A professional home stager shares how to make your home look like the ones on TV!

Staging Your Home for Sale

by Gary Foreman

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According to the National Association of Realtors, there are approximately 5 million existing homes sold annually with a median price of a little over $200k. Naturally, if you're planning on selling your home, you want to get the highest price possible. One way to do that is to "stage your home for sale."

Most of us have seen the shows where professionals stage a home. The result often looks like something from a magazine photo spread. We wanted to know what the average homeowner could do to stage their own home for sale with minimal costs. We contacted Barb Nauman. Ms. Nauman has been an interior decorator and designer for over 20 years. She owns Personal Signature Design and does many freelance projects for home owners and businesses.

Q: I understand that you advise your clients to remove clutter before showing their homes. Why is that so important to prospective buyers?

Ms. Nauman: When you decide to sell your home, changing your mindset is very important and key to a successful and profitable sale. Stop thinking of the home as yours and begin thinking like the buyers who will look at your house. The buyer will likely be looking at many homes before they make a decision. You want your home to be a true stand out! Therefore, removing all clutter is an essential first step. "Clutter" is open to some debate, by definition, but generally speaking we are talking about magazines, piles of paper, clothing strewn about, trash sitting out and visible, dishes, food, collections, and personal items like family pictures, magnets on the refrigerator, team sport items, and awards. Anything that you wouldn't see in a nice hotel room should probably be boxed up for your move. This would be the ideal goal, though not feasible for everyone. Your new goal is to let a buyer imagine their family in the home, and you getting the most money you can from the sale! Too much clutter is a real visual distraction. Buyers can't accurately determine the size of the rooms or the condition of your house. Your house will look too busy, full of stuff, and many buyers will just walk away, and immediately cross your house off their list. Make the decision before you get your for sale sign up to remove all excess stuff. Throw away, sell, or donate the extra items that are detracting from your home. That includes things in the basement that make the space look less than clean and tidy. Box up everything you know you want to keep (and do not use on a daily or frequent basis) and either get it out of the house or stack it in a nice and tidy way. Good examples of this would be Christmas decorations, out-of-season clothing, memorabilia, books, and the like.

Q: Can removing clutter be taken too far? Wouldn't it be good for potential buyers to see their family living in a house? After all, none of us live in a Better Homes and Garden house.

Ms. Nauman: Obviously, if you are living in your home while trying to sell it, you will need to find a reasonable balance that works for your family. Keep in mind, however, when you are actively trying to sell your home, you are working towards a goal, and it won't be forever! It will likely require you to make some sacrifices in your daily living to make your home attractive and desirable for a short period of time to grab the attention of your potential buyers. Key things to remember are items like toys, pets and pet items, and things that clutter the surface tops of kitchens, baths, dressers, and nightstands. Put all those type of things hidden away. Again, the subject of de-cluttering is often debated in real estate circles. Many homes sell just fine with absolutely nothing in them. More often than not, however, the sale of your home will be helped with a few nicely placed pieces of furniture and a few beautiful accessories. Home stagers charge thousands of dollars to come in and do this work. You can do the same thing for free or for much less.

Related: Do-It-Yourself Moving Tips

Q: You also suggest doing a repaint. Is that primarily to have neutral colors? Or does a fresh appearance matter?

Ms. Nauman: Homes sell much better when they look and smell fresh. They will also sell much faster and for more money when your home is painted all over in a nice, neutral light color, such as a soft warm beige, off white, or a light grey. Continuity of color allows rooms to visually flow seamlessly together, and makes your spaces look larger. Grey is the "it" color palette, currently, with white accents. I would caution against using dark tones of any color, as they can make rooms look smaller and dark. Light colors always make spaces look larger. Paint is one of the cheapest ways to freshen up your home. Don't overlook stains on the ceilings! This is very critical. If you know you have a leaky roof, either get it fixed, or make sure you include it in the seller's disclosure to avoid possible law suits. Lowes and Home Depot have sections in their paint departments for their unwanted paints. They are leftovers, the wrong colors, etc. I was able to grab several gallons of this paint and repainted my entire home for only $17.00! I purchased a five-gallon container and mixed the paints all together. I ended up with a pleasing neutral beige and saved a lot of money in the process. You can also check places like Craigslist and Habitat for Humanity for discarded paint at real bargains.

Q: Besides removing clutter, is there a way to make rooms appear larger?

Ms. Nauman: One mistake I see over and over is people using large scale furniture in rooms that are simply overwhelmed by the size of massive pieces. Furniture should always be to scale in every room for visual balance and appeal. In addition, having too many pieces of furniture makes the room look crowded and smaller. If you have a king-sized bed in a room with barely room to move around it, consider putting a queen in the room for example. If your family room is crowded with oversized sectionals and chairs, remove several pieces to open up the space and allow people to freely walk around. Another area to consider is your walls. Are they covered with too much art, hooks, and shelving? Take a great deal of it down and pack it away. Make your walls look clean and spacious as well. Remember to spackle, and sand all nail holes before you repaint.

Related: DIY Home Sale Options

Q: Some staging techniques are free like removing clutter. But some cost money like paint, removing wallpaper, or updating landscaping. Is there some point where it doesn't make sense to spend money on your house in an attempt to get a higher sale price?

Ms. Nauman: You want to do the best you can with the money you can afford to make your home its most appealing. Clearly, you don't want to spend more than you can comfortably afford in this process. My best advice is that clean and neat always sells. That applies to yards as well. Trim back old bushes and overgrown trees. Clean out flower beds. Hose off the outside of your home and wash the windows! A clean, sparkling window that lets in all light is very appealing. Tidy up all toys and outside items that you normally keep outside. I would encourage inviting a close friend or family member to come by and take a look at your home, inside and out. A fresh eye may see problematic or unattractive areas you have missed. We all become accustomed to our own spaces, and we can fail to "see" like someone can who doesn't live with us, so don't take their suggestions personally. Think of it as, hopefully, getting a little more money when your home sells!

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Q: What staging ideas are most often overlooked by home sellers?

Ms. Nauman: Make sure your home smells fresh, not stale, smoky, or filled with pet and cooking odors. Odors are one the biggest turn offs to people. Air out your house as much as possible. Obviously, in the cold of winter, this can't be done to the same extent. I recommended taking down and refreshing all curtains, quilts, bedspreads, throws, and pillows. You can get a nice fresh scent by tossing them in the dryer on "air fluff" with a couple of scented dryer sheets. Alternatively, try hanging them outside for an afternoon to allow the clean air to naturally freshen them.

Clean off all kitchens counters completely and make sure your sink and counters sparkle and shine. Sweep and clean all floors. Touch up baseboards and cabinets with paint or wood stains. I only use vinegar, rubbing alcohol, baking soda, and water for cleaning. These are all natural and very inexpensive products. These are the same items our grandparents used, and they work brilliantly. It's fine to have a coffee pot out (clean!) and a nice set of canisters or a bowl of fruit.

The bathrooms should be glistening! A moldy smelling shower curtain needs to washed or replaced. Hang a couple of pretty, clean towels and perhaps a small decorative item on the bathroom counter and a new bar of nicely scented soap. Beds should be made in bedrooms, and closets should be neat and tidy. Again, get rid of all excess in the closets, so they will appear a large as possible.

Remember to vacuum right before a showing and make sure all light bulbs are working! Turn on several lights, especially in the darker rooms and corners. They will look much more warm and appealing. I would also ask your realtor for additional thoughts and ideas if you are using one. Ask them which things would be the most important to do in their opinion.

Reviewed April 2018

Take the Next Step:

  • Make a list of the home staging techniques you'll use. Start with the easiest one today!
  • Get more of your home selling questions answered by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
  • Find the lowest mortgage rates for your new home with our mortgage tool.
  • Is clutter an issue for you? Then don't miss these tips for eliminating clutter.
  • Get control of your financial life. Subscribe to Financial Independence, a free daily email that provides you with the tools to help you gain that control and achieve financial independence. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist for FREE!

Barb Nauman has been an interior decorator and designer for over twenty years. She began her career in retail interior decorating and was privileged to work alongside some brilliant and creative people. Ten years ago, she formed her own design business Personal Signature Design. She works solo and does many freelance projects for home owners and businesses. She has worked quite often with builders and realtors. Barb has decorated brand new homes and worked with realtors and sellers as people either increase the size home they need for a growing family or are choosing to downsize for any number of reasons. She also takes clients shopping to help with ideas and suggestions of how to make their homes the most beautiful and inviting they can be. Barb Nauman can be reached by bnkuhawk@gmail.com.

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