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How To Prepare Your Home For Sale: A Guide to Staging

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The Advantages of Home Staging

Preparing your home for sale can be a daunting task, but proper preparation will make a difference in how long your house sits on the market and your final sale price. If hiring a professional home stager is not in your budget, it is worth the time and effort to do it yourself.

Statistics show that staged homes sell faster and at a higher price: 17% higher than a non-staged house according to reports by the US Housing and Urban Development. So, with a little bit of effort and perhaps a small financial investment you can give yourself an edge in the market.

Most buyers want a squeaky clean home full of sunshine, that is move in ready. Only a small percentage of buyers (10%) have the ability to visualize the potential of a home. It is your job to show off the best qualities of your property, while toning down any flaws.

The goals of home-staging:

  • Show off the homes greatest assets while minimizing anything undesirable to buyers
  • Abolish clutter throughout the home
  • Neutralize the color palette throughout the home

These goals are met by extensive cleaning and decluttering, painting and rearranging furniture and accessories to improve the flow and compliment the layout and design of the home.

In a strong market, staging your home helps it stand out from the others and sell fast. In a slow market your home needs to really shine for every potential buyer that walks through the door.

Home staging has been proven to help sell a home faster in any market.

Home staging has been proven to help sell a home faster in any market.

Resources to Help You Prepare

Make a Home Staging Plan

This is the first step a professional home stager would complete upon touring your home. Write out your plan and your goals for each room in the house. This will help you track your progress, set a schedule that you can work with and reach your goal for each room.

First, grab a pen and paper and take a walk through your home room by room. Imagine you are seeing it for the first time. What do you notice first? Clutter in a corner? A paint color that is not generally appealing? It is really important for you to separate yourself from the house at this point. You now need to view your home as a product.

Make a to do list for each room. Evaluate the following:

  • What is not working in the space? What doesn't look right?
  • What is the focal point of the room and is it being emphasized or hidden?
  • What is the purpose of the room? Is it easily defined or is it a catch all room like office / gym / guest room? It is best to show the room with only one function.
  • Clutter: Are all flat surfaces covered with stuff? Do you have room to move around the furniture without bumping in to anything? Does the room feel crowded or airy?
  • Crowded closets: What is the condition of your closets? Are they disorganized? Overcrowded? Do they need to be put on your to do list? Closets look best half full, not bursting!
  • Is there ample lighting in the room? Natural light? Throw open the curtains and let the light in. See how it changes the feel of the room.
  • Take note of the conditions of the walls. Do they need paint or repair? Is the color outdated, bright or in any way overwhelming?
  • Is the flooring in need of repair, replacing or deep cleaning?

The Garage and Basement

A clean usable garage and a clear basement, whether finished or unfinished is a bonus for buyers. It gives them more possibilities when considering the functionality of your home, for them.

If you have concrete floors in the basement, an affordable way to give them a lift is painting. 

Now that you have taken an objective look at your home, lay out your plan task by task in a way that you will find easy to follow. The following phases outlines sensible order for projects.

If you are short on time, and the open house is right around the corner, focus on the basics of decluttering and cleaning, make sure each room is well lit, and follow some of the tips for furniture placement included below.

A carefully staged home ready to be shown to potential buyers.

A carefully staged home ready to be shown to potential buyers.

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Phase 1: Declutter, Neutralize, Pre-Pack

This is a time consuming, but essential part of the staging process, especially if you have lived in the home for many years or have a large accumulation of "stuff."If you do not adequately clear the clutter, you will be able to finish staging with ease.

Supplies needed:

  • Packing materials such as cardboard boxes, wardrobe boxes, plastic bins
  • Garbage bags and additional large bags or boxes to put items that will be donated to charity.
  • Tape, markers / label-maker to seal and mark all boxes for moving.

Removing clutter requires more than just clearing surfaces of excess nick-knacks, books and papers. Clutter is anything that contributes to a chaotic, busy feeling in a room, and that can include excess furniture, wall art, area rugs, kitchen gadgets and paper work.

In All Rooms:

Now is the time to take your favorite collections and pack them up, along with all of your personal photographs (yes, all of them). Remove all hobby related clutter. Why? When a buyer walks into your home, you want them to see themselves there - not you and your family. You don't want the possible buyer to wonder about the people who live in the house. You want them to picture themselves in the space.

In the kitchen:

Clear all counter tops of gadgets, cookbooks and appliances that aren't used daily. It is acceptable to leave out your coffee maker and toaster, but store the food processor, mixer, blender, cooking tools and books somewhere out of sight. It is best to pack as much as you can at this point. It will save you time later.

Summary of personal items to pack: personal photos, albums, jewelry, toiletries (the bare essentials can be stowed under the sink -but not out in the open for all to see), hobby related items, and anything that could be offensive to the buyer. Anything that tells too much about you! Musical instruments (unless there is an extra room dedicated to music, but few buyers will be interested in having their own music room). Do not leave out expensive collectibles to try to impress buyers.

Where to store things:

It is ideal to store things off site, at a family members home, or at a self storage facility. (See links to the right)

If that is not possible due to budget constraints, the attic is preferable to the basement. If you do choose to use the basement for storage, do so as neatly and compactly as possible. You want to leave as much open space in your home as possible.

If you need additional help with this phase, consider hiring a professional organizer to help. They are trained to know what to do with everything, and provide an objective eye towards the clutter in your home.

A Child's Room

If you have children, then you know that keeping their rooms organized can be a full time job. Have them help. Pack up as many toys as they can do with out. Assure them that they will have them all again soon in their new home.

Organize the space. Utilize the space under the bed for storage of remaining toys. Sort through clothing and store or give away any items that are no longer needed.

A spotless, updated kitchen is an easy sell!

A spotless, updated kitchen is an easy sell!

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Phase 2: Cleaning and Repairs

All of the clutter is cleared out and some of the extra furniture has been removed. Now you may notice that some walls could use fresh paint and the floors may need repairs. Now is the time to do it.

There as some small improvement that you can do at this point that will yield large returns, according to a 2003 HomeGain Survey.

  • Painting: average return: 34% (average spent $2,000)
  • Floor repair: average return: 50% (average spent $1,500)
  • Replace Carpeting: average return 34% (average spent $2,600)
  • Lighten and Brighten: average return 769% (average spent $90)
  • Cleaning and De-Clutter: average return 594% (average spent $310)

Clean every inch of your home meticulously, or pay someone to do it for you. A home that is sparkling clean gives the impression of a well cared for home all around. If your home is less than immaculate, it could give the impression that you let things go and that could include home repair and maintenance. It may make a buyer suspicious of the property.

Pay extra attention to the kitchen. Clean and organize cabinets.

Clean all windows inside and out, to allow sunlight to flow through the house. Consider having the exterior power washed if necessary.

Repairing minor problems can make a big difference in the sale price of your home, as can small improvements. Be sure to repair any cracks in walls, scratches in the floors or hire a handyman to take care of these repairs.

A fresh coat of paint is the easiest way to brighten your home and prepare it to be sold.

A fresh coat of paint is the easiest way to brighten your home and prepare it to be sold.

Phase 3: Paint

It is your choice whether or not to paint, and you may be thinking why spend the money on a place that I am leaving? Studies show that painting your home (making it move in ready) increases the sales price and may expedite the sale.

Choosing paint colors is an immensely important task when you are preparing your home to sell. Take into account your target audience and go from there. Consider the function of each room. Children's rooms can still have color, but subtle versions (white with a hint of color) like pink, blue or yellow are best.

Neutrals are the rule when home staging, but that doesn't mean white in every room.

Think about the following when choosing colors:

  • How will the lighting work with this color?
  • Will this color look right with the existing window treatments?
  • Are trying to warm up or cool down the room?
  • Are you trying to make it look light and airy or warm and cozy?

Choosing the same color for several rooms will save you time and money. there will be less excess, and the painter (even if it is you) will not have to stop to clean brushes and rollers as often. Depending on lighting , the same color may look different from room to room. This will also take the guesswork away from figuring out if these colors work together and give the home a unified look.

When choosing colors for the basement, and even the garage, you want to consider warming up these otherwise cold spaces. Warmer neutral colors work well. You can also paint unfinished concrete floors for cleaner look.

Find a focal point for each room when you are staging your home for sale.

Find a focal point for each room when you are staging your home for sale.

Phase 4: Arranging Furniture and Lighting

This step is key, and for many people the most difficult. If you don't have an eye for what really works in a room, by all means, call in a professional.

In the picture to the right we have an illustration of a conversation area with a clear , uncluttered space and a defined focal point. Bring your furniture close enough together to create a comfortable conversation area, giving everyone access to the table. This gives a feeling of warmth.

  • Hang pictures / art work at eye level. If you are using it as the focal point in the room, be sure it is the appropriate size for the space.
  • In the bedrooms, the bed /headboard often works as the focal point. Place the bed in the room leaving space to walk around three sides.
  • Accessorize in groups of three. This is an appealing way to display accessories on a table or dresser.
  • Keep all areas well lit. Add lamps if necessary.
  • Open window treatments allowing an abundance of natural light in the home.
  • Help buyers feel welcome by creating an easy flow from room to room.
  • Place the largest piece of furniture first, and work around that piece.
  • Balance furniture in the room. For example, a sofa can be balanced by an armchair on either side.
  • Don't be afraid to float the furniture away from walls. If you have the space to do it, it will accentuate the available square footage.
  • Keep bookshelves well organized. Organize the books by size. Remove any excess. Keep 1/4 of shelves clear to avoid a cluttered look.
Keep your front door clean and clutter free when staging your home for sale.

Keep your front door clean and clutter free when staging your home for sale.

Phase 5: The Exterior

Go outside and take a look around using that critical eye you developed in the beginning of your home staging process. How well kept is your yard? Is there shrubbery blocking the windows? Are all walkways clean and tidy? Is the driveway clean? Are there toys strewn around the yard?

  • Remove any outdoor clutter including empty flower pots, gardening tools, toys and bikes.
  • Keep all shrubbery and lawns neat and trimmed.
  • Remember to remove any extra vehicles form your driveway on open house day!
  • Consider painting the front door and trim on the house for a quick and inexpensive update.
  • Make any necessary repairs to the driveway and walkways.

Staging a Vacant Property

Selling a vacant property can be difficult. Only 10% of buyers have the ability to visualize the potential of a home. Staging a vacant property the same way a builder stages a model home is essential, especially if you need to sell quickly. If you are working with a tight budget you could focus on staging the three most important rooms: living room, master bedroom and dining area or eat in kitchen.

Steps for Staging a Vacant Home:

  1. Lighten and brighten: Make sure the home is well lit and the window treatment are open when buyers are viewing the home.
  2. Paint and repair flooring: This step cannot be missed! if any rooms are left vacant, the walls and floors are all the potential buyer will see. Be sure they are perfect.
  3. Rental Furniture: Rent furniture and accessories from a rental company. Look for a company that provides a short term contract.

Stage One Step at a Time

It may seem like the to do list here is overwhelming. Take it one step at a time. If you don't get it all done at once, if everything isn't absolutely perfect, that's okay. Any effort you make to present your home in a more appealing way will make an impression on buyers. Keep working on it, even if your home is already on the market. All research shows that staged homes sell more quickly an often closer to the original asking price. It will be well worth your time to make these changes!

Find a Professional Home Stager


Jeannie Randall from South Dakota on February 21, 2014:

Thanks, I will be listing my house soon. It is a fixer-upper and my budget has run out. Lots of updates have been made, but someone could really improve on what I have started. Some of your suggestions will work for m.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on September 05, 2012:

Thank you Carrie! Selling your home, even in a good economy can be very stressful. I agree, the staging phase can actually be the easiest ( and I think it's the fun part)! Thanks for reading. :)

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 05, 2012:

Great, detailed article one of the best I've seen out there. I like the facts you used. My husband and I sold our first home back in October. Staging a home for sale, I think was the easy part, what lied ahead was a lot of bumps, suprizes and a little disappointment, however to sell a home in this tough economy with fierce competition is an accomplishment. Thank you for this well written article, it will guide a lot of people.

Dorothy on February 18, 2012:

I am fuming because I have seen so much about the need to declutter and prepare a house for sale, but my husband can't see the point.

Our house is clean and tidy, that should be enough - and he's certainly not spending a cent on off-site storage (we don't have a basement or attic). He's proposing to pack all our personal knick-knacks, photos etc in boxes but he can't see anything wrong with having the boxes sitting in the spare room.

How can I persuade him it's worth the effort and will more than pay for itself?

mabmiles on May 23, 2011:

Great hub, I wanted to repaint my house to prefer, you know!

AllSuretyBonds on March 31, 2011:

Great Hub. Very well thought out and researched. Home Staging is very important. Homes that are staged, do tend to sell faster.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on January 09, 2011:

Thank you for the additional tips. There is so much to consider when trying to prepare your home for sale.

Title Junction on December 08, 2010:

There certainly is a lot of work that goes into preparing a home for sale. Depending on the situation, the seller may also benefit from researching the title prior to trying to sell the home. Homes that are being sold after ownership was transferred by wills or probate will want to confirm that information is recorded accurately with the title.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on October 11, 2010:

Hi Joan, it really is worth the effort to stage your home before listing it. Statistics show staged homes faster and for a better price. Still, in this market, sellers need all the help the can get!

Thanks Research Analyst! Accenting the positive aspects of a home is key - if a buyer fall in love with a perfect living room, they are more likely to overlook a dated bathroom. Thanks for reading - nice to "see" you! It's been a while. :)

Research Analyst on September 27, 2010:

Home staging is such a good idea, for those who have had their homes on the market for several months with no offers. Usually they are just not representing the best features of the house. Most real estate agents will say that you want to set the stage and help the home buyer picture themselves living there.

So they usually try to get the home to showcase the parts of the house that buyers will be drawn to the most. Great hub.

Joan Multiclad on May 03, 2010:

Great tips! Some people should take this to an account. Some houses for sale look really unwelcoming and applying these tips would make them appealing. Still lot of work but if one gets into it... :-)

chbartel from Indianapolis, IN on March 11, 2010:

well written article on staging. All home sellers, even if they are working with their own agent, should read this and take to heart the information she has provided here.

Moving Pods on February 05, 2010:

The current home market sucks! but what can we do?

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on January 06, 2010:

Thank you! I agree - homestaging is a necessity, especially in the current market. Truthfully, sellers always need an edge. Homestaging provides it!

fdoleac from Hollis, New Hampshire on October 20, 2009:

Amy Jane- staging has provided great added value to the real estate industry. Sellers need to participate in the marketing of their homes to maximize the value. Thanks!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on July 21, 2009:

Hi Rachel, what a terrific story! Home staging really does work and I think that getting a small storage pod to get everything out of the way and show off the features of the home is essential!Thank you for sharing your success and congrats on the new home!

Rachel on July 20, 2009:

Thank you for your advice on home staging! I came across this article about a month or two ago when we were about to put our house on the market. Your information about the effectiveness of staging helped to convince me that hiring someone to help me with staging would help speed up the sale of my home. Low and behold, my house sold after only 8 days on the market!

One tip that the woman from the staging company gave me was to use a moving container to store the extra "stuff" until we sold our home. This made my life SO easy. She had recommended a company called Door to Door ( They delivered a storage unit to my home, and all I had to do was fill it with my things. They even delivered it to our new home when we moved in last week! I am not sure if you have used a service like this before, but if you know anyone who is moving who is a pack-rat like me, this would be a great solution!

Thank you again!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on June 22, 2009:

Hi Creative Concepts! Thank you for adding your recommendation! You are so right - a home can appear very different in photos than in person. Stagers do work very hard! Even with all the tips that I have included, a professional touch in this market would be very helpful! :)

creativeconcepts from Salem Oregon on June 21, 2009:

We stage professionally and one tip that I find helpful is analyzing a room through photos. When you think the room looks great, take photos and put them on the computer - view them slowing using the full screen. Since over 85% of buyers are looking at your home for sale online, you will see the rooms as they do -- and it is MUCH different than in person! Photos emphasize clutter and other design issues so it's great to get them taken care of before the listing photos are taken! Great comprehensive post (just shows how hard us stagers do work!).

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on May 15, 2009:

I'm so glad you found this helpful! I think it's wonderful that you are starting your own home staging business at 59. There is no reason not to! Best of luck with your venture!

kinzelurban uk on May 14, 2009:

What a great hub! I have just turned 59 and in the process of starting my own Home Staging business here in the uk, after graduating a couple of years ago in 'Interior Design'. I have written everything down that you have said and will keep refurring to it when I get this show on the road! So very helpful. Thank you. Who said life can't begin at 60!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on April 08, 2009:

Thanks for the input, realestateuk! My hope when writing this was to give my readers everything they need in one place to get a strong start with homestaging and preparing their home for sale. They can always bookmark this and come back to it, or like you suggested, print it for reference. Thanks for reading!

realestateuk from United Kingdom on April 07, 2009:

You certainly know your stuff, as shown by the highly detailed and maybe lengthy hub post. One would have to keep coming back here to read and reread some parts, because a lot of what you wrote are good. My personal bias about visual content is that they be concise. So breaking off your post into parts or condensing the content might be better for the attention deficit few among us. :D (Or you could have a note to readers that they can print this for offline reading.) Just a few thoughts that I wanted to share.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 23, 2009:

Thanks Kristi! I'm glad you found this home staging guide helpful!

Kristi Maloney on February 21, 2009:

This is an excellent all inclusive guide. Great Hub!


amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 19, 2009:

Thanks Midnightbliss! I think homestaging is essential in the current real estate market! Thanks for reading.

Haydee Anderson from Hermosa Beach on February 18, 2009:

you have great information in your hub, its a one stop shop for home staging ideas. thanks for sharing this information.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on July 25, 2008:

Hi Nicole, I have heard that too about the fresh baked cookies! I guess it would give you a warmand fuzzy feeling. Smell is definitely something to be addressed in the staging process. Even cooking smells that maybe desireable to the homeowner may not be appealing to the buyer. The smell of freshly painted rooms or new carpet can be very appealing! So many little details to address...thank you for your comment!

Nicole A. Winter from Chicago, IL on July 23, 2008:

This is kind of silly, but I read somewhere once that if you bake cookies before you show your home, (let's say you're showing on Sat./Sun. and you'd bake them Friday night,) people will smell them and think of "home." It's a cheap trick, I guess, but a realtor I know said it really works! This article is excellent, Amy, the tips you've provided are extensive & require a lot of planning, but from what I know about real estate it is a *must* in order to sell your house. Excellent job!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on July 23, 2008:

Thanks so much Ervin! It really does increase the value of your home. The costs of staging are always recovered in the sale.

solarshingles from london on July 23, 2008:

Wow, Amy this hub is so fully packed with tips and tricks about how to prepare home for sale. By following these advices we could additionally increase the value of our home in the buyers eyes.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on June 27, 2008:

Yes, Julie, I agree! You need every advantage you can get in this market. Statistic show that staged homes sell faster and at a better price. I think in this market, being able to sell at all is goal! Thanks for reading. :)

Julie on June 27, 2008:

I never bought into this entire staging thing. I thought it was silly and waste of money.. BUT - Then we went to sell our price. With how things are in the market, you really get scared. This, sort of, changes your outlook. At least it did for me. All of a sudden, paying a few thousand dollars sounded logical if it increased the odds of a quick sale... I'd say it's a MUST in this market.

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on March 27, 2008:

Hi C. J., is home staging a hobby or a career for you? It sounds like you really have a talent for this! :) i agree, staging is essential to getting the best price, and in this market, getting buyers in the door. When realtors know a home has been staged, many are more likely to show it to their clients.

Thanks for stopping by :)

C.J. from Wisconsin on March 26, 2008:

You are so right on what staging can do for a house. I staged a friend's house that had been on the market for 8 months without an offer. After staging (which took about a month) I gave the realtor new pictures and 2 days after the pictures were put on the website a couple called for a showing. The next day they called to see it again and the following day, they made a very good offer which he accepted. All this within a week of the pictures going on the internet. And this happened in January of 2007 when the housing market was already in trouble.

I can't say enough on how important it is to stage your house and your guide is fantastic! Good work!!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on March 05, 2008:

Hi AuntySa, I totally agree! I love a staged look for daily living because it is uncluttered and free-flowing. Thanks for reading and I'm glad you dound some useful information:)

AuntySa from Austalia on March 04, 2008:

When we finish renovating, we will be selling - thanks for the great info.

All your points make total sense - and on reflection, it should not be left to when we sell. Do it now! and enjoy living in a stylish home.


amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 11, 2008:

Thanks for reading Steph, I tried to cover it all!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on February 11, 2008:

Great information. Thorough and well laid out. This is a definite keeper (we just moved 2 years ago). You covered it all!

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on February 11, 2008:

Great information. Thorough and well laid out. This is a definite keeper (we just moved 2 years ago). You covered it all!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 11, 2008:

Thanks C-Lee and Bobw! It is like money in the bank - all the improvements you make are investments!

bobw from Laurel, DE on February 11, 2008:

In this market you need every advantage that you can get. The extra work is like money in the bank. Great hub!

C-Lee on February 11, 2008:

Wow Amy Jane! This is such a thorough review. I'm going to hold on to it for a rainy day!

amy jane (author) from Connecticut on February 10, 2008:

Hi Abhinaya, It is a lot of work! But it is well worth it to get the best price (quickly) on your home. Some people like to do it all themselves, but hiring a professional homestager would make everything go much easier!

Abhinaya on February 10, 2008:

That's quite a lot of work but worth it if you want to sell it.The pictures look so beautiful,I wouldn't sell the house if it looks so beautiful after all the hard work that went into it.

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