Ever Heard of “White Boxing”? Here’s Why Some Real Estate Agents Love It

published Apr 8, 2022
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If you regularly browse online listings or have ever watched a real estate show on TV for even a minute, you know that home staging is a big deal for sellers to capture the interest of buyers. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, 82 percent of buyer’s agents say that when their clients see staged properties, it makes it easier for them to visualize living there. 

Although arranging furniture and decor in a space can help a home to sell more quickly, doing so isn’t the default strategy for every property that goes on the market. In some instances, it might make more sense for the seller to show an empty space instead. This strategy, which is known as “white boxing,” strips rooms down to their bare floors and white walls. 

If it sounds like the exact opposite of staging, that’s because it is. But depending on the nature of your property, white boxing could be just the thing to woo buyers.

Kimberly Jay, a broker with Compass in New York, says white boxing is appropriate for properties that are in very rough shape, whether they are very old homes that are part of estate sales or they have otherwise suffered from damage or neglect.

“Staging these kinds of homes is like putting lipstick on a pig,” Jay says, noting that sellers are just wasting their time, energy, and money if they do it. “Buyers know the home needs a gut renovation, so price accordingly.”

Don’t equate white boxing with waving the white flag of surrender as a seller, though. On the other end of the real estate spectrum, homes that are in excellent condition can also benefit from white boxing, according to Jay. High-end homes — in particular, units in a brand-new luxury building — are good candidates for whiteboxing. The blank canvas will allow buyers to indulge their imaginations in redesigning the space for their own unique needs and preferences. 

“After spending big money on units, [buyers] end up ripping everything out to make it their own,” Jay says. Some deep-pocketed buyers might even be looking to purchase the unit next door or upstairs to create a more spacious unit, which would further make staging unnecessary for it to sell.

For most homes that fall between distressed properties and turnkey luxury, staging is still a viable strategy. But it’s better to adopt a less-is-more approach. 

“Furnishing a home typically gives the eye perspective and helps a prospective buyer see how a room can be laid out,” says Steven Gottlieb, an agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York. “If the seller’s stuff is an eyesore or creates too much clutter, it can hurt the sale, as the buyer might be distracted and can’t imagine their own things in the space,” says Gottlieb. In this case, a white box listing is a good move. 

In other cases, though, an empty room can actually look smaller than if the room were furnished, according to Gottlieb. For cozier spaces, minimal staging with a defined floor layout would be more effective to show its potential. 

“If the staging is neutral and clean, then staging can really help the sales process,” Gottlieb says.