Setting The Stage To Sell

Setting the stage to sell

It’s not that I’m mean people.  It’s just that a big part of my job involves explaining to my clients, in excruciating detail, every last thing that they need to change about the homes before they sell.  And it’s not that I think my clients have bad taste, although I have seen more than my share of home decor train wrecks.  It’s just that any personal taste can get in the way of a successful sale.  That’s really the essence of staging, removing yourself from the picture so that prospective buyers can place themselves in the house.  But, before I get into the specifics of how to stage your house for sale, let’s explore a bit further exactly what staging is.

I use the term staging just about every day, and while I have a pretty good sense of what it means, I realize that many people might not know exactly what I’m talking about.  Generally speaking, staging includes just about everything you do to prepare your house so it’s ready to be shown.  More specifically, your home should look, sound, smell, and feel perfectly clean, comfortable, and inviting to anyone who visits.

To get yourself ready to stage your house, you first need to get in the proper state of mind.  This might sound ridiculously obvious, but when you’re selling your house, you need to think like a salesperson or, more specifically, an advertiser.  What you’re really setting the stage for is a slick, sexy commercial just like those you see every day for beer or SUV’s.  As with those types of commercials, you’re selling the fantasy of your house, not the reality.  That’s not to say you should ever be dishonest, but proper staging will present an image of your house that doesn’t reflect the everyday reality of living there but instead shows an idealized version of how someone could live there, if only they would submit the winning offer – and quickly!

When it comes to selling your house, the image you present will not be reality. But just look around at how many SUV’s are on the road and how much beer gets sold.   It works.  For example, you’ll stage your kitchen to create an image of the wonderful dinner parties that could be hosted there, with all the guests perfectly dressed and the conversation stimulating and sophisticated.  You don’t want to ever let potential buyers think about how that kitchen will look when the party’s over and they have to clean up that huge mess.

Come to your senses

Because your audience will be visiting your stage in person, you have the advantage of appealing to all their senses.

Sight – Obviously, you want your house to be visually appealing.  But in terms of staging, this means getting rid of all the clutter, clearing out some furniture to open things up, and removing anything ugly or unappealing.

Sound – Potential buyers are highly sensitive to unpleasant sounds, although silence can feel strange too.  Playing classical music on the stereo is very inviting, while using a fountain indoors or out can help diminish traffic noise.  Jarring noises like old bathroom fans can be particularly bad, and plumbing noises can hint at significant problems.  Do an audio inventory of your house and listen for any troublesome sounds.

Smell – Many sellers completely overlook smell, which is an extremely powerful trigger of vivid memories.  The problem is that most of us are so use to the smells in our homes, we don’t even notice them.  You must get an objective nose to walk through your house and tell you what stinks.
Touch – The sense of touch is not as directly utilized as the other senses, but it’s still important.  Your home should feel touchable, such that it draws people in and makes them want to immerse themselves in it.  Make your living space accessible so that buyers sit down and stay a while.

Taste – I’m not really talking about tasting things in your house.  I’m talking about personal style.  In this case, the more personal the worse it is.  Your house should be tasteful, with simple, subtle colors and an emphasis on clean.

When all of that is taken together, it creates something usually called ambiance.  I always have a tough time defining ambiance for my clients, but you know it when you see it.  If you appeal to all five senses, and follow the guidelines coming up, you’ll create the perfect ambiance for selling your home.

How much staging is enough?

To put it simply, you can never do too much to stage your house for the market.  No matter how much you do, there’s always something more that can be done.  It’s totally up to you to decide how much staging you can stand, but remember that every extra little touch you add stacks on a few more bricks on the pile and increases your chances of a successful sale.

For most of us, our house under normal living conditions is so far from perfectly staged that we might not even know where to begin.  One strategy to help you get started is to pick up an interior design magazine that matches the general decor of your house.  As you flip through the magazine, rip out pages showing a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.  Then, stand at the entrance to those rooms in your house, hold up the picture, and compare the two scenes.  Specifically, what don’t you see in the photo’s?  My guess is that you’ll see lots of clutter, dirt, stains, and other obvious indications that our house is a place where people actually live, not the site of a photo shoot.

The purpose of this little exercise is simply to help you get a sense of where to focus your efforts when staging your house.  Most likely, your major concerns will be clutter, dirt, and light.  When you look at the magazine photo’s, there’s usually minimal decor and no misplaced accent pieces.  Everything is spotless, and the room is beautifully lit.  As we continue along, keep these points in mind as you work to make your home as perfectly staged as possible.

Cleaning – Your goal here is simple, to get your house as immaculately clean as it’s ever been.  Keeping everything spotless while your house is on the market is probably the biggest challenge that sellers face, but it is one of the most important.

Smells – Sellers often underestimate the power of smells.

De-cluttering – Remove as much of your stuff as possible from the house.

Brightening – One misconception about lighting that gets people into trouble is that they believe more light is always better.  In fact, too much light can be as big a problem as too little light.  Focus on increasing the amount of natural light and making sure your lighting maximizes your home’s appeal.


A recent study asked homeowners to think about how they decorate their homes and which rooms mattered most to them.  53% of homeowners were most concerned about the decor in their living rooms, with kitchens a distant second.  But when they were buying their homes, over 50% said the kitchen mattered most.  This means there’s a disconnect between what homeowners think is important and what home buyers want in a home, and it explains why many sellers don’t pay enough attention to staging their kitchens.

Let’s get staging!

Staging the Living Room

  1.  Either move all of the furniture into the middle of the living room, or remove it altogether.  Get rid of any extraneous pieces – unattached bookshelves for example.

2.  If possible, arrange your furniture so that the traffic lines move diagonally across the room, which will make the room feel larger.  Enter the room through each entryway and make sure nothing blocks your path.

3.  Over sized furniture is probably the most common staging mistake seen.  It can make a room look small and dominate the decor above everything else.  Try to remove one piece to open up the room.

4.  There really shouldn’t be any brightly colored children’s plastic furniture in the living room.

5.  Remove all personal photo’s particularly wedding pictures.

6.  Make sure the floor is spotless.

7.  If your television is too big for the room, you should remove it while the house is on the market.  Giant TV’s in front of bay windows, walkways, in small rooms are all no no’s.  Move the TV to the garage, or a friends house.

8. Be sure that area rugs are clean.  Keep the colors light and the pattern minimal.  The fewer different colors you have, the larger the room will appear.

Staging the kitchen

  1.  Your kitchen counter-top should be completely empty, with 2 exceptions:  You are allowed one appliance and there may be one bowl of fresh fruit including a lemon.

2.  Remove anything from in and around the sink.  All soap, sponges, dish rags, and so on should be out of sight.

3.  Clean and organize the cabinet under the sink.  For some reason men always look under there.

4.  Clean the kitchen floor on your hands and knee’s instead of using a mop.  It really benefits from the extra attention.

5.  If you have a ceiling fan, make sure the blades are clean from dust and grease.

6.  Clean all of the cabinet doors, especially those closer to the stove and under the sink.

7.  Any window treatments are also probably greasy and should be removed and cleaned or replaced.

8.  If you have a garden window, clear it of everything except a couple of plants.  Keep your plants looking fresh.

9.  Make sure the trash can is out of sight and empty, even if it’s covered.

10.  Clean the stove inside and out, and make sure the dishwasher is empty.

11.  If you can, move the pet’s food and bowls out of the kitchen.

12.  Clean out the fridge and put a new box of baking soda in there.

13.  If there’s any kind of throw rug or mat in the kitchen, get rid of it.

14.  If you have a kitchen table, make sure it’s completely clear of everything except for a vase of fresh flowers.

Staging the bedrooms

  1.  Leave the bedrooms to show open, airy, and inviting.

2.  If the furniture crowds the room, remove it.  It will just make the rooms look small and hard to move around in.

3.  Side tables should be completely clear, except for a lamp.

4.  Be sure the bed is perfectly made and all fluffed up!

5.  Buyers will look in your closets, so pack clothes out of season, remove over half of your clothes, have your shoes aligned neatly, un-clutter your top shelves and add an air freshener.

6.  Make sure your clothes hamper is in a closet and that it has a lid.

7.  Downplay the decor in a nursery or child’s room so prospective buyers can visualize the room as something else, most likely a guest room or an office.  Remove the glow in the dark constellation and repaint the room to a neutral color.

8.  It’s also very important to de-clutter a child’s room and remove any unnecessary furniture.

Staging the bathroom

  1.  Get a new bath mat.

2.  If the toilet seat shows any imperfections, replace it.  Make sure the lid is down for any showings.

3.  White or off white towels are preferred and keep them to a minimum.

4.  Make sure the bathroom trash can is completely empty for every showing.

5.  Get everything out of the shower except for one bottle of shampoo, conditioner, and soap.

6.  Make sure there are no stray hairs anywhere in the bathroom, It’s amazing how many people get totally grossed out by hair.

7.  Replace the shower curtain and the curtain rings.  Get a fabric curtain rather than a plastic one, and avoid any patterns on the curtain.

8.  Bathrooms don’t need to be particularly bright, but you need good light in by the mirrors.  People will look at themselves, so the mirrors should be spotless.

9.  Wipe down the faucets, sink, counters, and tub/shower everyday after use.

10.  Clear out the drains, toilet and make sure there are no odors in your bathroom.

11.  Clear off the counter top completely.  You may leave soap there, but replace bar soap with liquid hand soap.

Staging the outdoors

It’s official.  The outdoors is the new indoors.  Even in notoriously awful climates, homeowners are devoting more and more attention to what’s going on outside of their houses.  Interest in outdoor design has increased dramatically.  The most recent survey found that 64 percent of buyers where looking for outdoor living space.  You want to maximize the positive impact that your outdoor space – however limited it may be – will have on prospective buyers.

Outdoor living spaces:

  • Decks
  • Gazebo
  • Firepits
  • Stone sitting area’s
  • Water features

Curb appeal

  1.  Make sure the porch is spotless.  That means cleaning out any spider webs and getting all the dead bugs out of the light fixtures.

2.  Repaint the door, replace the doormat, make sure all of the hardware is in good working order and clean.

3.  Make sure the doorbell works.  For a quick fix, install a wireless doorbell.

4.  Consider adding a kick plate on the door if it works with your decor.

5.  Make sure the key works smoothly and the door opens easily and silently.  You don’t want the buyer’s agent to struggle with the front door or have it open with a spooky creak.  Use silicone spray on the lock and hinges.  If the doorknob is also dull, tarnished and scratched, just replace it altogether.

6.  Make sure the screen door is in good working order, is attached to not fly away, and that the screen is in place and not in need of repair.

Plant power

Staging all of the outdoor greenery can be quite a challenge.  With all of the other craziness involved in selling your house, it’s probably worthwhile to hire a landscaper or gardener to get everything looking healthy and lush and to make sure your landscaping doesn’t obscure the best possible view of the house or block too much light from the inside.  Be sure to tell your gardener exactly when the house will be on the market, so that they can prune and fertilize accordingly.  You don’t want to cut back plants that provide a sense of privacy, which is a desirable feature in a yard.  You should be rather aggressive when it comes to removing limbs hanging over your house or your neighbor’s property.  You can be sure that buyers will notice them, and add it to their ever-growing list of things they’ll have to do if they buy your house.

Water features

Water features such as spas, fountains, and ponds can add value to your home, but they also present risks.  Spas may be luxury items to some buyers, but expensive inconveniences to others.  Make sure your water feature is perfectly clean and in excellent working order.  These amenities also present serious safety concerns for buyers, particularly those with young children.  Make sure all safety measures are properly installed and functioning.  Fountains can create a wonderful ambiance and can help block traffic and other street noise.  I have found a surprising number of them don’t work, and the homeowner has forgotten about them.  If you can’t repair a broken fountain, then remove it.  Also, be sure to keep the algae under control, and treat the water regularly if you have fish or other aquatic critters.

Outdoor accessories

You want to leave just enough furniture and other items to give buyers a sense of how they can use the outdoor space.  Make sure the furniture matches and is all clean or new.  At the least, you should plan on replacing any cushions on the chairs or chaise lounges.  For some reason, many people who collect stuff feel compelled to share their collections with the world by displaying them outside.  Suffice it to say that you need to remove any outdoor collections just as you did with indoor ones.


If you have small children and your house is baby-proofed, do the best you can to minimize its impact without compromising the safety of your child.  Pay close attention to any locks that will be difficult to unlatch and make sure every room of the house is accessible.

Stage for the seasons

Make sure you don’t have Christmas decorations up in March or summer accessories around the house in November.

Staging your pets

Be honest with yourself – are you pets perfectly well-behaved around strangers?  Board them during showings instead of kenneling them , or treat them to a day at doggie daycare.

Climate control

Make sure your house is comfortably cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

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