M: 408.805.1555

5 Home Staging Mistakes to Avoid

Marketing the house to the buyers’ liking

Melanie Kemp
Broker Associate
Coldwell Banker

  1.  Sometimes staging isn’t as much about what you’ve done as much as what you’ve refrained from doing.
  2.  In staging a home, your biggest asset is the imagination of prospective buyers
  3.  Be selective with what you choose, and your staging efforts will reap great rewards.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who believes more in the benefit of staging.  There’s quite a lot of data to indicate that homes that are properly staged likely generate more public interest and sell for more money than homes that are not staged.  I’ve been staging homes for more than 40 years, and I’ve witnessed nothing short of an evolution in this regard that would please Darwin himself! 

  1. Forty years ago, staging meant leaving the kitchen sink free of dishes, making the bed and picking up the husband’s socks.  
  2. Thirty years ago … putting out some fresh towels, turning on a light or two and brewing a cup of coffee
  3. Twenty years ago … all of the above plus cleaning out the garage and fertilizing the lawn
  4. Ten years ago … all of above plus decluttering the house, painting the interior, hiring a gardener to spruce up the yard and picking up the wife’s socks

Today I know firsthand how much more attention a staged home gets with additional professional touches and interior design which translates into more showings, more offers and ultimately a higher price in a shorter period of time.  The only question is:  Do you want to tackle staging on your own, or do you want to turn this over to a professional stager?  There’s merit in both.  You may be very good at it!  You’ll need to consider your price range and how much time, talent and money you’re willing to invest.  

If you’ve decided to do your own staging, you’ll want to make sure to do it right.  It’s easy to find advice on staging, but well-staged homes have also one thing in common – they’ve been mindful of the things not to do.  Remember, it’s just as import not to alienate your buyers as it is to appeal to them.  The trick is to eliminate the mistakes so that the highlights shine even brighter. In other words, sometimes it isn’t about what you’ve done that resonates the most with potential buyers, but rather what you refrain from doing.  

Remember, it’s just as important not to alienate your buyers as it is to appeal to them.

There is a right and a wrong way to stage a home.  Instead of focusing on what you should do, I want to take a minute and shed some light on the things you should avoid doing.  Not doing the following could be your biggest selling point:

1. Don’t over-stage your welcome

Sellers need to be aware of when they infringe on a home’s best features by incorporating too much.  It’s a gray area, but you need to be able to differentiate between a living space that is staged well and one that simply has too much going on.  If you are of the mind that you’re somewhere in between, I encourage you to err on the side of too little. It’s almost always better to have too little than too much.  There comes a point when it becomes counterproductive.

That said, there are at least two crucial reasons for limiting the amount of staging you do: spatial awareness and visual representation.  For starters, staging a home is meant to enhance its features, and its size is no exception. The more things you put in a room, the smaller it becomes. You’re reducing the amount of usable square footage with everything you include. Please be mindful of how much you intend to stage.  

Stagers are advised to make prospective buyers feel at home and provide them with a space where they can envision living.  It shouldn’t go as far as painting the whole picture.  Stage a room just enough for them to get an idea of what it would look like if they lived there. Provide the canvas, and let their imagination do the rest. The second you convolute their vision with an over-staged home, you may have lost them.

When staging, provide a canvas, and let the prospective buyer’s imagination do the rest.

2. Don’t confine furniture to wall space

Whether it’s human intuition or pure instinct, far too many people feel obligated to relegate the backs of their furniture to open wall space.  I implore you to resist the temptation of confining furniture to walls. Although some circumstances call for the strategic placement of items up against a wall, it’s by no means required.  I simply want you to rid yourself of the notion that furniture (and couches in particular) must go in a certain spot.  Instead, your main concern should focus on the most conventional setup your layout permits without sacrificing aesthetics.  I recommend setting up rooms in a way that lends it to good conversation with a visual vantage focal point to enjoy a fireplace, window or back yard.

3. Don’t neglect the little things

Again, staging a home is all about presenting prospective buyers with a blank canvas that they can work with. You don’t want to show them too much, as to prevent them from envisioning their own family living there, but you do want to give them a catalyst to spark their imagination.  The little things do matter. It isn’t enough to simply place a coffee table in the right spot; you must proceed to decorate the table.

If you’re not going to hire a stager, you can purchase small items to complement each piece of furniture. Done correctly, the little additions can go a long way in distinguishing the home from the competition.  Feel free to place a couple of books on the end table or some fresh flowers in the bathroom.  There are a few items I highly recommend.  They might not sound like much upfront, but I assure you it will go a long way in fostering a welcoming atmosphere:

  1. Decluttering your home is the single most important thing you can do to make it show better.  You’re going to pack it up for your move anyway, so get a jump on it before your first showing.
  2. Pets should be contained before a showing or removed entirely if they bark or otherwise are going to distract your potential buyer.    
  3. Try to pack up as much as possible in boxes and rent a storage unit (or store in your garage) to declutter your home and make it appear twice the size.  It doesn’t matter if your garage is packed to the ceiling if the inside of your home is clutter free, open and airy.
  4. Clear your kitchen counters of all appliances and kitchen sink from soap and scrub brushes.  Professional stagers often set up a small coffee bistro in the kitchen and fresh flowers in the bath.  Remove everything except fresh flowers, colognes, decorative soaps and tissues from the bathroom vanity.  Remember less is more. 
  5. Remove furniture that isn’t necessary in each room.  Does your home have twice as much furniture as it did when you first moved in?  Chances are over time it’s now overflowing just like mine!
  6. Remove unnecessary clothes from your closets so they’ll appear much larger and organized, making sure to clear the bottom the closet floor.  

  7. Can you organize your closet a little better now that you have a bit more space?
  8. Make sure your home is free of any strong scents from food or pets.  A “fresh” scent plug-in or candle can be helpful.  (Avoid strong floral scents.)  Any pet smell is a no-no.  Replace the carpet or furniture if necessary.  It will save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
  9. Make sure your home is as light and bright as possible.  Open all the window coverings and turn on lights for all showings or anytime you’re away in case someone arrives unexpectdly.  Replace all lightbulbs, and make sure they match in wattage.  Remember the outside, too.  
  10. A clean home is important, but particular attention should be paid to the kitchen and baths.  They communicate how how well you’ve taken care of this home.  
  11. Now that your home is clutter free, would a fresh coat of paint here and there spruce things up a bit?  I advise you to keep your colors neutral. 
  12. If your home is now free of excessive or older style furniture, would it be wise to consider renting some furniture to give it a fresh new look?  It’s amazing what one can do with a clean, blank slate to give a room a whole new look.  No joke:  Three of my sellers decided not to sell after I completed staging their home.  
  13. Remember, you want to appeal to the largest audience possible.  Make sure your landscaping is trimmed, fertilized and replanted if necessary with your sprinkler system fully operational.  Pay particular notice around your front door.  Remember, 90% of the buyers make up their mind at the curbside coming or going from your home.  The front presence cannot be emphasized too much.
  14. A longtime favorite for many years – bake cookies or simmer a cinammon stick on the stovetop.
  15. Make sure and ask me for interior design ideas.  I’ll be happy to advise you on which things you’ll likely get a good return on your invetment.  I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and have decorated/remodeled hundreds of homes.  
  16. I’m happy to refer contractors from my personal 43-page Resource List.  I’ll suggest you obtain several bids.  

Remember, when staging, you want to appeal to the largest audience possible.

4. Don’t stage every room

If you haven’t noticed already, there’s a reoccurring theme that has become synonymous with the most successful real estate stagers: prospective buyers must unequivocally be able to picture themselves living in the respective property.  Therefore I recommend leaving some rooms untouched — clean, of course, but untouched.  In fact, the only rooms I feel you reallhy need to stage are the kitchen, living room, any bathrooms and the master bedrooms.  Guest rooms, bonus room, laundry rooms and offices are optional, depending on the price range of the home.  Leaving a room empty sometimes helps a buyer evision their own belongings in the space.  I can’t tell you how important it is to elicit such a reaction. Their imagination might be your largest asset.

5. Don’t make it too personal

Once again, the concept of staging a home is simple: allow buyers to visualize themselves living in the home; however, to do so, you must remove yourself from the equation.  In fact, leaving remnants of the previous family behind will go a long way toward sabotaging your efforts to sell.  Personal photos and trophies/awards have a larger impact than you might think.  Your goal is to establish a blank slate — something the buyers can mold into their own living space.  At the very least, you’ll have an uphill battle if there are personal items preventing them from envisioning the living space as their own. So why not help them along? Get rid of anything that might suggest the home belongs to someone else.

Of course, there’s an entire laundry list of things I could tell you to do, but nothing will contribute to the sale of your home more than avoiding these simple yet critical mistakes.  Look beyond the to-do lists you’ve probably seen a million times at this point, and make sure you’re checking the boxes on the don’t-do list as well.  Whether or not you realize it, sometimes the most important decisions you make are the ones that require you to do nothing at all. Staging a home is no exception.