Let’s face it – staging your house to sell isn’t most people’s favorite job. It takes a lot of effort to get your home in tip-top shape so you can hopefully grab top dollar for your house. We have staged two homes to sell in the last year – the first is our previous home that we sold last year, and now we have staged the home that we’ve been renting while our new house is being built because our landlords are selling it (and who can blame them in this market).
We sold our last house smack in the middle of COVID. It was back in August of 2020, and if you’ll remember, everything was still pretty much locked down. The housing market was starting to heat up a bit, but people were still leery to leave their houses and attend an open house. We hosted 2 open houses after we listed, and well over 100 people came through our house. Our realtor was shocked at that amount. We received multiple offers and within just 6 weeks we went from listing to closing to moved out. We live in a desirable neighborhood for sure, but believe me when I tell you – the huge turnout and offers had A LOT to do with the staging.
Our house was actually featured on HGTV’s House Hunters, but was filmed totally empty without any of our stuff in it. And I could feel America collectively scratching their heads as to why they picked our house instead of the other 2 on the show. The answer?! The buyers saw it when it was staged, and they could imagine their life there.
And as for our rental house that we staged: it hit the market on a Friday, open house on Sunday, had multiple offers, and was under contract by Monday. Now I ACKNOWLEDGE that the real estate market right now (spring of 2021) is insane, and most houses in our area aren’t sitting on the market long. But the average days on market for a house at this price point is still 28 days, and this one was gone in 3. Our rental was also on the market in 2020 at the same time as the house we sold, and it sat for 10 months and didn't sell. The difference maker? STAGING. From what I’ve heard on the feedback from the potential buyers, as well as people who toured the rent house in 2020 and again in 2021, how we had the house staged and decorated had a lot to do with the appeal.
The facts are there. Staging helps your home sell faster and for more money. Hiring a stager is for sure the easiest way to do this, but I’m going to share some tips that you can totally do yourself (like we did). There are the tips we all know – like be sure to touch up paint, deep clean, spruce up your flower beds, etc. but I’ve got some sneaky ones you may never have heard of and some controversial ones too. Let’s dive in!
Here are some items that most realtors will agree on.
Declutter. And I don’t mean shove things into closets and under beds to make it look nice. And I don’t mean moving them to a storage unit (there’s a time and a place for a storage unit, but it’s not to store 19 boxes of kid's toys and clothes you don’t fit in). I mean, don’t move crap to another house if it isn’t serving you now. This helps you not only with moving but with selling. We all slowly accumulate stuff we don’t need. The very first thing you should do is go through your house with a trash bag, recycle bag, and a donate bag and be ruthless. If a buyer opens your closet doors, drawers, and looks under your bed and there is stuff everywhere, they are going to subconsciously understand that this house lacks storage, and it’s too small for them. BAD NEWS. You want them to open a cabinet and see lots and lots of space.
Remove some furniture. It’s so important for a house to feel open and airy. If you’ve over-collected chairs or bookcases or other odds and ends furniture, get some of it out of there. This is the point where it may be worth getting a storage unit, or just wrap it and stack it neatly in your garage. Potential buyers need to be able to effortlessly walk through your space without bumping into things. You and your family might be used to turning sideways to squeeze between the barstools and the breakfast table, but other people will immediately think the house is too small.
In our family room, we usually have a leather chair where this green one is above, and the green one was on the other side of the room. Even though the room is large enough to easily handle the furniture, it does block the path to the master bedroom a bit. We took this opportunity to remove the leather chair (it was ripped and in need of repair anyway) and take it to be recovered, freeing up visual square footage.
Tell a story. Help people imagine their lives here and what each room could be used for. People are visual, and they aren’t necessarily going to make the leap on how to fill a large room. It’s a HUGE mistake I see all the time, especially in awkward-sized rooms. You’ll see in listing photos a big space with one sofa. The average home buyer isn’t a space planner and won’t immediately be able to reason where other chairs could go, how their coffee table would fit, etc. Or if you have 3 living areas (like our last house did) you need to show people how each space could be used. We had one set up as our office and formal living, one as a family room, and one as a playroom. The buyers for our house didn’t have kids yet, but they did have dogs, so they could imagine how they could use that space in the future (playroom) and how they could use it now (pet area). If it had just been empty or filled with sofas, they may not have understood how to use that space, decided that it’s wasted space, and then moved on.
Think “Hotel beds.” You know that feeling when you open the door to a hotel room, and there’s a big fluffy bed waiting for you? It makes you go ahhhhhhhh and your blood pressure drops a little bit? That is exactly the feeling you want buyers to have. White bedding is always a winner, and a few (not a thousand) pillows to make it look soft and un-fussy.
Paint. Guys, I’m just going to say this once. If you have crazy-colored rooms, tone them down. No, everything doesn’t have to be white or gray, but it does need to be more universally appealing. Our house had 2 navy accent walls and 1 navy room, but because it was neutral (and those spaces got enough light) it worked. We didn’t get one negative comment about the paint. And people looooooooooove to complain about paint. Whites are always winners (our last house was Benjamin Moore White Dove and it is lovely), but also gray, greige, soft blues and greens, and navy are great options. If your kid's bedroom is purple or teal or maroon, you need to paint it.
Highlight outdoor spaces. This was a thing before, but since COVID having an outdoor space is a game-changer. Open the umbrella, turn on string lights, set the outdoor dining table, and put some fresh pillows out there. Help buyers imagine themselves sipping on a cocktail in the backyard. I had always imagined this with a margarita, but the gal who bought our home loves mint juleps. In the House Hunters episode, they talked about what it would be like to sit outside and relax by the pool with a drink. It worked.
Get ready, because I’m going to rock the boat a little bit here. Here are some things that some realtors would disagree with, but that others have confirmed for me (along with our experiences in several home sales):
Don’t remove rugs. For some reason, this has become a thing, but people, do not remove your rugs. If you have a tiny postage-stamp-sized one near a door or something, sure. But in no way should you take larger rugs out of a room. They help define the space and tell a story as we talked about above for how that room will be used. I suppose if it’s an ugly rug or super gross you should take it out, but honestly, if it meets those criteria it shouldn’t be in your life anyway.
Leave out some family photos. I KNOW. It’s all we hear all the time – take down your family photos! Buyers need to picture THEIR family in the house and not YOURS. Guys, people in general might be a little dumb, but I think we can all imagine that if we see a picture frame with a cute baby in it that we can visualize our own baby. If you have a giant gallery wall of oversized canvases of your family, for sure take that down. But a 5x7 photo here or there isn’t going to turn off a buyer. They will just imagine showcasing their memories there.
Don’t clear off your counters (totally). Pare down the knick-knacks for sure, but don’t remove them entirely. A kitchen looks better with a bowl of fruit or a stand mixer on it. People understand that in a bathroom there should be soap to wash your hands. A bedroom looks inviting if there’s a stack of books on the nightstands. Be selective about what you leave out for sure. If a soap bottle is out, it should be a pretty glass one and not a Walmart store brand bottle. Aim to reduce what’s on your surfaces by 50% or more, but don’t leave them totally empty. We want just enough things so that folks can imagine how their life fits into this house.
PLANTS. Yes, it’s in all caps because it’s important. Plants literally breathe life into your space. They soften hard edges. They provide a pop of neutral color. And subconsciously they say to a buyer “look, I care for these houseplants and they are alive, just like I cared for this house really well.” If you have a black thumb, faux plants do the job as well. There’s just something about some lovely greenery that contributes to that overall feeling of ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. It’s ingrained in our souls.
Music. We have a Sonos system, and I will be the first to admit that I’m not totally tech-savvy, but I figured out how to play music through Sonos while showings and open houses were happening. You want to keep the music selection really universally appealing, with songs not too recognizable, but not elevator music, and keep the volume low. It becomes like a movie soundtrack for your house. Our Realtor commented that she (and many others) really enjoyed it. My go-to is a Pandora station based on the band A Fine Frenzy. They aren’t wildly popular, but also not unpopular, so you might only recognize a song or two, but it will also loop in music from other artists. It’s a winner.
Smells. I wrote a whole blog post on the best scents to diffuse when selling your house because scents are so important. Diffusing fresh, inviting scents in your home contributes to that overall feeling of cleanliness and happiness. Smells have a huge impact on how we perceive space. Take advantage of it! Just like with the music, you want scents that are universally appealing, not overpowering, semi-recognizable, but mostly just in the background. Check out that post for all of the diffuser blend recipes. The white tea + sage + eucalyptus has become my favorite.
Call in a ringer. Maybe the most controversial of all the tips! I had never heard of the tradition of St. Joseph in selling a house until we literally unearthed a St. Joseph figure when planting flowers in the flowerbed of our second home. I had no idea what this was all about until my Catholic husband and friends filled me in. St. Joseph (aka Jesus’ earth-dad) is the patron saint of Fathers, Workers, and apparently real estate. The tradition is to bury him upside down in your home when you are trying to sell a house, with bonus points of sending up prayers asking for St. Joseph’s help in the sale of your home. Here’s a link to a Real Estate group that gives examples of what those prayers might look like.
So back to my St. Joseph statue. We actually uncovered 2 of them in our flower bed. We brought one inside and left the other buried upside down in the flowerbed. When it came time to sell, we walked through the house with the statue and offered up prayers that the Lord would send us the right buyers who would love this house like we did and be blessed by it as well as asking for a smooth, swift sale. Then we placed the statue on our fireplace mantle and hoped for the best. The house sold in less than 2 weeks.
I know that’s hardly a guarantee, but if nothing else it definitely eased my stress a bit on selling calling on a ringer to help us out and offloading the stress to a Saint! We left the buried Joseph in the front yard, and the other Joseph has hung out with us in our rental and will be coming with us to our new home.
We’d love to hear from you if you have used any of these tips, or if you try them and any work for you, or if you have others to share!