Staging a home isn’t an exact science — it’s more of an art, one that covers several rooms and flows throughout a home. If you’re thinking that it doesn’t sound easy, well, it isn’t; there’s a reason why stagers can command serious dollar amounts for the work they do.
Still, staging is something that most sellers might want to tackle themselves. If you do, make sure you’re not falling prey to one of the common staging mistakes that inexperienced sellers make when it comes to staging. The goal is to create a warm, welcoming space that will resonate with buyers and encourage them to picture themselves living inside your home, not to show off your personal home decorating taste, but you can go a long way toward showcasing your house for potential buyers if you avoid the following pitfalls.
Neglecting to stage at all
The biggest mistake that most sellers make is deciding that they don’t need to stage their home at all — the market should do the work for you, right? Well, maybe, but unless you’re in a very strong seller’s market where it really doesn’t matter what your home looks like (hint: these are rare), then you should probably consider at least some light staging before you list your house.
Many sellers don’t want to stage because they think their house is perfectly fine as it is, and that may be true if you’re having friends over for dinner or throwing a kids’ birthday party. But the whole point of staging is to give your house a very specific ambiance. You want it to feel like home … but not especially like your home. It shouldn’t feel quite as generic as a hotel room, but it should be depersonalized and decluttered enough that buyers feel both comfortable and inspired — ideally, inspired enough to make a good offer.
Keeping all your furniture and things in the home
You live in your house every day, and you know that every item you have — whether it’s a piece of furniture or a stack of books — is perfectly functional. And that’s fine; nobody expects you to have a listing-perfect house that you also live in every day. But the truth is that most of our homes contain too much to look beautifully staged, between kids’ toys and garages full of tools and equipment and kitchens with appliances stacked shoulder-high on the countertops.
Before you get to the fun part of staging, the first step is always to remove, remove, remove whatever you can. That might mean end tables and a chair or two in the living room, a dresser or chest in the bedroom, family photos or unusual wall art, and all kinds of odds and ends that call your surfaces “home.”
Using too little furniture
It’s common knowledge that too much furniture is not appropriate for a staged home. In most cases, you want to remove one or two pieces of furniture from each room. Too much furniture will make your rooms look smaller and often provide barriers for buyers who want to walk through each room easily. But another big mistake that sellers make is removing too much furniture, or using too few pieces for each room. A nearly empty room will look a little bit strange to buyers, so getting that “just right” balance when it comes to furniture and spacing is really important for any staging seller.
Hiding stuff instead of eliminating it
Most sellers also know that clutter is anathema in staging; you need to clear off your surfaces and provide clean lines for the buyers who will be walking through your house. That said, don’t transfer that clutter into drawers, closets, or other spaces where buyers might be taking a peek at the space — if a buyer can open it, then it isn’t a safe space for stashing your extra things. Either hold a garage sale and get rid of some of your items, or rent a storage unit and park extra boxes of books, clothes, and other things that you might want to keep but definitely don’t want in your home while you’re staging it.
Ignoring critical improvements
Ever heard the phrase “wallpaper over the cracks”? This is something that a lot of inexperienced stagers do when they’re trying to sell a home, but it’s just as important to pay attention to the big issues with your home as it is to tweak the finishing details and touches on your staging work. Maybe this means replacing the roof, sanding and staining the deck, addressing your problem water heater — whatever it is, these usually non-cosmetic changes aren’t very sexy, but they will help make your house feel safer and more secure, which is an integral part of staging.
Not upgrading the paint
When you’ve removed a significant amount of decoration from your walls, you may notice that the paint could use a little sprucing up. Instead of hiding that with more art (which, let’s face it, is a very normal impulse), do yourself a favor and upgrade the interior paint wherever you can. And while you’re at it, think about the exterior, too — are your fences flaking and chipping? Does the front of your house look a little bit shabby once you get close enough to see it? If you notice it, it’s guaranteed that buyers will, so help your house put its best foot forward and give it a new coat or three of quality paint.
Yes, fake flowers and houseplants are easier to keep “alive,” and a bowl of fake fruit in the kitchen is practically a staging must-have in some areas, but if everything you put in your house while you’re staging it is fake, it could put off buyers — and they might not even be able to articulate why your house didn’t feel quite right to them. It’s absolutely fine to make your life easier by faking some of your new decor, but maybe think about buying some hardy apples for that bowl on your kitchen counter (and replacing them when they start to wrinkle) instead of the fake fruit.
Keeping too many personal items
We agree that the photo of your children with their first puppy couldn’t possibly be more adorable. But is it going to help you sell your house? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is very likely “no,” and it’s not a referendum on how cute your kids or their pup happen to be; it’s just a function of how most buyers tend to feel about personal items in a house. The same goes for religious iconography, clear evidence of a favorite hobby, and many other bits and pieces that together add up to a house that’s clearly yours … and nobody else’s. If you’re not sure whether something counts as “too personal,” ask a real estate agent for advice; they are very used to seeing perfectly staged homes and can help you tweak yours until it’s there.
Ignoring the home’s scale
A tiny bedroom just isn’t going to accommodate a king-sized bed very well; likewise, a delicate loveseat will probably look a little bit ridiculous in a grand, vaulted living room. You don’t have to fit your home’s scale exactly, but trying to squeeze too-big or too-small items into a floor plan that doesn’t really accommodate them by scale is going to look a bit silly at best, so try your hardest to avoid that end result — even if you absolutely love the piece of furniture or artwork in question.
Going with one aesthetic everywhere
Maybe your mid-century modern home really lends itself to that era’s look, and that’s perfectly fine for main areas like the kitchen, dining room, and living room — but nobody is going to believe that your children’s room is a museum showpiece. And some decorating styles are absolutely overwhelming (Victorian, anybody?) so buyers who walk through room after room of that same aesthetic might think it looks lovely … for someone else. Although your staged home should have a sense of “flow” to it, this can be better achieved with a standard color palette and some well-chosen accent pieces instead of going all-out for one particular decorative style.
Minimal or modern decor
Clean, minimalist lines are all the rage in many areas, and it’s a look that has broad appeal — so why not go all out and deck your halls, and everywhere else, with glass and chrome? Because even though buyers might enjoy looking at an exceptionally minimalist or modern home, those decorative styles aren’t the most, well, homelike. The whole idea of staging is to create an atmosphere that whispers “you’re home!” to buyers when they walk through the door, and although many of them might admire and even aspire to the modern or minimalist look, if they have kids or pets, decking your entire house like this will make them feel like they don’t quite fit in there.
Leaving all the doors open in your house can feel pretty strange, but when they’re walking through your house, buyers are going to open every door, anyway. Closing the doors to bedrooms, bathrooms, and even closets can be counterproductive and give buyers a feeling that you’re hiding something even if that’s patently not the case. Of course, don’t go opening all of your kitchen cabinets and utility closets — but leaving bedroom doors wide open and bathroom and closet doors slightly ajar can help buyers feel welcome in an understated way.
Narrow, neutral color palettes
With all the emphasis on creating an atmosphere where a buyer feels at home, it’s very easy for amateur stagers to decide that the best way to build that atmosphere is to be as neutral as possible — but this can actually be a big mistake. In a living room where everything is beige or gray, nothing really stands out, and that can make the whole room look boring. Instead, consider a complimentary color palette that includes neutrals (but doesn’t rely solely on them), and also use pillows, accent walls, blankets, and other items that pop with color to bring brightness and life into your rooms.
Tired carpeting and peeling linoleum aren’t a good look in any home, and especially one that’s being staged for sale, where everything else is so on point (you did remember to paint the walls, right?). A hardwood floor might just need a polish and wax, and maybe cleaning the grout on your tiles (or replacing it with new grout) is enough to give your flooring a lift, but if the flooring really does need to be replaced, then don’t neglect it. You don’t need to go with the top-of-the-line option, but some new carpet can go a long way toward enticing a buyer into making an offer.
Too much fine art or collectibles
Even if your house is a showpiece worthy of a museum, a lot of fine art or clearly expensive collectibles don’t usually make buyers feel comfortable at home — instead, they’re a lot more likely to feel like they’re in an actual museum. If your own personal aesthetic includes a lot of these high-end items, consider storing them in a climate-controlled, secured location where they’ll be safe, and replacing them with something a little less elevated. It might seem counterintuitive, and a luxury real estate agent might even tell you that some of your pieces are perfect for staging (listen to them if that’s their advice), but in general, you don’t want to intimidate your buyers, which fine art or expensive collectibles can certainly do.
Let’s face it: Most of our coffee tables have stacks of reading material on them; dining rooms are full of homework or paperwork; kitchen counters are full of jars and appliances; office desks might not even have a visible surface at all. To give your home the best chance of hooking a buyer, be ruthless about clearing the surfaces everywhere, then adding just one or two items back (a vase of flowers and a tablecloth on the dining room table, perhaps) to provide some relief for the eyes.
Too many toys or books
If you have kids — or are the world’s biggest bookworm — then you already know what “too many” looks like, and buyers can find it off-putting if they aren’t deep in a similar lifestyle. The clutter rule especially applies to toys and books, so when you think you’re finished streamlining your things … do it again, and again, and even once more until you’re really at a minimum with all the accoutrements. You don’t have to give them up entirely; they can go into storage until your sale is complete. But you do have to make sure they’re not cluttering up your possibility of a high offer from every single buyer who walks through your house.
Not investing in carpets or rugs
Like any other expanse of space, your floors can usually stand for a little visual break, so if you don’t already have runners in the hallway or a rug underneath your coffee table, ask your real estate agent for advice in terms of what to use. A creatively placed rug can really tie a room together, and the right number of rugs throughout the home can tie your whole house together, so make sure you’re paying attention to the floorspace and treating it with treatments before you open your doors to buyers.
Ignoring curb appeal
Depending on the time of year that you list your home, your buyers might not be spending all that much time outside — but you still need to pay close attention to how your home looks on the outside so that you can ensure you’re giving it the very best first impression possible. At the very least, de-cobweb and sweep your front porch, add some flowers (in season), and freshen up your outdoor furniture. If possible, add more plants; always keep your lawn neatly mowed and weeded in the spring and summertime; shovel your walkway and keep your driveway snow-free in the wintertime. (And if you didn’t follow the advice above about painting the exterior of your home and any flaking fences, take it now!)
Neglecting to add plants
Plants aren’t only for the great outdoors. A well-placed houseplant can make any room feel vibrant and alive, and when you place them strategically throughout the house, the overall effect is welcoming and fresh — after all, if a plant is thriving in your house, then buyers and their families should also thrive there, right? You don’t necessarily need a plant in every room, but if there are spaces that feel a little empty after all the furniture-purging and item-stashing, consider filling those spaces with a cute plant in a pot.
Focusing only on sight
Although humans rely on our sight more than any other sense, there are many other ways you can help buyers feel at home when they walk through the door, so don’t neglect them. One tried-and-true method that many real estate agents use during an open house is baking cookies and leaving them out for visitors to taste — the aroma is unmistakably homelike. A scented candle here or there can give a similar effect, but don’t go overboard with the artificial scents. Similarly, opening your windows to capture the sounds of nature or a nearby body of water can be lucrative in terms of generating offers, or simply playing music softly throughout the house. And if there are any odors or sounds that make your home seem less attractive, do your best to eliminate or mask them before buyers start walking through.
Blocking views or architectural elements
Buyers might not need to see all of the crown molding throughout the house, but placing a table or couch (or television) in front of an interesting architectural feature — or, even worse, a window with a gorgeous view — is one mistake that you really don’t want to make when you’re selling. Let your house sell itself by highlighting its best features, whether that’s a view or a design element, and do your best to keep your staging materials away from those features so that buyers can absorb them and appreciate them.
When it comes to staging, there is definitely a possibility that you’ll go overboard — too much of a good thing, in other words. You want your house to look more like an inviting Airbnb than a hotel room, so if you think you’ve started to veer too far into “neutral” territory, spice things up with an interesting flower arrangement, an eye-catching piece of art, or something else that’s not super-personalized but still has a spark of personality to it. It’s a fine balancing act, but once you achieve it, your listing photos will look amazing, and you’ll have more offers than you know what to do with in no time flat.
This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.