Home staging is all about perception — how will your home be perceived, both online and in person? It’s all within your control. But make a mistake and it can cost you in time, effort, headaches and money.
What you’ll find in this article…
- Staging is one of the imperatives when selling
- It’s not an expense, it’s an investment
- Mindset when preparing your home for sale
- Perception is reality for all your potential buyers
- It’s the opposite of what you expect
- What you can do without spending much
- Using your furniture can be beneficial, if …
- Top reasons why staging is worth the effort
- Statistics prove that home staging works
- Each room has an action item checklist
- General Tips
Staging is one of the imperatives when selling
There are three vital things to always keep in mind, from when you first think of selling until your sale closes. Neglect any one of them, and you are doomed to toil on the market, appear frail and stale to those you most need to impress most and cost yourself thousands of dollars in the process. They are (1) pricing, (2) staging, and (3) condition.
Staging isn’t an expense, it’s an investment
The term “Staging” means the process of having professional help in preparing how your home will be presented prior to formally going to market — be it just a consultation and using all your own furniture and decorating, to everything being provided, or anything in between. Yes, there is a cost to it, but not without substantial benefits.
Mindset when preparing your home for sale
Regardless of whether you’re getting assistance or not, you need to be objective about what your goals are prior to photos being taken. “First showings” are all online, and you need to pass that test before anyone even reaches out to see your home in person. The best mindset: Think as if your entire extended family was coming over for Thanksgiving dinner, and would be looking inside every appliance and all your closets and bathrooms.
Perception is reality for all your potential buyers
You wouldn’t want to live in a Pottery Barn store, right? But they sure do know how to create a mood and make you feel comfortable though. Why is that? Because they know that they’re helping you feel good about their brand and put you in a positive frame of mind when you’re there.
This is one of the main pain points of any seller: turning your home into a place that will hold maximum appeal to your future buyer, which may (and often doesn’t) align perfectly with how you have been using the home to live in. I’d love to be able to tell you that you don’t need to worry about this, but I can’t — it’s often not how you have lived in the home, nor should it be. This process is about appealing to the widest possible audience of buyers, period.
Home staging is the opposite of what you expect
The first natural thought is that an empty space should appear larger, and logically that makes sense. But put yourself in an empty room, then re-enter that same room after it’s been tastefully decorated and ask yourself which version appears both larger and more appealing. A thousand times out of a thousand it will be the staged version.
I spoke with Katy Anastos, owner of Glam House Staging, an expert in decorating and staging homes for sale. She agreed that this very thing is the biggest misconception that sellers have, adding “In reality, placing furnishings into the space will show its true potential and also help the space feel like a home instead of an empty box. Most people cannot gauge the actual size of an empty room when they walk in. I find this to be particularly important for bedrooms. Bedrooms seem smaller when they are empty.”
What you can do without spending much
Regardless of whether you’re paying someone to help with furniture or consultation, there are actions that you should always take in order to help get the home ready.
- You’ve heard this before. Why is it so important though? Bottom line, it’s about removing reminders that you (or anyone) live there and creating the optimal environment for a buyer to feel right at home. That’s the ultimate goal — to have a buyer (or, even better, many buyers!) feel great about your home and all that they see that it can offer. Buyers like that make offers.
- You’ve likely heard this too. It makes perfect sense to all buyers, but to sellers who are actually faced with what all is involved in decluttering, the thought can often be “This is good enough, isn’t it? In most cases, the answer is no. Many sellers employ a storage space if they find that they run out of room but can purge whatever won’t help present the home in its most positive light.
- This is no surprise to you, I’m sure. Remember though, it means everything in the home needs to be clean. The ceiling fans, the grout, the fridge, the doorknobs, the windows, the shower doors, the heating vents, outlet covers, shelves, medicine cabinets, closets, the baseboards, and yes the kitchen sink. It is all important, and as much of a pain as it may be to complete, the sellers who do it invariably say that they’re glad they did — be it the faster the sale, the higher selling price, or just the reduced hassle once they finally got it all done. Whether hiring a cleaning service or doing it yourself, make sure it gets done.
- Repainting a room or ever several rooms may take a few days to complete, but it can help completely change the mood of a space. I generally recommend that any dark or bright colors be painted over in order to give a broader appeal. Katy also says, “Painting will transform a home for a minimal expense.” Katy’s suggestions for having mass appeal are either Agreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams (“A nice greige that would with an array of finishes”) or Classic Gray by Benjamin Moore (“I like this color for more modern spaces and bathrooms.”) Grey is by far the most popular color choice these days, with an emphasis on lighter rather than darker.
Staging with your furniture can be beneficial, if …
Many sellers are concerned about whether their furniture will help the selling process or hurt it. Every case is different, but if that little voice inside your head is telling you that it’s not going to be beneficial, then it probably is going to hurt you. According to Katy, “It’s ok for sellers to use their own furniture as part of the staging if the furniture is relatively current, clean and undamaged. If the furniture is oversized, dated, damaged or dirty however — I would always recommend removing those pieces.”
Sometimes, sellers may not understand that their furniture won’t be the ideal choice. I can understand it, as this whole process is not something they go through with regularity, and the changes that can be most helpful may also be the most extreme. Katy admits that she needs to have these conversations at times “We do our best to be delicate (with our clients). Staging is meant to appeal to the masses. The ultimate goal is to get the property sold as quick as possible for the most money. We aren’t trying to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Top reasons why house staging is worth the effort
I asked Katy what she would say are the top reasons there are for spending the money to get help with designing and preparing the home for sale. This is what she had to say:
- “Staging is going to help your home sell faster.”
- “Staging helps buyers see a property as a home instead of a blank box. Staging helps the property feel more welcoming and they can visualize what living there would be like.”
- “Staging makes the photos look better. Most buyers today start their search online. The listing photos are their first look into a home.”
Statistics prove that home staging works
Katy provided some additional information that emphasizes the point.
- For Sellers: “Once staged, homes spend an average of 73% less time on the market”
- For Buyers: “81% of buyers say home staging makes it easier to visualize the property as their future home”
Each room has an action item checklist
Staging is about how your potential buyers can picture themselves living there. It’s about eliminating the “I like it but …” scenarios that can leave a home stagnating when it could otherwise be finding a great buyer and selling for the best possible price.
This is the #1 room in a home, where the family enjoys meals and where guests congregate. Messing with the mojo here can be fatal. Here are my top tips for the kitchen.
- Everything organized — glasses, plates, bowls, silverware, even the Lazy Susan
- Countertops should be cleared off. Depending on how large they are, some things such as a coffee maker, a knife set and/or a toaster could remain
- Refrigerator spotless, with nothing on top of it
- Microwave wiped down, inside and out
- Oven deep cleaned
- Dishwasher less important, but should not be running during a showing
This is another room where people adore and spend ample time in, so it needs to be kept prepared.
- Adequate spacing between furniture
- Arrange it the way the average buyer would do so
- Any view you have from within this room can be your friend, so make the most of it
- If the living room is home to a TV, have it take up as little space as possible; it’s okay for it to be a focal point, should your room layout naturally call for it
- Functionality and versatility of the space must be highlighted
Depending on the size of your home, this may get rarely used but everyone wants to have one.
- Fit as many chairs around the table as can reasonably fit without appearing cramped
- Set the table as if you’re having close friends over, including plates and silverware
- Chairs pushed all the way in, so the space can appear as large as possible and allow for maximum space to walk around the table
How we live in bathrooms and how we create a mood for potential buyers are entirely different things.
- Clean towels hanging from towel racks, with hand towels and washcloths atop them; how you see them presented in a hotel room is how you want them to look
- Counters and sinks wiped down
- Liquid soap instead of bar soap
- No toothbrushes visible — it’s a reminder that you live there
- Toilet paper roll is full
- Toilets must be pristine
- All tile cleanly grouted and/or caulked, as needed
- Minimal bottles in shower
- Showers squeegeed
- If you have an outdated or chipped porcelain tub, it’s not necessarily a problem, because you can refinish or reglaze it
How bedrooms are set up when selling can be the “make or break”.
- Have the head of the bed in the spot where most buyers would have it, placed along a solid wall, not blocking windows, away from any door
- Beds should have a duvet cover and stacked pillows
- If you need to use the space below the bed for storage, be sure to have a bed skirt to hide things
- Small side tables on both sides, if possible
- No hampers
Closets are the same size whether full or empty, but if they don’t seem ample, you’re dead. These can be among the most challenging areas to prepare, as we all (myself included) overstuff our closets when living our normal lives. But we can’t afford to do this when selling.
- Nothing visible on the floor — closets “feel” cluttered if boxes or bulky items are there
- Hangers spaced two fingers apart for laundered shirts, blouses and slacks — wider for jackets
- Stack all t‑shirts, jeans, sweaters, sweatshirts neatly
- Shoes are fine here, if placed uniformly on shelving or on a shoe stand set to the side on the floor — but no hanging shoe contraptions that either crowd the space or have a hook that hangs over the door
- If there is room, you can put smaller pieces of luggage on higher shelves out of the normal line of sight
- Nothing should hang over the edge of the shelves
- Hampers can reside here, ideally to the side and therefore not immediately visible
- Out-of-season coats should be put in storage during the selling process, as should baseball hat collections and the like
If you have kids, you know how much room they can take up. But your future buyer may not have them or even be thinking about them, so you need to follow these tips.
- For infants and toddlers: arrange the crib and changing table to use the smallest amount of space without appearing cramped
- One bookshelf in their bedroom is fine, if neatly organized and fits comfortably in the room
- Large, bulky kids fixtures (i.e. miniature kitchen) will only serve to crowd the home
- Wicker is your friend — borrow or buy one sizable wicker basket with a lid and store all their favorite toys in it, with all other toys not getting daily use put into storage
- Remove any high chairs that are attached to countertops — having a freestanding high chair that can be placed as a seat at the dining room table is okay though
- All the same rules apply for their closets
- Bottom line, if they are old enough to understand what is going on, try to include them in the process as much as possible
Many of us have pets and love them as a part of the family. Don’t assume that your new buyer does, however, and have your home showcased so they don’t even realize that you have one
- Hide the bowls and toys under the bed
- If the dog has a cage, it needs to be folded down and stored away in the mechanical room or under the bed
- Shedding is a hassle for any pet owner, and never more so than when selling. Extra attention must be taken: sweeping the hardwood floors, vacuuming the carpet, and cleaning hair off all furniture
- A litter box is a particularly sticky (and often stinky) situation — unless you have a truly “out of sight, out of mind” location for it, it will present a problem that can cost you
- Ideally, if a friend or family member can host Rover or Felix, that will be by far the best solution. If not, the fewer the signs that a potential buyer can even tell you have a pet, the better. It’s nothing personal — rather, it’s to depersonalize the home you’re wanting to sell
Chicagoans love their outdoor space, and only have limited time to use it. Be sure to emphasize what your home has to offer!
- Use a table and chairs that don’t take up the entire space
- If you have enough space, having a sun umbrella or even a space heater are not an issue
- Place the BBQ in the most logical place where most people would have it
- Just as with furniture placement inside, set it up to show off any nice views
These are overriding themes that should be followed throughout the home.
- All flat surfaces cleared off to make things look both cleaner and larger — the only exceptions being small flower pots or decorative bowls on a dining room table, magazines on a coffee table or a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter
- All trash cans empty, but with no plastic bags — it reminds them that someone lives there, as opposed to setting the mood about them possibly living there
- Lamps are a must for any darker areas of the home
- Maximize natural light wherever it can be found; thick drapes are a bad idea
- Liquid soap — never use bars of soap. This is not only for the visual aspect of staging purposes but also in case the potential buyer should need to use the restroom
- Natural walkways should always be clear, with at least 4’ width of space if not more
- Ample spacing between pieces of furniture
- Any appealing outside views should have the furniture arranged to accentuate them
- No appliances running during showings
- For condos, create a nook for a desk if possible, anywhere you can
- Take care of all the “when I get around to it” stuff before listing: closet doors that don’t close easily, kitchen drawers off-kilter, the screen door off its track…. These are things that can make a buyer say, “Well, I liked it, but …..” as well as leaving them silently wondering, “What else is wrong with the place?”
- Everything that is staying with the home is fair game for buyers to check out — they will be looking through everything except your own personal chest of drawers, and nothing is off-limits. The unfortunate truth is that there simply is no place to hide
- Assume that no buyers will have the vision to see “what a place could look like” — you have to show it to them
- Ask friends to store things, or use Binswap to do so on a temporary basis
- Give your home the sniff test with objective nostrils. You may have become “nose blind” to the odors of your home, but potential buyers certainly will not. If this proves challenging, ask a close friend (who will shoot you straight, and whose opinion you trust) and ask them to give their unbiased thoughts about what they can smell
- Remember that, while still keeping it livable for you, the home is no longer about you and your needs, but those of your potential buyers
Think of staging like the Goldilocks fairy tale — there are three options: too much stuff, too little stuff, or just the right stuff in the right places. Ask yourself: “Which is better — to be on the market a lot longer (and thus preparing for many, many more showings) or going through the short term hassle of adjusting my normal lifestyle?” You will be very thankful that you took on the temporary headaches in order to have the home sell for the most money, in the shortest time frame, with the fewest headaches.
Thank you to Katy Anastos of Glam House Staging for her valuable contributions to this article.
Dave Nimick has been a realtor since 2001, running a thriving business based largely on repeat/referral business. He always maintains a shortlist of quality professionals that have personally provided him with excellent service at a reasonable price. He also loves being the only resource his clients and friends ever need when looking for a trusted tradesperson. He welcomes speaking with anyone that would value this level of service.