Preparing Your House for Sale: 3 Tips for Low-cost Staging

To sell your house, it’s important to highlight its best features for prospective buyers. One way to do this is to “stage” your house, to put just the right furniture and décor in each room so visitors immediately focus on what you want them to see. If you’re wondering how to do this, have no fear: professional home staging services can blend the art and science of interior design for you. However, they often charge significant sums, so if you’d rather give it a go yourself, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Depersonalize – This doesn’t mean you have to take down family portraits from the walls or hide your child’s sports trophies. It does mean you should consider repainting Junior’s bedroom if he showed his school spirit with purple and gold paint and a large Wildcat mural. The idea is for prospective buyers to see their own family photos where yours are now, to imagine their child’s barrel racing awards where Junior’s water polo trophies currently sit. That’s an easy mental exercise. What’s not easy is seeing past purple walls or other unusual decorating choices. If you’ve made distracting décor or design choices, buyers may dismiss your property and move on to the next house for sale. In case you’re interested, the most popular paint colors right now are coral, a mid-tone blue between denim and navy, light gray, and a terra-cotta that leans more toward brown than orange. So, if you cannot stand the idea of painting everything in boring neutrals, at least choose accent colors that are likely to help rather than hurt the sale of your house.
  2. Declutter – Once you’ve neutralized (pun intended) the distracting décor and design, it’s time to remove extra furniture and belongings, as well as anything that makes the house feel over-full. If you have a shelf above the bathroom door where you keep extra toilet paper, a prospective buyer may think, “Too bad there’s so little storage in the bathroom that they have to display their toilet paper on that shelf.” Take the shelf down, or at least put the toilet paper somewhere else. You don’t need three weeks’ worth of extra toilet paper in the bathroom while you’re trying to sell your house.

Also, as I’ve often said, remove a third of your furniture (keeping the pieces that adhere to a cohesive style and color palette). Then arrange the furniture to allow for easy movement through the house. People should not have to shimmy around furniture and other obstacles to get from one side of the room to the next.

  1. Lighten and Brighten – Finally, the best way to show off your house is to light it up. Open blinds or curtains, collectively known as window treatments. Remove valances altogether—they’re outdated and often block some of your precious window light, not to mention they’re usually covered with decades’ worth of dust and cobwebs. Turn on overhead lights and lamps to chase shadows from the corners. If you’ve never looked before, you may not have noticed that light bulbs come in different whites. Choose the daylight-balanced bulbs rather than dull yellowish bulbs. With all this light, be sure you’ve cleaned well. Otherwise, you’ll be shining a light on a bunch of dirt.

A note about seasonal decorating, keep it mellow. During winter, for example, consider holly and fir rather than bright red Santas everywhere. And remember that people’s opinions of your property begin the moment the Realtor parks in front of your house. Give some thought to curb appeal as part of your staging—clean away the clutter and place a few potted plants on your doorstep.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at or call (707) 462-4000. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at If you send me an idea I use in a column, I’ll send you a $5 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.

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