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How to Stage Your Home for Sale

Make a great first impression with these tips

When you’re selling your home, you want prospective buyers to think, “This is nice. I can imagine living here!” Staging can help make a good first impression on buyers by making your home clean, fresh, and inviting. Here are tips to help you get your home ready to stand out against other listings.

1. Declutter your home

Start by going room by room to remove clutter. Houses show better when buyers can imagine their own possessions in your home. Looking at your possessions can make that harder.

Deal with clutter by putting away knickknacks, toys, boxes in the garage or basement, and the contents of overstuffed closets. Sort everything out and either sell them, donate them, or put them in storage. Learn more about decluttering your home.

2. Depersonalize your home

An important goal of staging is to make your home beautiful but anonymous. You want to make it as easy as possible for buyers to imagine living in your home. Remove personal items like family photos, religious art, political souvenirs, books on controversial subjects, and more. This step will also help you get a head start on packing.

3. Deep clean your home

A thorough cleaning is an absolute must. This goes beyond dusting and vacuuming to include scrubbing walls and baseboards, shampooing carpets, and deep cleaning kitchens and bathrooms with the right products and a lot of elbow grease.

Then have an honest friend with a sensitive nose come make sure there are no lingering odors that would make a buyer turn up their nose. This is especially important if you have pets or are a smoker. If your friend identifies any problem areas, start by airing them out. You can use baking powder, white vinegar, or charcoal to absorb stubborn odors. (Get activated charcoal—the briquets you use in your barbecue grill won’t do the job.) If the kitchen sink is less than fresh, run an orange peel through the garbage disposer.

And remember, cleaning is not a one-and-done event. If you’re living in the home during the sales process, make sure you scrub the kitchen and bathrooms, and vacuum and tidy the whole house before every showing. No one wants to walk into a dirty house.

4. Freshen the paint

If it’s been years or even decades since the living room was painted, or the primary bedroom is your favorite shade of fuchsia, or the hall is scuffed from the kids’ indoor hockey practice, then it is time to paint. Painting is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to update the look of your interior.

When you paint, go for neutrals like white, light gray, beige, or even pale yellow. In kids’ rooms, avoid pink and blue. Prospective buyers may not have the same genders of kids as you do, or even have kids at all. They may plan to use a secondary bedroom for a guest room or office. Neutral colors appeal to more buyers.

5. Bring in the light

Natural light is ideal, so wash the windows and swap out any heavy draperies for lighter curtains, perhaps even sheers. Pull the curtains open for daytime viewings to let in as much light as possible.

In darker rooms, hallways, and walk-in closets, turn on the lights yourself, even for daytime viewings. You don’t want the agent or prospect to be fumbling around for light switches. The tour should go smoothly from one bright, inviting space to the next.

6. Rearrange the furniture

Pull the living room furniture away from the walls to create cozy seating arrangements that invite conversation. Don’t point everything at the TV. Your arrangement should give off an HGTV vibe, not reflect how you live day to day. Go with a symmetrical arrangement: a table on either end of the sofa or two chairs facing the sofa. If you’ve got a rug in the middle of the room, arrange the furniture on it, not around the edges.

Make sure none of the rooms are jammed with furniture. Put extra tables, chairs, and lamps into storage. Leave enough room for prospective buyers to be able to imagine their own furniture and belongings in the space and be able to easily walk through the home.

7. Make your kitchen appetizing and your bathroom an oasis

These are the rooms at the top of your buyer’s wish list, so make sure they look their best. In the kitchen, take another pass at decluttering. Put away all the small appliances that live on your counters, though you can leave out a houseplant or a bowl of fruit. Remove everything stuck on the refrigerator, including the magnets.

Take the same decluttering steps in all the bathrooms. Put away the toiletries and grooming equipment on the vanity, though you can leave out a fresh bar of scented soap or an attractive soap dispenser. Any towels you have hanging up should be fresh and fluffy, not a raggedy collection of mismatched odds and ends. If your shower curtain is showing its age, get a new one.

8. Spruce up your front entrance for maximum curb appeal

End your staging process by working on the area a prospective buyer will see first. Mow the lawn and trim overgrown bushes or trees. Weed your flower beds and plant attractive annuals to fill out a sparse collection of plants. Polish the hardware on the front door. If you have a front porch, stage it as well, perhaps with a couple of rockers and a side table. Make sure you have working bulbs in outdoor lighting fixtures, which you’ll have on for evening viewings.

9. Prepare for open houses

On the day of an open house or showing, display some fresh flowers in a vase to add color and a fresh scent. Make sure the house temperature is not too hot or cold and consider having food and drinks available. Fresh baked treats will make the home smell great and bottles of water or soda on hand will leave a great impression to thirsty prospective buyers.

Bonus tip: Hire a professional photographer

Once your home is cleaned up, you’ll want to capture the freshened look by having photos taken. These days, most homebuyers start their searches online, so it’s essential that the pictures you post make your home appealing. This is not the time to save a few bucks by taking pictures with your phone. A pro understands camera angles and lighting for photos that grab the attention of someone scrolling through a homebuyers' website.

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