Home Staging Tips – Experts Share Advice To Help You Sell Faster

It seems that home staging is all the rage in selling your home these days. Is home staging worth all the hype? The data suggests so. Here is a link to a great infographic about home staging which references a study done by Coldwell Banker which found that staged homes sell in half the time, and for 6% more money.

Home staging, when done right, will also make your listing stand out online.

About 90% of people use the internet as part of their home search, so it is critical that your house show well both in person and online. Without further ado, we sought out the opinions of home staging experts across the country to compile a list of home staging tips based on a series of different questions.

Budget Home Staging Tips

We asked professional home stagers:

If your budget is tight, which affordable home staging tactic makes the greatest impact?” 

Here are the budget home staging tips they offered:

Cathy Hobbs
, is a nationally known interior design and home staging expert as well as the owner of Cathy Hobbs Design Recipes, a residential interior design and real estate staging firm currently working in the NYC Tri-state area and New England. She was also featured as a contestant on HGTV’s Design Star. Cathy said “If a client is on a budget, the most cost effective tool they can do at NO or little cost to themselves is to de-clutter and de-personalize. Remove all personal belongings, such as photographs and mementos and all unnecessary furniture. Essentially, purge! Edit, edit and edit again. If a client has some money—repainting can go a long way. MOST buyers do NOT want worry and work. They want a home that appears to be move in ready and a fresh coat of paint can go a long way!”


Barbara Brock
of Sold With Style, who has been featured on HGTV’s Selling NY along with a laundry list of other shows and publications had this to say: “I’ve often asked myself: bottom line, what is THE most important  tactic a person could do.  People think of painting or or repairs first.  But after listening to brokers and sellers alike, I think THE most important tactic is weather or not a resident is clean.” 

She continued by saying “Therefore, my number 1. thing a seller can do is to do a DEEP CLEAN. – closets, walls, windows, floors, appliances, plumbing and cabinets. People can feel clean. You can paint a wall and make it fresh, but if the house isn’t clean, people will get squemish.

My second tactic would be paint. We have a saying “a can of paint can make a wall what it ain’t.” This is what people will inherit when they close on their purchase – existing walls, floors, plumbing and appliances. The single largest surface in a home is a wall. A wall color or lack of a wall color can change a person’s mood as they are going thru the house.”

Kate Case, the owner and a designer at Kate’s Home Staging said “Definitely, de-cluttering and cleaning your home.  Both of these items do not cost any money; it will only take time.”  She also mentioned that many professional home stagers will offer an initial consultation for around $200, which can be really helpful for prioritizing what needs to be done.

Tori Toth at Stylish Stagers
 has been trained by HGTV Star Matthew Finlason of “The Stagers” focusing on target staging and lifestyle merchandising to showcase spaces that aspire to buyer’s dreams. She offered this advice: “If you have a tight budget it’s still important to prepare your home for sale with home staging.

The biggest bang for your buck, de-cluttering and cleaning both of these projects take up more of your time than money, but can make a huge impact on the overall look of the room.

Curb appeal is particularly important when trying to lure in buyers, so spend a weekend doing some yard work, remember to cut the grass, weed and spend your money on mulch, a new welcome mat, flowers, new house numbers and lighting (if needed) and a can of paint for the front door. Speaking of paint it’s the cheapest and easiest way to update a space, so consider spending your money on painting your home a neutral color.

Another thing sellers can do to make a huge impact on their home without breaking the bank is to pay attention to their window treatments, less is more. Open all blinds, curtains and consider removing heavy and dark fabrics, opt for white sheers instead. Don’t forget to clean the windows inside and out to let the natural light brighten up your home.” 

Cindy Bryant of Redesign Etc. Home Staging in Houston said for a budget home staging tip that “the first would be to paint using a neutral color, not white.  I would recommend a greige color, a cross between beige and gray.

Today’s buyer wants an move-in ready house, the cost of painting is probably going to be your best R.O.I.  Also painting paneling, cabinets, built-ins and wood trim from the old oak or dark look.  People hate to paint wood, but it not only brightens a room to make it look larger, it’s also an instant update.” 

She also talked about de-cluttering and doing a thorough cleaning, but also added “Replace outdated hardware or lighting.  I can’t tell you what a difference a new light fixture will make for usually less than $100.  It automatically updates and upgrades a room.  If your budget is tight, replace only impact key rooms.” Cindy also said that paying for at least a home staging consultation was some of the best money you can invest in selling your home. A professional stager can let you know where your best ROI will be.


Spend Wisely On Home Staging

Knowing that home staging has become more main stream, many home owners are setting aside funds specifically for staging their home. With that in mind, we asked:

“Beyond “free” staging tips like de-cluttering, if a home owner has money set aside for staging – how would you spend that money for maximum return on investment?”

Darcy Kempton
, the principal designer at Simply Stunning Spaces in San Diego said people should consider spending money on a virtual staging consultation. “Most people in general have trouble visualizing something that isn’t there and its hard for potential buyers to look past the obvious flaws and outdated parts of the home.  On top of it, most times they don’t have any clue how much it would cost them to re-design the home to their liking. Simply Stunning Spaces bridges this gap and helps homeowners (and Realtors) by giving them a digital image they can use on their MLS listing and for all of their marketing materials, that showcases the home in its absolute best light possible.” They provide some virtual staging examples in their online gallery.

Donna Dazzo of Designed to Appeal in NYC said “I always say that the bones of the apartment are very important. Paint the walls and rip up carpeting. Refinish or buff wood floors. Lay down vinyl tiles in the kitchen. Buyers like clean and fresh and move-in ready.”

Mannie Tantawy, The Staging Fashionista, said she would look to spend money on these 3 things first:

“1) Paint (painting a home a nice neutral color throughout works wonders)

2) Updating Kitchens

3) Updating Bathrooms.  

Kitchens and bathrooms sell homes and it is important to update these key rooms with new appliances, granite counter tops, updating flooring, fixtures and lighting.  If the seller is on a budget painting the cabinets is an easy and inexpensive way to update cabinets and then add new silver/chrome knobs.  This creates an instant updated look. “

Sandra Holmes of Home Staging Concepts
in Fort Lauderdale said “Many homeowners set aside approximately $5,000.00 to prepare their properties for sale. Many times the investment is used to update things that should have been taken care of while they were living in the home and never got around to it.

Curb Appeal is very important as you want to get the potential buyers in the door.

Next, it would be to paint the interior and to have carpets/flooring professionally cleaned. I often recommend for people to update the knobs on kitchen and bathroom cabinets and to remove the plastic ones in addition to updating light fixtures. Then always to hire an Accredited Staging Professional to come in to do a consultation to discuss arrangement of furniture, what to pack up and what to keep out along with other details. It all really depends on the property.”

 DIY Home Staging vs. Professional Staging

We are in the age of the so-called “DIY-er” – the person who wants to do everything themselves. With the access we have to Pinterest and YouTube, there are no shortage of good ideas and plans that we can follow for our next DIY project. While there are certainly things you can do yourself to prepare your home for selling, there is also value in hiring a professional.

I asked the experts a question that buyers may wonder the answer to:

I already know about de-cluttering and cleaning up, what is the advantage of hiring a professional home stager?

Michelle Minch
of Moving Mountains Design in L.A.  has some great input about the value of home staging based on personal experience. She said “The advantages to hiring a professional home stager? I’ve staged or consulted on more than 500 homes that were about to go on the market as the owner of Moving Mountains Design. I know what makes homes sell!

Last month, a home I staged sold for $300,000 over listing price with multiple offers. That was a 1,500% return on the cost of staging! Staging is so much more than just cleaning and decluttering. During one of my consultations, I discuss furniture placement, optimal traffic flow, condition issues, paint colors, landscape recommendations, curb appeal and so much more. My job is to add perceived value to your listings. As a value added proposition, I include professional photography with all my staging projects.”

Judith Burzell of HomeScapes San Diego agreed that cleaning and de-cluttering are good first steps, but added thoughts about why a professional stager can take you to the next level. “Professional home stagers are trained to know how to showcase the home to appeal to the broadest range of potential buyers in the targeted demographic for this home, without the personal bias a homeowner may hang onto about the home, which could prevent them from having the perspective needed to get buyers attention

The cost of using a trained home stager is a drop in the bucket compared to the average first price reduction if the home doesn’t sell (typically home staging can range from $1,000 – $2,500 – far less than the first drop in price, usually no less than $10,000).”

Lorraine Alwaise of Design Milagros said “Being in San San Francisco, staging is a hot commodity. Many brokers will not list a home unless the owners agree to stage it professionally.

They understand that the return is 3 to 4 times the costs incurred.

A professional stager understands the concept that a STAGED home is set up to maximize the space; is very careful of walk flow; and creates appeal at various eye levels to distract buyers from any “flaws” of the home for sale. Also important, is the stager’s expertise is selecting a new color palette that resonates with current design trends.”

Biggest Home Staging Mistakes

What would a list of home staging tips be without a few things to avoid. I knew that professional home stagers have seen it all and wanted to know:

When you consult with home owners, what is the most common mistake you see them making as it relates to home staging?

 Taryn Lund of Chicago Redesign offered a couple of things that we can learn from:

“1. Removing too much furniture and accessories from the space, so that the home feels sterile. Yes, you want to de-clutter and depersonalize, but you still want potential buyers to fall in love with the place. This means using furniture and accessories to create a vision of what it might be like to live there and of course, to showcase the home’s best features. This is definitely where a staging professional comes in handy – they can tell you what to keep, what to put in storage, and what pieces need to be rented or purchased to create a space that buyers will love.

2. Not showing bedrooms as actual bedrooms. If you are listing your place as a 3 Bedroom, then you need to SHOW 3 bedrooms – not 2 bedrooms and an office or (even worse) 2 bedrooms and an exercise room, etc. Especially if the room is small or oddly shaped it’s important to demonstrate to a potential buyer how a bed fits and the room will be utilized.”

Belinda Mendoza of Design For Energy in Austin said the biggest mistake is often “Failing to see the home as real estate and no longer theirs.  You can tell because they are attached to things in the house that need to be stored or donated. Clutter holds back sales opportunities and offers.”
Brandy Anderman of The Missing Piece Design in Austin had this to say “One of the most recurring issues that comes up when staging homes for sale is owners are unable to remove their personal items/decor. The goal of staging is to try to present each home as a neutral setting to allow anyone who walks in to feel as though they understand the intended use of each space. Then the potential new homeowners can visualize how their items could easily work in the house to make it express their personality and taste.

Some home owners have trouble removing photos or other personal items that are particular to their taste but not necessarily something an individual seeking to find a new home would also find pleasing. It can take a bit of bargaining at times, but eventually most home owners understand the difference and appeal of staging once it’s done.”

Leona Piro
of Act Two Home Staging in Rochester said one of the biggest mistakes she comes across is “Poor furniture placement. Furniture should call attention to architectural features, should never restrict access to doorways or block a good view from windows, have good traffic flow and create a balanced look in the room. Furniture must also demonstrate the intended use of a room. All of this is  not so easy for the average home owner to accomplish. People arrange their furniture based on how they use the room, not on how it looks best.”

Creative Home Staging Tips

We’ve covered a lot about home staging, including budget tips, if you should stage your own home, and some mistakes to avoid. This last section is hopefully going to offer some home staging inspiration! We asked the experts:

Besides the obvious things like cleaning up, what is one creative staging idea people can do for very little money?

Aimee Miller of Designed to Move  answered with “Usually most spaces do not have appropriate lighting. Lamps can add fun, color, interest and much needed source of life. Even in full daylight, the addition of a well placed lamp adds vertical design lift and light, therefore a sense of life in a dreary space or corner.”

Amy Powers of Accent Home Staging
had this to say “It’s important for seller’s to see their home as a marketable product. Just like a display at a department store, it’s very important for them to wrap their head around preparing it to ‘show off’. Let’s start off with the Palindrome of a Staging Design, P A S A P (Plan, Assemble, Size it Up, Accessorize and Paint). Some practical and inexpensive ideas include planning out each space to represent it’s maximum potential. A dining area should look like a dining room, etc.

After a plan, assemble all the big pieces, i.e. table and chairs. Then size it up, make sure room has flow and the space looks as large as possible.  Then accessorize with a trendy runner, centerpiece and artwork/mirror that speaks to all generations, not just one. Never place artwork in hallways or staircases as they psychologically take up personal space. This look is called transitional style, somewhere between modern and traditional.

Lastly, paint, yes, paint last. Make sure the paint compliments the flooring, lighting, cabinetry, etc. A great transitional go to color for Bedrooms and Living Rooms is SW 6002 (Essential Gray) and for smaller spaces like bathrooms and kitchen, SW 6000 (Snowfall). Lastly regarding paint, preparing the wall is the #1 key to well painted walls, doors, etc.”

Kym Tarr
at Prep This House said “The best thing to do that will require some sweat equity only… Would be to rearrange the existing furniture placement, ensuring that each room in the home has a useful purpose. Buyers see only the way a space is,not the way it’s going to be. If a buyer has to ask “what’s this space used for”…you’ve lost them, and they will move on to the next property on their list.”

Lori Murphy at Element One Home Staging had a great tip to update your bathroom. “As you know, bathrooms can be a big part of the buying decision; updating light fixtures can be done for as little as $30.

I also suggest that my clients frame bathroom mirrors. It instantly takes a builder grade mirror to high-end and “finished”. For an inexpensive solution (and those who are not DIY) there is a product called MirrorMate. It’s a frame that is custom made (over 65 styles to choose from) and fits right over top of the existing mirror with super strong adhesive. No need to take the mirror down, or worry about it breaking.” 

Lori also offers a Consumer Guide To Home Staging on her website. Click here to check it out.

Monika Carney at Phoenix Rising Home Staging said that flowers can make a big difference. “I think that bringing flowers: both potted and fresh cut ones makes always a difference in how a house presents itself. We should remember that people are sensitive to the smell so let’s pick up something nice from the home fragrance section. “

Kim Ausbury
of Staged & Styled had a great solution for outdated bedding “Something that sellers can do that doesn’t cost anything is to neutralize their bedding by flipping the comforter and shams over to the solid side.

I just staged a house yesterday and the master bedroom was floral overload, i.e., floral border, floral comforter, floral shams, floral window treatments, etc. The sellers did not have the time or budget to take down the border or repaint the room.  In order to get the room to appeal to men, as well as women, we simply flipped the comforter and the pillow shams over to the solid colored side, took down the floral window treatments and the room felt a lot more welcoming for both male and female. 

Another thing… busy patterned bedding does not photograph well.  So it is always best to have a more simple or solid bedding set.”

Joellyn Machnics of Sonoran Accents had a very simple, creative home staging tip that we liked. “Advise home sellers to buy some new, unused, matching towels for the bathrooms.  These should not be used while the home is on the market.  Instead, use old towels; throw them in the dryer until the next day.” Kathy Burke of Sensational Home Staging agreed. “Always use new, crisp, fluffy WHITE towels….will give all baths a feeling of being clean, new & spa-like!”

Beth Riordan of Stage to Sell in Charlottesville said that “neutralizing color is something that we encourage. A gallon of paint to change a blue and orange bedroom to a more soothing neutral color (not white) would be one suggestion. Encourage single purpose rooms. Don’t have the exercise equipment in the master bedroom.”

Lori Matzke of Home Staging Expert
has a wealth of experience in staging and continues to train other stagers around the country. She shared this advice: “Besides fresh paint, and updating the lighting fixtures and cabinetry hardware, my best advice would be to create more visual square footage through editing and arrangement.  

Space sells, even if a buyer is downsizing.  

They want to see a house that has plenty of room and doesn’t feel cramped.  To achieve this, remove furnishings that don’t absolutely need to be there, float major seating 8”-12” off the wall, remove any unnecessary area rugs, and never layer an area rug over carpeting.  Area rugs just tend to break up the space and make it feel even smaller.  

Likewise, remove any wall accessories that aren’t specifically drawing attention to a feature and edit built-in’s, bookshelves, and glass cupboards, even if they aren’t being sold with the home.  This will create the feeling of a home that is open, spacious, and has plenty of room and that is a HUGE selling point for most potential buyers.  No one is ever really in the market for ‘cozy’.  The more space you can show, the better.”