10 Easy + Affordable Real Estate Staging Tips from an Interior Designer

Elizabeth Burns Design | 10 Easy and Affordable Real Estate Staging Tips from an Interior Designer

When you are selling your home, the importance of staging is often down-played. In my opinion, staging is incredibly important when selling a home, if not completely necessary. Think of it like a job interview. When you are going to interview at your dream company for your ideal job, you are going to present the best version of yourself, right? If you show up in your PJs with bedhead, it's going to be hard for an employer to see you fitting in at their company. The same goes for buyers. The majority of potential buyers will have a hard time seeing through clutter, wild paint colors, and outdated finishes, even though you know the house is a wonderful place to live. 

Staging has gotten a reputation for being expensive, but it doesn't have to cost a fortune and you don't have to have a truckload of pricey furniture delivered to your home. I am 99.99% sure that if you spend a modest amount of money, you will see that all right back (and then some) when you sell your home. The bulk of staging is just organizing and tidying. The goal is to make buyers envision themselves in your home. They are not going to be able to do that if you have dozens of family photos laying around or piles of laundry stacked in bedrooms.

Here are 10 easy and actionable steps you can take before putting your house on the market:

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1. De-clutter the kitchen

Small appliances, drying racks, and bulky knife sets lining your counter tops - they've got to go! Kitchens are so important to buyers; you want to make sure the countertops are cleared and ready for cooking. I would leave 2-4 tasteful items on the countertops for staging such as an open cookbook, trio of canisters, fancy sparkling water, bowl of fruit, or vase of fresh flowers on the island. Look at Pinterest or your favorite home decorating magazine for inspiration. You must also clear off the refrigerator. I know you find your children's drawings and report cards to be adorable, but strangers probably will not. My advice is to clear the fridge completely and tuck away your kids' mementos and family photos for the next house.

2. Invest in fresh neutral paint colors

Even though you may have had some memorable family dinners in your beloved bright orange dining room, buyers may look at a photo of that dining room online and hate it and then not even schedule a showing. Me and you know it is just paint, but some buyers are not handy at all and view painting as more work than they want to take on. If you're handy, paint any room that has a really bright (i.e. hot pink), dark (i.e. chocolate brown), or dingy wall color. Check out my post of greige paint colors - a really popular color choice for today's buyers. Also, try to limit the total number of wall colors in your home to three or four. People tend to pick a different color for each room which makes a house feel choppy and less cohesive. Here are the paint colors we chose for our home for an example. Don't look past trim and doors. If they are dinged and scratched, consider re-painting or at least touching them up. Magic erasers do wonders on trim. :)

3. Get rid of bulky furniture

Do you have a canopy bed, wooden armoire, and three dressers in your master bedroom? Buyers are going to walk in, think the master is tiny, and walk out. Even if a room is large, having large pieces of furniture will make it feel cramped. You want to create the illusion of space so stick to the basics. A bed, two dressers max, and two nightstands (free of clutter on top) are all you really need. This is also a common issue in the living room. That over-sized leather sectional is probably the most comfortable thing on the planet, but if it takes up the whole space, buyers will have trouble envisioning their own furniture placement. Either remove parts of the sectional to de-bulk or put the whole thing in storage. I would rather see a home staged with two side chairs than a monstrosity of a huge sofa. Sometimes less is more.

4. Don't forget to add curb appeal

Outdoor living is becoming more and more important to buyers, so make sure to give attention to your home's outdoor spaces. Add rocking chairs to your front porch, hang bistro lights on your back deck, and throw a fire pit underneath the trees. These are all relatively inexpensive purchases that will greatly enhance a house's outdoor appeal. Make sure the landscaping is nice and tidy. Trim back bushes, pull weeds, and add a fresh layer of mulch. Raid the plant clearance rack at your local home improvement store for fresh plants and pretty flowers. We re-landscaped our entire front yard at the Brooklyn Street House for $50 by purchasing discounted plants. Paint fences, stain decks, and power wash siding. Give attention to anything that looks dingy or unkempt. If people think your home wasn't taken care of on the outside, they are likely to assume the same for the inside. 

5. Organize closets + kids rooms

These two spaces are where the majority of stuff lives. Storage space is really important to buyers and if your clothes are spilling out of the closet, that is going to translate into "this home doesn't have enough storage space." Pack up off-season clothing and formal wear you know you will not need while your home is on the market and get it out of the house. Make sure remaining clothing articles are folded neatly and tidily hung. In the kiddo's rooms, make sure all toys are off of the floor and ideally out of sight. Use inexpensive plastic totes for temporary storage. The beds should be made and the room should be kept as clean as possible. (I know, easier said than done.)

6. Deep clean

Nothing puts off buyers more than a dirty house. This is so important when showing a house. Make sure bathrooms and kitchens are spotless (don't forget to overlook tile grout - they can be painted if really gross and this stuff is amazing). Organize the refrigerator. Have the carpets professionally cleaned. Wash your windows. Wipe down cabinets, baseboards, doors, and light switch covers. Polish hardwoods (we really love Mop & Glo). Make sure there are no funky smells anywhere. Febreeze curtains, rugs, carpets, and upholstery. If you don't have time to do a deep clean, it is worth hiring a professional. Often they will clean dirty things you have gotten used to seeing and might miss if you clean yourself.

7. Hide signs of a pet

I am a borderline crazy dog lady, so pet lovers, I feel you. But not all people love animals like we do. During showings, I would make sure all pets are removed from the home and I would hide all litter boxes, food bowls, toys, and crates/cages if possible. People who don't like animals very much can often associate homes with pets as dirty (even when they are not), so don't even give them the chance to make assumptions. And if your little Fido is prone to having accidents, make sure the house is clear of little "surprises" before the showing starts. ;)

8. Create a sense of luxury

At the end of the day, buying a home is similar to shopping for a really, really, expensive item. If you create a sense of luxury in your home, buyers may feel more justified in paying a higher price. It also helps to tug at their emotional heartstrings and make them think about enjoying all of the luxurious amenities your home has to offer. Luxury doesn't necessarily translate to expensive. Maybe invest in a fluffy, hotel-inspired comforter and coordinating throw pillows to make your master bedroom look super cozy. In the bathrooms, hang plush towels (these are a great value), put pretty soaps by the sink, and add fresh flowers. Burn a fresh-scented candle (these have really cute packaging and smell great) during the showing or invest in subtle plug-ins to make the home smell amazing. People want to be able to rewind and relax in their homes. By staging it with items mentioned above, you are helping to paint the picture for them.

9. Make smart upgrades

If you and your real estate agent determine it would be beneficial for you to make some home upgrades, invest your money wisely. Instead of gutting your kitchen, why not paint the cabinets and install new countertops and/or appliances? Paint, new hardware, updated lighting, and flooring are generally pretty affordable upgrades that you can do yourself if you are a little handy. Just be sure not to go overboard with improvements. Don't take on any projects that you can't afford or that will be overdone for your neighborhood. 

10. Focus on odd spaces

Do you have a tiny bedroom without a closet? Or lack a dining room? While you can't change the fundamental aspects of these spaces, you can portray them in their best light. Turn that tiny bedroom into an amazing office with a fancy desk, swivel chair, and bookcases to show that there is indeed plenty of storage. Don't let a lack of dining room stop potential buyers from making an offer. Turn a wall in the kitchen into a banquette with a long bench, farm table, and coordinating chairs. Don't leave odd or lacking spaces up to your buyers' imaginations; show them the best use of space.


In the end, when you decide to put your house up for sale, your perception must slightly shift. It is no longer your personal home, rather an object you are trying to sell. Try to take the emotion and your decorating preferences out of the equation and cater to potential buyers for the biggest win. If you have any other staging suggestions (I'm looking at you real estate friends!) leave them in the comments for others to view. :)


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