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10 Tips for Staging Your Home

Real Estate Pictures Home staging is all about creating a space in which anyone viewing your home will be comfortable. See more pictures of real estate.
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So you've made the decision to sell your house, looked into the market and talked to a real estate agent. Your head is swimming with facts, figures and neighborhood values, and it probably seems like you'll never get into escrow, much less out again. But statistics show that the best possible thing you can do to keep your final sale price up and your time on the market down is also the least expensive.

The first step is separating yourself from the idea of your house as your "home." The next place you live will be your new home. The house you're selling now is just a product, and it's your job to make every possible effort to ensure that this product is at its best for potential customers.

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Home staging is the process of transforming your house from a home into a show-worthy work of art. When done correctly, staging your home can reduce its time on the market by half and add to your eventual takeaway. By presenting what you already have in the best way possible, you can forget about costly renovation projects and put your house's natural features to work. Here, we'll look at some of the best things you can do when staging your home.

Disengaging from your house emotionally can be difficult, but the act of staging your home can help you look at it with a more neutral eye. And because so much of the staging process is about decluttering and depersonalizing your house, doing it in conjunction with packing for the move can help even more.

Your first step is decluttering, which should be a natural part of the packing-up process. Decide what you really want to take with you to your new home, and discard or donate the things you're leaving behind.

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Similarly, because the staging process requires you to portray your house as a welcoming, neutral home for every potential buyer -- which means packing up personal items like family portraits, knickknacks and other signs of your family's time in the house -- you'll find it easier and easier to let go when it's time to leave.

This process is called depersonalizing, and it's essential to giving buyers the opportunity to imagine their own families moving in. By reducing your visual "footprint," you can inspire your buyers without making them feel like they're snooping around somebody else's home. They'll get an idea of each room's purpose without feeling locked in, and they'll see the space in the most attractive way. A properly staged house feels both warm, like a home, and accessible, like a brand-new space.

Open or remove your blinds and shutters to let as much light as possible into your home.
Open or remove your blinds and shutters to let as much light as possible into your home.
ULTRA F/Photodisc/Thinkstock

As you're going through the process of staging your home, it may be easiest to keep a checklist of simple concepts and keywords in the back of your mind. This will allow you to step back and look into each room, and make sure you're achieving the most desirable effect.

All through the house, you're looking for light: Open up every window treatment and turn on all the lights -- even in daytime -- for that extra natural brightness. Of course, that means everything needs to be spotless and sparkling. You never know where people are going to be looking -- corners of closets, even the crown molding over your head -- and that means keeping your house utterly sparkling the entire time it's on the market.

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In the bath, you want to concentrate on keeping things clean but also luxurious. A visit to your bathroom should evoke all five senses to create the pampering environment of a day spa. Likewise, words to remember in the master bedroom should be comfort, luxury and austerity. The kitchen should be uncluttered, simple and beautiful.

Imagine your house as a magazine, with each room a new and perfectly composed glossy photograph. By concentrating on the central idea of each room, you can let the natural light and features of a room dictate the way to decorate, style and ultimately stage your home for show.

Nowadays, curb appeal means more than just analyzing your yard, lawn and front elevation to make sure it's beautiful and welcoming. Online photography is an extension of getting people out of their cars and into your listing: With people shopping online for practically everything, you have to make sure they're motivated to take that extra step of getting off their computers in the first place!

Once they're in the car, meeting an agent or just doing a drive-by, the more common definition of curb appeal comes into play. Walk out to the street and see what catches your eye first: Is the entry inviting and unique? Is the door covered by overgrown shrubs? Do you have any distracting lawn ornaments or quirky features that might be better off removed for now? Remember, one house's conversation piece is another family's eyesore, so keep it neutral.

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Turn on your sprinklers before showings to give your lawn extra sparkle, make sure your house numbers are easily visible and bring nature right up to the door with potted blooming flowers in terracotta pots (yellow is said to be the most inviting color). Finally, remember: Curb appeal is a round-the-clock concern. People could be zooming by at any time of the day or evening, so it's important to make sure your home looks as inviting as possible so your buyers will remember to make an appointment in the morning.

A fireplace with a few simple decorations makes a nice focal point, while a mirror can make any room seem larger.
A fireplace with a few simple decorations makes a nice focal point, while a mirror can make any room seem larger.
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Common areas, like the living room or den, are used for both family time and entertaining. Your buyers will be imagining both, and by rearranging your furniture and removing your personal things, you open up an inviting space for any purpose.

Keep traffic in mind by leading the eye to traditional focal points, like the fireplace or couch. Decorative objects should be free of personal meaning, but they can be used with your furnishings to create flow through the house, draw attention to special features of the architecture or view, or even create an inspiring narrative through what are called vignettes.

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A vignette is a classic staging technique that suggests uses for a space that are both inviting and purposeful: perhaps a chess or board game in a quiet nook, or a reading chair with a lamp and table in a cozy corner. By using what you have in a creative way, you turn your house into a showpiece where the buyer is free to imagine his or her own family relaxing.

Traffic lanes should always be a minimum of 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) wide, and you should limit furniture as much as possible to make rooms feel larger. You can also use mirrors to make a hallway or room appear wider or longer. Remember, the key is to help your buyer imagine what it would be like to live in your home, not to wonder what kind of people live there now.

While it's true that the typical homebuyer decides on a house within eight seconds, it's important to pay special attention to areas beyond the kitchen and bath. Your outdoor areas, driveway, garage and entryway are often easy to overlook. They might be where your clutter builds up, but they can also be helpful in sales if treated nicely.

Solar lighting along the driveway looks welcoming, and lanterns can easily brighten darker areas in front and back. Planting or potting flowers brings a sense of security and completeness. A new doormat is a must. Remember, the first impression is usually the only one you'll be giving.

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Entryways are much more than a place for your keys: Staged properly, they invite the buyer to spend as much time as possible exploring your house. A small bench or table, an attractive spread of cookies or an array of candles can make your foyer intriguing and comforting to new visitors.

While you may use the garage as a catchall, you can transform the whole feel of your house by cleaning it out, bleaching the floors, painting the walls and letting a little light in. A spotless, well-organized garage is a lovely surprise that shows your buyer how meticulous you can be.

Stage your dining room so that potential buyers can picture themselves dining there with family and friends.
Stage your dining room so that potential buyers can picture themselves dining there with family and friends.
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While it should still be welcoming and neutral, your dining room is the place to demonstrate elegance and beauty. For most of us, the dining room is the most formal space in the house, and staging should reflect that. Your buyers may be imagining family traditions, holidays and romantic dinners as they explore this room.

You want to maintain a bright and airy feel, but the lighting can be more dramatic if you like. You're setting up a story for your buyers in which everyone is on his or her best behavior, enjoying a delicious meal.

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A common pitfall when staging the dining room, however, is overdoing it. Remember to edit yourself -- you're telling just enough of the story to inspire your buyers, not overwhelm them with your vision.

Take any extra leaves out of the table -- it helps with flow and makes the room larger -- and group no more than four chairs around it. Remove the rest, don't line them up or stack them in the room. Keep place settings elegant but simple. A beautiful centerpiece should add to the effect and draw the eye to the space without being overwhelming. Above all, remember: The goal is to sell your house, not to impress everybody.

Staging your bedroom means emphasizing its size while keeping a focus on comfort, privacy and intimacy. Decor should be kept to a minimum, but do what you can to balance out any dark woods in your furnishings. The lighting here should remain soft and natural when possible, and classic white bedding is a great way to add elegance without darkening the room. Mix and match textures the way you would color and you can really make your furniture pop.

Since you don't know who will be buying your house, the master bedroom should be staged equally for both partners and both sexes. Simple, neutral elegance will sell this room better than any overly masculine or feminine touches or themes. Limit furnishings to a few classic pieces, remove family photographs of any kind and make sure any decoration is beautiful and neutral, as this will become the most personal and special area in the home.

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Remove 80 percent of the clothing from your closet and pack it up, including your shoes. A sparse but organized closet seems larger and makes the room more elegant. Place a lamp and night table on either side of the bed, and use artwork and furniture placement to focus the eye on the bed. If you're feeling ambitious, set up a breakfast tray. Imagining a relaxing breakfast in a beautiful bed may be what sends your buyers over the edge!

Kids' rooms should be neat and clean, emphasizing features like windows and desk space.
Kids' rooms should be neat and clean, emphasizing features like windows and desk space.
Hemera/Thinkstock

For a child's bedroom, it's important to emphasize light and space. Often, both children and parents can be pretty specific about what they like, resulting in themed spaces. Staging this area means rethinking the entire decorating scheme, stripping it down to the architectural bones and showing it in its best and most neutral light.

If you want to create an interesting space here, imagine a few vignettes: A small desk and lamp help your buyer imagine his or her own children studying and reading. There should be nothing on the floor, even beautiful vintage toys, because this makes the room appear cluttered. Although you'll probably want to avoid too many bright colors, you can take accent pieces and colors further here than anywhere else.

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When staging a guest room, include a bed frame and queen-size mattress, a bedside table, a dresser and a small desk or armchair. A bit of art or nature photography, simple window treatments and a neatly folded stack of quilts or towels completes the look.

For most buyers, the kitchen and bathrooms are the areas of greatest importance. We spend an awful lot of time in those rooms, and there are many ways to fail your buyer's personal tests. Grime is unacceptable: As clean as your entire house absolutely must be for show, that goes double for the kitchen and bath. Additionally, you want the bathroom to be well-lit, but not harsh or overly bright.

The idea for the bathroom is to create an environment of Zen calm and spa pampering. Scents, soft textures and soothing colors engage the senses, while every fixture and faucet should gleam like new. The bathroom should sell itself as a place of luxury.

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In addition to classic touches like potpourri and freshly folded towels, imagine other ways to make your bathroom seem like a fantastic getaway. Replace and update fixtures as necessary, and hang up the fluffiest robe you can find to imply that sense of luxury. A tray of unused soaps, a soft rug (no dirty bathmats!) and flowers will make this oasis a high point on the tour.

No matter your dedication to the staging process, you and your family will continue to need the bathroom for its intended purposes. Keep your personal towels, toothbrushes and other items in a plastic caddy that you can hide away at a moment's notice, along with a spray bottle of glass cleaner for last-minute touchups.

Put away the small appliances in the kitchen -- clear countertops will give the room a neater, more neutral feel.
Put away the small appliances in the kitchen -- clear countertops will give the room a neater, more neutral feel.
Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Hide your cleaning supplies, toaster, coffeemaker and teakettle. When you sell a house, you're essentially selling space, and you can maximize the effect of space more readily in the kitchen than anywhere else. It's all about surfaces: gleaming, spacious, bright and ready. An ornamental bowl of polished fruit is OK, but in general, keep your surfaces as immaculate and uncluttered as possible.

Shining and polishing your fixtures is essential. Aging cabinetry can be spiced up with inexpensive pulls and handles, and you can always stain or paint the doors themselves.

If your kitchen is unusually dark, take care to brighten it as much as possible. Darkness can be mistaken for dinginess. Install sheer cafe curtains for natural light, and use recessed track lighting to show off your counter space. Use as much white as possible if painting cabinets, and keep the walls and pantry door neutral and soft.

Your kitchen should be as bright and uncluttered as possible. Empty your refrigerator and cabinets of all but the essentials, and organize what's left: alphabetize spices, turn all the mug handles the same way and stack pantry goods from large to small. These are subtle ways to indicate the orderly, organized life your buyers will be living in their new home.

For more great tips on staging and organizing your home, check out the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Christoffer, Erica. "5 'Hip' Ideas for Do-it-Yourself Staging." Realtor Magazine. March 2, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/03/02/5-hip-ideas-for-do-it-yourself-staging/
  • Cornett, Brandon. "Home Staging Tips - How to Stage a Home for Sale." Home Buying Institute. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://www.homebuyinginstitute.com/staging/
  • Decker, Stephanie. "5 'Affordable' Ways to Make a Home Look Expensive." Realtor Magazine. May 31, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/05/31/5-affordable-ways-to-make-a-home-look-expensive
  • Decker, Stephanie. "Stage the Home for Online Curb Appeal, Too." Realtor Magazine. Feb. 23, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/02/23/make-sure-the-home-has-online-curb-appeal-too
  • Filisko, G.M. "7 Tips For Staging Your Home." HouseLogic.com. Mar. 19, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://buyandsell.houselogic.com/articles/7-tips-staging-your-home/
  • Hennen, Leah. "15 Secrets of Home Staging." HGTV. 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/decorating-basics/15-secrets-to-selling-your-home/pictures/index.html
  • LaPorta, Lisa. "30 Can't-Miss Staging Tips." HGTV. 2010. (Jan. 3. 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/real-estate/30-cant-miss-staging-tips/index.html
  • Massengale, Jason. "How Much Should I Spend Getting My House Ready to Sell?" Locoboost.com. Jan. 1, 2009. (Jan. 4, 2011)http://demo.clients.locoboost.com/jason-massengale/2009/01/how-much-should-i-spend-getting-my-house-ready-to-sell
  • Patteson, Jean. "10 Staging Tips to Help Your Home Sell." The Orlando Sentinel. Mar. 19, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://rismedia.com/2010-03-18/10-staging-tips-to-help-your-home-sell/
  • Soto, Sabrina. "Essential Home-Selling Tips." HGTV. 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://www.hgtv.com/real-estate/essential-home-selling-tips/index.html
  • Storozuk, Charlene. "'I Don't Do Windows' - Not Something You Want to Say When Selling Your Home." Realtor Magazine. Feb. 12, 2010. (Jan. 4, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/02/12/i-dont-do-windows-not-something-you-want-to-say-when-selling-your-home/#more-1216
  • Tracey, Melissa Dittmann. "Design for Amateurs: Your Guide to Style." Realtor Magazine. Feb. 19, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/02/19/design-for-amateurs-your-guide-to-style/#more-1114
  • Tracey, Melissa Dittmann. "Staging Strategies for What Buyers Want." Realtor Magazine. May 12, 2010. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://styledstagedsold.blogs.realtor.org/2010/05/12/staging-strategies-for-what-buyers-want/#more-1428
  • Vu, Tuan. "House Staging." Prepare Your House For Sale. (Jan. 3, 2011)http://www.prepareyourhouseforsale.com/

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