttered with plastic pumps)