7 “Secret” Home Stager Tricks You Should Know Before Selling Your Home

published Dec 12, 2023
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Modern interior of open space with design modular sofa, furniture, wooden coffee tables, plaid, pillows, tropical plants and elegant personal accessories in stylish home decor. Neutral living room.
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Over the past year, I’ve spent a huge chunk of time browsing before and after home staging photos from all over the country and picking professional stagers’ brains for their top strategies to apply when staging a home to sell. There’s a lot to learn from the way home stagers tackle bringing new life to a space. Here’s what home stagers taught me about how they get buyers to fall in love with their listings, and how you can use these tricks to do so too.

Staging and decorating are totally different.

Everything that makes homes personal and livable — decorating in our favorite colors, displaying items that are meaningful to us, cramming in enough comfy seating to fit friends for a weekly Netflix-binge — is basically the opposite of what makes a home MLS (multiple listing service)-ready. Potential buyers should be thinking about how they could live in a space — not how the owner actually does live there. A decorated home lets the owner’s style shine; a staged home highlights the property’s best features and appeals to a wide audience.  

Good listing photos are crucial.

Most buyers start their home search online. They’re used to curated, Instagram-worthy images and expect homes to be similarly pulled-together. If a home doesn’t show well in photos, buyers may nix it without visiting. And related to my first lesson, rooms with less furniture photograph better than more crowded ones, which is why stagers often remove pieces that are good for living with but not ideal for listing photos.

Every room needs a purpose.

To the uninitiated (i.e., me before writing about home staging), it might seem that an empty room or nook is a great opportunity for buyers to see how versatile a space is. They can envision it as a home office, pet space, or place to kick back with cocktails — whatever they want. But that’s actually not true, say many of the pros I’ve interviewed. They explained that buyers have a tough time picturing how to arrange an empty space and prefer to see rooms with an obvious purpose, even if they ultimately use it differently.

Paint has the biggest ROI.

Not only does paint give the space a like-new look (goodbye, scuffs and dings), but every stager also had a story about how the right color can highlight a home’s positives or neutralize less-than-ideal fixed features. Marie Moore of Staged by Marie advised sellers to paint their worn red brick fireplace white when there was no budget to replace the insert or mantel. The paint modernized the fireplace and helped the gold insert seem less dated. In the same room, a neutral wall color with beige undertones made the gorgeous original hardwood floors shine.

White or light neutral paint are the go-tos. 

Home stagers are often criticized for “painting everything white,” but white and other light neutrals are winners when selling a home. “Light colors make spaces look bright and fresh — two characteristics that appeal to buyers,” said Carol B. Clark of Love at First Sight Staging. “Also, you’re trying to appeal to the widest field of buyers, and people have very personal reactions to color.” Some buyers see yellow walls, for example, as cheerful, while others see dollar signs because they’ll want to repaint ASAP so the color doesn’t clash with their furniture. “Even if buyers don’t ultimately want white or greige walls, most can comfortably live with them even if they eventually repaint,” Clark explained. 

Clutter can be a major distraction. 

Okay, this is common sense but you’d be surprised how many sellers expect buyers to overlook their clutter. Whether it’s built-ins packed with books and tchotchkes, overstuffed closets (yes, buyers peek!), or countertops with multiple appliances, your stuff distracts from a buyer’s impression of the home. Don’t worry — we’re not suggesting you toss your toaster, but do stash it out of sight for showings. A staged kitchen gets its calm vibe by having countertops with just a plant, bowl of fruit, wooden cutting board and/or cookbook on display. 

Switching out light fixtures pays off.

You probably don’t notice that boob light or the outdated chandelier you’ve lived with for years, but buyers will. “Lighting is critical and so inexpensive to update!” Molly Marino of Home by Molly Marino emphasized to me. She’s been known to turn under-utilized square footage into a cozy dining nook by hanging a $129 chandelier, and says you can score fantastic fixtures for as little as $35. Another tip: Add a pair of chic sconces flanking a bed, mirror, or fireplace with this no-wiring-required hack.

White bedding looks best in person and listing photos.

“The camera loves white bedding. It makes every bed look fantastic!” Jody Kelly of Kelly Home Designs Staging & Interiors says. Onto it, she adds two to four plush sleeping pillows (no sad, flat ones!) and two or three throw pillows. King-sized beds also get three Euro pillows. A folded, wrinkle-free comforter at the end of the bed and a throw blanket complete the high-end hotel ambiance buyers love.