Thursday, February 13, 2014

Home Staging Tips + Free Printable Cheat Sheet


The tips below are the actual tricks we used to stage our home for a recent sale.  A sale which, to our happy surprise, earned us more than asking price and 6 offers (4 written and 2 more in the pipeline) by the end of 4 official days on the market.  Here's how we did it.

These tips may not all apply to your situation, and not all of them will be your cup of tea!  Just use the parts you like, and look for ideas & inspiration to stage your own home.

When staging for a sale, it helps to break things down into 3 phases:

Phase 1:  The Lead-Up
Phase 2:  Picture Day
Phase 3:  Home Showings & Open Houses

Phase 1: The Lead-Up

The main theme here is decluttering and paring down.  People will want to see the floors, windows, architectural features and get a sense of the space...  After all, that's what they're buying, not your stuff. Here's how to do it:

1.  Lists.  Walk through your home, room by room, and make a list of everything you need/want to get done. Write down every detail (replace 3 lightbulbs!), silly as it may seem, because you can easily (and will) get overwhelmed with things to do and remember while you're preparing to sell your home, and things can easily (and will) fall between the cracks.  Lists are your friend.

Lists also make it easier to delegate tasks.

Here are our walk-through lists:

In each area of the house, we marked items like so:  Sell, Move To, Get Rid, Unsure and Included in Sale.
In the end, we opted not to get any outside Storage (which is why it's crossed off)

2.  Declutter.  In each room, figure out what you can remove to make it more spacious, less cluttered. Removing can mean a number of things:  boxing it up for the new place, moving it elsewhere in the house, donating it, selling it or throwing it away.

On our lists, above, we noted which items fell under each category.  This made it easier for us to make a bunch of Craigslist listings at once, for example.  Or, when we had some burly friends come over to help us, we knew exactly which large pieces had to be moved - and where.  This made our tasks move along much faster, which is encouraging when you've just got so much on your plate.

Then comes the doing.  No way around this one, you've just got to methodically work your way through it, room by room, until all your tasks are complete.  (Hallelujah for helpers, especially when you're doing all this at 7 months pregnant!)

3.  Projects.  Ah, projects.  Renovations, updates, etc.  As avid DIYers, our home was a hotbed of ongoing projects.  Selling basically meant, time's up.  You've got to finish everything you started and let go of all the other plans you had.  Remember, kitchens and bathrooms sell homes.  We had to focus.  You can read all about which projects we completed, which we had to begin, and which we had to abandon in an upcoming post that I'm working on now.

4.  Storage.  We only had a limited amount of time and space.  We wanted the house to look its absolute best, but needed to be realistic.  We weren't ready to spend money for an off-site rental space to store the boxed-up stuff we wouldn't be needing for the next few months.  So we resigned ourselves to the fact that the basement and garage wouldn't be pretty.

That's not to say they things were thrown in there willy-nilly, only that they were being used as functional storage spaces, not as showpieces.  We had to focus our attention on our home's best features and let's face it, those were not the unfinished basement and ordinary garage.  Luckily, nobody seemed to care when we finally got to the showings.

A Note on De-Personalizing Your Home

I'm not of the school of thought that you must completely de-personalize your home in order to make a sale.  (And luckily, our agent agrees!)  Yes, it's true that people need to be able to picture themselves living in there, and you don't want to overwhelm them with your photos and stuff.  But there's a happy medium...  It doesn't need to feel like a generic hotel room.

I personally like seeing a few family pictures and personal touches like travel mementos, because it tells us a bit about what kind of people we're going to be dealing with should the home visit turn into something more.

Incidentally, my parents' home was sold (before it even went on the market, officially) when the buyer saw my mom's collection of annual portraits of my sister and I lining the dining room walls.  Granted, other contributing factors must have been the right neighbourhood, the right size and the right price for that family's needs.  But it's often the intangible stuff that we truly fall for...  In this case, the woman had said that that wall of photos gave her such a good feeling of a happy family living there for 20+ years, that she felt the house would do the same for her family.

I've heard of people falling for a house because the kids' drawings tacked on the fridge made them feel like it was a happy place to raise children.  We've all heard stories like this.  It's because we're human, and when we're looking for a place to nest we are often greatly influenced by how others nested there before us.

So with that, we cleared a lot of superfluous magnets and (uninspiring) papers off the fridge, and cleared off our horizontal spaces.  But we did not remove all our family photos and signs of a toddler in our midst.


Some people say you need to repaint your home in bland colors so you don't offend anyone with your color choices.  And in some extreme cases (fluorescents and very aggressive hues come to mind), that may be wise.  However, I know we will most likely repaint each room at some point to suit our tastes, so I couldn't care less what color a room is when I visit it...  I barely even notice the color.  But I concede that this point is case-by-case, as some people prefer to move in and leave everything as is.  It really depends.  My vote will always be -- if your colors aren't too out there -- to save yourself the hassle + cost and don't repaint.  If you're in doubt, paint everything in Cloud White.

Phase 2: Prepping for Photo Day

Photo Day is like your house at its absolute cleanest, on crack.  It's an exaggeratedly pristine version of your house - barest of bare - and it is a rare person who actually pulls off living like that permanently. But it works.  Your house will look amazing if you really dive in and properly prep for picture day.

Most people are visual by nature, and once we get past the price range and neighbourhood, all anyone cares about before wanting to more stats is what the place looks like. When you've got a photographer coming in with a high-definition camera to take wide-angle shots, every belonging you have will show. And you can be sure those photos will be scrutinized in your online listing.

Here's a sneaky secret: you can get away with a few details that the camera won't pick up.  If you're having to set priorities, choose your battles go for high impact.  Bare counter tops (but inside the cupboards? Not important).  Made beds (but the sheets underneath don't matter).  Sparkling bathroom (don't sweat the dust in the unseen corners).  Clean your windows as much as you can, but don't worry about the dust on the windowsill until people are coming to see the house.

Along with our awesome agent, Steven Barrett, here are the guidelines we set for Picture Day:

These scribbles are typed out below ;-)

Here's what Photo Prep was at our house:

- Beds made, pillows and couch straightened up, everything put away where it belongs...nothing out of place.
- Clean bathrooms; remove/conceal personal care products.
- Bare kitchen countertops (all small appliances put away, though we did leave our knife blocks and stove-side oil & seasoning station), bare fridge door.  No dish-soap out and no tea towel hanging on the oven door.
- Blinds up, curtains open.
- Lights on.
- No mat in the front entry way (to show flooring/enhance size), and roll up/take away the rugs on the floors (while a nice part of your decor, most people would prefer to see condition of the actual flooring.)
- Clear the coat hooks and boots piled near the front door.
- Replace toilet paper rolls, if empty.
- Replace all burnt lightbulbs.
- Clear bedside tables of stuff and books.
- Sweep cobwebs in the ceiling corners.
- Remove changing mattress on baby's dresser.
- Hang artwork or photo in the master bathroom, adding some visual interest.
- Finish painting the crown mouldings and unfinished threshold.
- Tidy the office, put all papers away.
- Tidy the toys, box some and put away the rest.
- Put clean laundry away (though if you run out of time, you can always just move the laundry baskets to another room while the photographer does his thing).
- Remove all the green painter's tape leftover from our painting projects.
- Empty recycling bins, garbages.

Here's what our bathroom looked like once it was staged:

You can read all about the challenges we faced + tips we used staging an older bathroom here.

Phase 3: Prepping for Actual Home Showings

We are currently living in our 4th home as homeowners.  In the last decade, we've visited more homes than we can remember, and have virtually toured hundreds more on MLS.  Block your ears and cover your eyes...  The things we've seen would give you nightmares!

Let's not spend too much time on moldy basements, vile bathrooms, crusty kitchens, filthy carpeting, or the time we visited a house completely lined with plywood...  Walls, floors, ceilings, even the shower stall.  Or the time I was visiting condos before my first purchase at the ripe old age of 23, walked through the front door of one and said to myself -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- 'someone's been murdered here.'  If you're reading this post, something tells me your home's key features are already a notch above these things, and you want to make it even better.

Personally, I find the opposite can sometimes be worse...  Trying too hard.  And even though I know most people mean well, certain things have actually made me cringe and want to end a home visit as quickly as possible.

You're Not Fooling Anybody! (aka Old Staging Tricks)

On Cookies...

Baking Pillsbury instant cookies to mask the smell of cigarettes or musty dampness?  While I appreciate your culinary prowess, this can come across more desperate than Susie Homemaker.  It feels forced, not as if a stranger is genuinely baking me my personal favorite cookies in anticipation of my very special arrival.  Plus I don't even get to eat them. 
Jokes aside, I will know as soon as I walk in the front door (see above) if a place can and will be my home.  When I know it's a no-go and there are cookies baking, I just feel really bad for their wasted effort, and want to run for the hills.  And more importantly, who's gonna eat all those cookies they keep baking for each showing?

On Candles...

Lighting dozens of highly perfumed candles... in mixed scents...  Yikes.  As a person who is highly sensitive to smell, this one drives me bananas.  Hands down, I will leave that house with a headache.  Look, we all know our homes don't smell like the inside of Bath & Body Works.  Who are we trying to kid? Moreover, what are you trying to hide?  Also, I just feel sad for the twenty minutes it took the homeowners to go through the house lighting all those darn candles...  And now they have to retrace their steps and go blow them all out.

There.  I've vented.  Phew!

Our Final Prep Checklist

After making a list of things I wanted to remember to do before potential buyers came for a viewing appointment, I decided to make the list in a way that I could just use it again and again, like a checklist.

(Below you'll find a printable version of the final prep checklist, modified to be as general as possible.)

Here's what was on ours.  At this phase, the bulk of the work is done and these are all relatively small tasks, more like maintaining what you've already done or simply double-checking that these tasks are complete.

*** A few comments:  our home was being sold in the winter, which raises its own considerations. You'll need a place for coats and drippy boots, clear a path up the front steps, arrange for snow removal in the driveway, salt the ice.

Also, it's important to show some nice summertime features like gardens, a deck or a pool, because they cannot be seen all that well in winter.  We provided our agent with summertime pictures which he then enlarged and printed in full color.  These were displayed in plastic sleeves on the dining room table.

Pets (in our case, 2 big dogs) bring on their own set of concerns too; cleanliness, fur, noise, arranging babysitting, etc.  Again, just use whatever applies to your situation.

I personally don't tend to look inside people's closets and kitchen cupboards when I'm visiting a home, but I know it's pretty common. How much time you want to spend organizing out-of-view spaces is entirely up to you.  Ours were orderly-ish, but we didn't spend crazy time on that.

Final Prep:

  • Clean kitchen
  • Minimize countertop stuff
  • Clean master bathroom
  • Clean additional bathroom(s)
  • Clean fingerprints on glass doors
  • Empty all garbage bins
  • Empty all recycling bins
  • Vacuum/Sweep
  • Steam or mop 
  • Shake out floor mats
  • Put papers away
  • Couch & throw pillows
  • Tidy coffee table 
  • Beds made
  • Put laundry away

Day of visit:

  • Boot tray ready
  • Fireplace on (it was electric)
  • Radio on (classical music lends an air of sophistication - and is free)
  • Something baking (if you are baking muffins, bread, etc as part of your actual baking (not as a prop), then go for it!
  • All lights on
  • Walkway clear of snow
  • Cars moved out of the driveway (it's a nice gesture to offer parking, not to mention offer an unobstructed view of your home)
  • Blinds all the way up
  • Dogs in the yard/garage
  • Pick up any dog poops outside
  • Outdoor garbage bins next to the house, or concealed in garage.
  • Summer pictures on the table.

Here is a free printable version of our Home Staging Checklist.  Just save it to your desktop and print!

Truth be told, although it was a ton of work, I've never felt more relaxed in our home or been as happy with the look of it.  It was the fully-grown-up, pretty-older-sister version of our home I'd always imagined.  Living with only the essentials needed for our everyday life, we wondered why we didn't live this way all the time.  This was something we addressed in our new home, and continue to address every day.

Parting Thoughts & Things That Have Worked Really Well On Our House-Hunting

  • Seeing a home in the daytime is the best.  I love to see how much natural light it gets, and this is hard to imagine at night.  If you can swing it, always visit during the daytime.

  • Homeowners who are welcoming and available for questions, but don't follow you around. Bonus points if they don't make you feel like visiting their home is a giant inconvenience.

  • Homes that are genuinely well kept and tidy indicate to me that these are people who have taken care of their home.  Sloppy with possessions can often mean sloppy with the home upkeep, so I keep my eyes peeled.
  • Not too much furniture crowding a room.

  • Bare floors, so we can see what condition they're in.

  • Bowls of fresh fruit. (Though that look of 55 lemons in a bowl is just excessive ;-)

  • Fresh flowers.  (Stumped?  Simple white flowers with greenery are always elegant)

  • People who took the time to clean (for photos as well as showings).

  • Soft inoffensive music, like a classical radio station.

To see all the before and after photos from our home, visit Our First House.  The Afters are pretty much all after our home staging.

In staging mode?  You might enjoy reading Staging a Guest Room/Office...  At No Cost or How to Stage an Old Bathroom or even A Complete Hands-On Guide to Staging Your Home for Sale which appeared on the For Sale By Owners website.

May luck be on your side during your home selling and house hunting.  And may you never have to visit homes like these, seen at Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos (quite possibly The Funniest blog I've seen in a long time -- thanks Linds xo).

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Cover photograph from


  1. Awesome tips! I love your perspective on whether to depersonalize too!
    Kelly @ View Along the Way

    1. Kelly thanks so much! Really great to have you stop by. I see so much out there about the "make your house look like a hotel" thing... While it's true that if a home was made to look like a high-end luxury hotel suite, people could be impressed and want to check in right away... It's just not very realistic for 98% of people out there to do themselves, on a tight budget like we were. My goal was to let readers know the kind of stuff they can do themselves, and I hope it was helpful! P.S. so impressed you guys paid off your house. Congratulations!


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