If you’re about to put your home on the market, understand that you are about to engage in a war of sorts. Selling your home is a battle with other listings for the qualified buyers that are out there, a battle with everything else a buyer has to do for their time and attention and a battle with every other thing they could be spending their money on.
A well-priced, impeccably-staged home is the A-number-one weapon you must wield to win this war.
That said, it’s not at all unusual to experience the tugs of emotional attachment, resentment and even resistance when it’s time to stage your home. Staging puts your home, your things and your taste under the microscope and subjects them to critique – so it’s easy to get prickly at your agent’s or stager’s suggestion that the place might need more than a good spit-and-shine to get it ready for listing.
But let’s face facts: listing your home for sale is a war with very high stakes for your finances, your life plans and your emotions: the potential jubilation of selling your home, the ecstasy of selling it at top dollar, and the agony of not being able to get it sold.
So, it’s time to buck up, put your emotional sensitivities aside and get hard core about home staging – here are 7 tactics for your battle plan.
1.  Conduct a recon mission.  The US Army Field Manual defines reconnaissance as “a mission to obtain information by visual observation or other detection methods, about the activities and resources of an enemy or potential enemy.” As a seller-to-be, your recon mission is simple: to scope out the competition. As soon as you start thinking about selling, you should be getting out to visit the other homes in your competitive bracket – the other homes that your home’s likely buyer will also likely see – during their Open Houses.
That means you should attend the Open Houses of listings with similar beds, baths, square feet and price range to your own home, both in your neighborhood and in similar neighborhoods in your town.
If you do this for long enough, you’ll start to notice several things. If it’s been awhile since you’ve been in the market, you might be surprised at how pristine and attractively prepared the competition is, especially the non-short sale, non-foreclosure listings. You’ll start to see what homes look like that sell quickly and at (or above) the asking price, and what homes look like that lag on the market. You’ll also start to notice which listing agents and home staging companies tend to show the best-prepared properties: this is the beginning of your arsenal of information that will help you step up your home’s battle advantage.
2.  Create your plan of attack. To win this home-selling war, you must attend to the basics of home staging systematically, creating a comprehensive, written plan for everything from your home’s landscaping, the exterior and interior finish materials (paint, carpets, etc.) and every individual room of your home, including what you’ll do with your personal property and what furniture and decorative items will be used to stage the place. This plan, of course, must be created and carried out in the context of whether you plan to reside in the home while it is on the market, and in the context of your agent’s recommendations about how quickly you need to be able to have the place buyer-ready when you get a viewing request.
I strongly recommend that, at this stage, you involve some professionals in your battle preparations. Your agent should be engaged, and will be happy to have the chance to guide your property preparation decisions. Additionally, data has shown time and time again that homes prepared by professional stagers sell for more than their non-staged counterparts; consider enlisting one for your home.
That said, if you can’t afford a full-blown stager, consider reaching out to the staging companies you learned about in step 1, above, to see if any of them offer consulting services for an hourly rate. (Your agent might also be able to recommend a good, local stager.) For a couple hundred dollars, you might be able to get the most powerful benefits of a stager – their smart, creative and experienced thinking about what you can and should do to show your home in its best light – and incorporate that into your staging plan.
3.  Deploy the stealth tactic of demolition.  Turns out, some of the most powerful staging techniques are simply removing, demolishing and otherwise getting rid of unsighly features, versus adding or strategically enhancing them.  This is especially critical to keep in mind if you are staging your home on a shoestring budget – rather than trying to figure out how you’ll come up with the cash to buy a bunch of new things, focus first on whether there’s anything you can remove that will enhance a buyer’s experience of your home.
For example, I have seen the entire look and feel of a property take a dramatic turn in the right direction when a number of window coverings were removed entirely.  Studies show that the light this allows in actually makes people (i.e., your target buyers) happier than they are in the same room, darkened by drapes or shades. [Note: before you do this, take note of what a buyer will see out the window!]
I’ve seen similarly stunning effects when old, dirty carpets were pulled up. Again, though, umderstand that there might be some risk of exposing something worse, depending on the property.  That said, in many cases, buyers see imperfect original hardwood floors as far preferable to bad carpet. You might even be amazed at how relatively inexpensive it is to replace a couple of bad floorboards, compared with the costs of replacing the entire wall-to-wall carpet.
4.  Pre-pack.  The call to de-clutter is the rallying cry of virtually every stager. By that, they mean to clear countertops, floors, table-tops and every other surface in the home of as much of the minutae of living as humanly possible. All that should remain is the occasional decorative or functional piece – a clock here, a vase of flowers there – and even these things only to the extent that they jive with the staging plan.
While this makes sense, logically speaking, it can be difficult to wrap your head around exactly what this means when it comes time to execute. “Surely we should leave the model plane collection,” one seller might think. “Of course, we should make an exception for the classic ukelele,” another might insist.  Add to a dozen model planes even one mini Hawaiian guitar, then compound that with a few tissue boxes, candles, bottles of hand soap and inkpens, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for visual clutter, aka junk, in the eye of the beholder/buyer.
Some sellers find it easier to wrap their heads around the concept of simply pre-packing, versus decluttering. If you win this battle upon which you’re about to embark, you’ll be moving anyway, so taking the pre-packing approach harnesses the power of momentum toward the end of putting everything but the items you actually need to live your daily life in boxes and putting those boxes in storage or – neatly – in the garage, so they’re ready to go when your home sells.
5.  Wash, rinse and repeat.  The sort of cleaning you need to execute before you list your home is not like any cleaning you might ever have done before. It is not like ‘friends are coming for dinner’ cleaning, where the bedrooms don’t count. It’s it not like ‘white-gloved mother-in-law is on her way cleaning,’ where you can enlist the kids to run interference and distract her with the power of their cuteness. It even trumps ‘cleaning lady is coming’ cleaning, because you want her to feel needed, so can’t leave the place pristine before she comes – that would look like you were trying too hard!
The cleaning you give your home before showing it to buyers must be uber-thorough, covering every surface – even the nooks and crannies you’ve forgotten existed – and it must be from the outside in.  The best-staged, best-selling homes tend to have garages, basements, side yards, sheds and dog runs that are just as immaculate as their kitchens, bathrooms and master bedrooms.
Start early, give yourself ample time and  and if you have the bandwidth – consider investing a few hundred bucks to hire a cleaning crew to polish every lighting fixture and dust every baseboard and ceiling fan blade. Like your agent and stager, they can see (and clean) things you can’t, due to your familiarity with your home.
6.  Fixate on trims and details.  It’s tempting, when staging, to do the big jobs – painting the walls, polishing the floors, moving and removing furniture – and to run out of steam and cash before the little details get handled. But winning this war demands that you:

  • be aware that this temptation may come,
  • detect it if it does and
  • resist it at all costs.

One pattern you might note on your recon mission is that the homes that show as the most pristine, the most polished, are often the ones which were prepared with the most attention to detail. On the outside of the house, this involves making sure details like mailboxes, window shutters, eaves and even shrubbery are meticulously painted, trimmed and even replaced. Adding attractive flowers, door kickplates and knockers and house numbers are some inexpensive ways to add visual detail and a polished, cared-for look to an otherwise plain property.  Inside, window trims, door casings, moldings and baseboards have the same effect, as does ensuring that drawers and doors operate smoothly and that walls are scuff mark-free.

In this way, some of the least expensive home staging projects can carry the most powerful buyer-impressing payload.
7.  Be brutally honest with yourself.  When you think you’re done preparing your home, think again. It’s not overkill to go out on a Sunday afternoon, walk through a few Open Houses, get back in the car and drive up to your house, walking through it exactly the way a buyer would.  Ask yourself: What can you edit?  What looks like clutter? What is distracting? What stops a buyer from seeing the possibilities for their own family here?
If all else fails, take your agent with you – arm him with a packet of post-it notes and give him free rein to stick one on anything he thinks should be removed before showing the home. Then get that stuff out of there!

Ask Tara @Trulia


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