How to Stage a House to Sell Quickly, on a Budget. Your complete guide.

Get an as-is cash offer for your home

"*" indicates required fields

If you are considering selling your home, then you may be asking “How do I stage a house to sell?”.  In this article we examine why you should stage your house before attempting to sell it.  Then, we’ll give you twelve steps to stage your home for a quick sale.  We’ll also show you how to stage your home on a budget.

Why you should stage your home to sell

Staged homes sell faster

Does staging your home really make a difference?  In a study conducted by the Real Estate Staging Association, homes that are staged, sell 86% faster than unstaged homes.  They surveyed 634 homes listed for sale that hadn’t sold.  The unstaged homes spent an average of 107 days on market and were still unsold.  Here’s the real evidence for staging though.  When those same homes that didn’t sell, were staged and relisted, the homes sold in just 25 days!  In addition, those homes that were staged prior to listing them for sale, sold in 18 days.

Staging sells homes 86% faster

Staged homes sell for more

If your home is in a seller’s market, selling faster may not be that big of a factor.  In these kinds of markets, worrying about how to stage a house may not be worth the time and effort.  However, if you’re interested in higher priced offers, you might want to invest the time and effort into staging your home.

Jeff Lichtenstein, the owner of Echo Fine Properties in Palm Beach Gardens, an innovative real estate brokerage for luxury homes in Florida says “staging is maybe the most important part of our job because it can be a 10-15% +/- swing”.  While you may not get a 10-15% increase in price on every home, our personal experience is that 5% is not uncommon, assuming the home doesn’t have other negative factors.

What I find of interest in Mr. Lichtenstein’s comment is the plus or minus swing.  I interpret that to mean that not staging your home can have negative impact on your price too.  Most buyers are probably not going to offer you less just because it’s not staged.  However, if your home sits on the market and becomes a stale listing, buyers will often offer less for a property.  Clearly, selling your home quickly has multiple benefits.

Staged homes overcome odd floor plans

I originally was a skeptic of staging.  I wasn’t sure if staging really made a difference in selling a home.  And it could be so expensive if you hired a professional stager.  Then, one of the homes we flipped had a room who’s purpose was unclear to potential buyers.  The room had French Doors to the living room.  We immediately thought office, but our agent said the feedback she received during open houses was that people couldn’t figure out what to do with the room.  The result was the property languished on the market, which was really unusual for the area.

We took the home off of the market, staged the house and staged the room as an office.  Then we relisted the home.  We had a full price offer within a week.  We’ve since seen other homes with rooms that didn’t make a lot of sense, but where staging gave the room a specific purpose that buyer’s could imagine.

Staged homes sell dreams

Staged homes sell dreams, not just a shelter.  Lauren Holmes, a stager in San Antonio, Texas says staging “is about what the buyer envisions”.  Staging creates a Better Homes and Gardens atmosphere that sells a fairy tale.  How many of us don’t look at a beautiful home in a magazine and say “I could live there”?

How to stage a home in 12 steps

Professional staging can be expensive, costing anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, depending upon the size of your home.  In addition, some professional staging companies require your home to be vacant, which isn’t always practical.  So, how do we stage a home to sell that we still live in?  And just as importantly, how do we stage a house cheaply without spending a lot of money?

1.  Stop thinking like the owner

The first thing you must do  when staging your home is to stop thinking about what you like.  This is probably the hardest thing for home sellers to do.  Justin Riordan an interior designer with Spade and Archer Design Agency says, “the first step when staging your home is stop thinking about yourself. Remember: of all the people in the world who might buy your home, you are not one of them. Design for the buyer’s experience, not for your own experience. ”  That’s pretty blunt, but his sentiments were repeated by all of the professional home stagers we talked to.

2.  Empty every room

Some people do this mentally, while others physically remove everything.  Caroline Carter, a real estate broker and agent in the Washington DC area, who helps clients in transition between homes, suggests her clients “look at the room itself in its naked state”.  Carter says to look at it’s “width, depth, natural walking path, amount of light and quality of flooring”.  When staging a home to sell, we have to not think about what we used to use the room for, but start with an empty room and imagine what would it’s best purpose for potential buyers.

If you hire a professional home staging company, they’ll start by physically moving everything out of the room.  Riordan’s company, starts by “taking the entire house apart. We separate all of the decorative items into what we call ‘stores’. We will have a linen store, an art store, and an accessory store.” He suggests setting up these stores on folding tables in the garage.

3.  Make sure each room has a single purpose

Next, assign a single purpose to each room.  Make sure you don’t have any room with a mixed purpose, like an office that also serves as a guest bedroom, or bedroom that serves as a craft room.  A room with multiple purposes confuses buyers.

Carrie Miller, a professional home stager, staging instructor and owner of School of Home Staging emphasizes the importance of this.  She says, “Many homes have spare bedrooms that are used as craft/workout/office/storage spaces. Buyers want to see bedrooms.”  Most people who need an office or craft area can envision using a bedroom for their needs.  However, it’s a mental block for people to envision using a room with a big office desk or craft supplies as a bedroom.

4. Shop your house

Staging doesn’t have to be expensive and you should not have to go rent or buy new furniture.  Start by looking at what you already have.  Home stagers call this “shopping your house”.   Remember the “stores” we created in the garage?

Caroline Carter says, “look at each item you own without emotion to use in new and interesting ways-lamps, sofas, loveseats, tables, rugs, artwork, accessories and build each room… Has your old green sofa seen better days but the style and size are perfect? No problem-cover with a Sure Fit white duck slipcover for less than $100.”

5.  Ensure natural walking paths

As you think about each room, look for what are the natural walking paths.  You want to have plenty of open space and not force buyers to have to walk around furniture in an unnatural manner.  Ideally, each room should probably have only half of the furniture it currently has.  A typical master bedroom should only have a bed, a couple of night stands and maybe a dresser for furniture.

6.  Float your furniture

When staging your home to sell, use a technique professional home stagers call “floating the furniture”.  Jaime Huffman, an interior designer from Charleston, and owner of Charleston Blonde, elaborates.  He says, “Pull your living room furniture away from the wall and ‘float’ it in the room, anchored by an area rug to create a cozy space that looks inviting while still emphasizing the space in the room”.  An additional benefit of floating the furniture mentioned by multiple experts was rooms photograph much better, showing off the spaciousness of the room.

Floating your furniture not only creates an open, airy feel to a room, but it also focuses people’s attention on the purpose of the room.  For less than $100, you can add area rug that pulls all of the elements together.

How to stage a house to sell quickly

Float your furniture to create open space

This includes moving furniture and beds away from windows or other architectural features you want to stand out.  You may not want to float the bed and dresser, but they shouldn’t block or hide the best features of a room.

If you don’t have enough room to move your furniture toward the center away from the walls, that’s probably a clue that you have too much furniture in the room.

7.  Remove window coverings and drapes

Natural light is your friend when it comes to selling your home.  The more natural light you have, the better.  To increase the natural light, remove any window coverings and drapes.  If you cannot remove the window coverings, or it’s not practical because of privacy, make sure that the coverings are clean and left open when you are not home.

To let in additional light, consider removing your window screens and putting them in the garage.  It may seem like a little thing, but window screens filter out a significant amount of natural light.

While you are looking at your windows, be sure to clean both the window and the window tracks thoroughly.  If you have vinyl windows, you can easily use a screw driver to remove the bottom track for better cleaning.

8.  Depersonalize

I was recently driving by a home that was for sale during the Donald Trump impeachment proceedings.  Hanging outside of the home was a giant pro Donald Trump banner.  I don’t think the seller realized that though he may have appealed to maybe half of his potential buyers, he probably had alienated the other half.

It’s important when staging a home to sell to remove the items that make the home feel like it’s uniquely yours.  This includes all religious icons, political items, family photographs, hobbies and personal collections like trophies, awards, dolls, tea cups and your tea spoon display.  These things all say “the seller lives here”.  Instead, you want the buyer to envision living here.

Think back to the last open house you went to.  I’m guessing that at least once, you have looked at the titles of the books on the book case to see what the sellers were reading.  You’re not the only person who does that. I do it too!  If your buyers have a particular political or religious bent, then your book titles might negatively impact them.  You can eliminate this by turning your books so that their titles are toward the back of the book case.  It may seem subtle, but selling is more about psychology than it is anything else.

Selling is more about psychology than it is anything else

9.  Remove magnets and sticky notes from your refrigerator

Speaking of depersonalizing, don’t forget to remove magnets and notes from your refrigerator.

10  Use show beds to stage extra bedrooms

If you need an extra bed to stage a room, use show beds.  Miller describes them as “an air mattress placed upon cardboard boxes or, my favorite, inexpensive LACK side tables from IKEA. This is easy to set up and then you can make the bed with pretty linens so buyers can see the space in a much better light.”

11.  Closets

Start with packing up all of your seasonal items and put them in storage.  Lichtenstein suggests moving items from the master closet to other closets.  Your goal is that closets should be at least 1/3 empty.  You closet shelves should have even less.  Keep clothes hangers white or suede in your master closet.  Leave the pink and blue clothes hangers to the other bedrooms.

12.  Paint, Purge, Pack and Polish

Now, that you have a plan for how to stage your house, it’s time to Paint, Purge, Pack and Polish.


As you empty each room to stage, it may be a good time to paint before moving anything back in.  Paint does wonders to the appeal of a room.  Use neutral colors.  Your kids may have loved the bright colored walls in their bedroom, but light, neutral colors have more appeal.

Purge and Pack

If your existing furniture has not been assigned a specific task for staging, it needs to be removed from your home – either sell it, give it away or put it in storage. Don’t sabotage all of your hard work and planning by saying “I’ll just stick this over here”.  Keep the furniture to a minimum and eliminate any large bulky items.


Lastly, do a thorough deep cleaning room by room.  Start with dusting and cleaning windows, lights ceiling fans, electrical covers, doors and door jambs.  Mr. Clean “Magic Erasers” work great.  Be careful to use cleaners that won’t harm the surface.  Use a single sided razor blade with a little water to remove paint deposits on the window.  Those adhesive stickers your kids stuck on the window or doors can be removed with a little lighter fluid or you can purchase label remover at your local office supply store.

For more cleaning ticks, and tips for making it easy to keep your home show room ready, check out our Guide to Preparing the Inside of your Home for Sale.

How to stage your home for an open house

When staging a home for an open house, there are a few extra things you can do.


If you have done everything above, your biggest challenge will be latent smells and odors from living in your home.  You can counter some smells by putting fresh flowers or some fresh baked cookies on the kitchen counter.  Another favorite trick of real estate agents is to put a drop of vanilla extract on a hot stove prior to showing.  Be careful about too strong of scents as many people are very sensitive to smells, and may keep people from feeling comfortable in a room. Also, don’t try to hide permanent smells like animal urine or mold.  Hiding these odors could result in your being sued in a lawsuit later for hiding these problems.

Remove pets

Next, be sure to remove any pets from the property.  Not everyone will feel comfortable viewing a home with animals present.  Either take your pets with you or leave them with a friend.  While you can leave your pet in the garage or backyard, some buyers may not be willing to venture into those areas with your animal.

Leave early and don’t hang out

Potential buyers may arrive early for open houses, so plan on leaving at least 15 minutes prior to your scheduled open house.  Buyers don’t like it when the sellers are present.  It makes buyers feel uncomfortable looking at a room with a critical eye while the seller is in the room.

We recently were viewing an open house and heard other people upstairs in the bedroom.  The real estate agent told us the owners were upstairs, and that it was fine for us to go upstairs.  It may have been fine with the agent, but we personally chose not to go upstairs rather than interact with the owners.  Hanging out during an open house doesn’t help you sell your house.

Have an escape plan

Lastly, have an escape plan.  It’s not uncommon for buyers to show up unannounced, or with very little notice.  You’ll get a knock at the door and the buyer’s real estate agents says “We were in the neighborhood and saw your sign.  Can we come in?”.  When this happens, you need an escape plan, someplace to go, and a quick way to clean up and gather the kids.

Your escape plan should have a list of places to go or see when buyers show up unexpectedly.  Maybe you go visit with the neighbors or you go to the park.  If you don’t make up a list first, you’ll likely just end up driving around. We provide additional ideas for selling when the kids are in school in our article Four Tips for Selling your House in the Fall Season.

How to stage a home for appraisal

Staging a house for appraisal may seem important.  While staging can make your home look nicer, it probably will have only minimal impact on the appraised value.  Appraisers use fairly strict guidelines for establishing value and compare your home’s condition and square footage to other similar sales in the neighborhood.  Furniture arrangements and typical staging doesn’t have the same emotional impact to an appraiser as a buyer.

Your best step in preparing for an appraisal is painting and making repairs.  The one item an appraiser has any discretion about is describing the condition of your home.  Your appraisal will rank the condition and of your home on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.  Dry rot, loose paint, dirty carpet and cabinets are things that you can address, that will help toward the appraiser ranking your house’s condition higher.

How much time will it take me to stage my home?

Staging a home is a lot of work and takes a lot of time.  Riordan uses a team of 3-6 people and takes between 8 and 10 hours to stage an occupied home.  His team actually moves everything out of the house before staging each room  Most of us probably don’t have that much time or that big of garage to move everything into.  Even if you choose to mentally empty each room instead, it will probably take you 2-3 days to stage your home.  If you don’t have that amount of time, Riordan recommends hiring a professional staging company.


Choosing a staging company to stage your home

We promised to show you how to stage a house to sell quickly, and on a budget.  If after reading this, if you’d prefer to hire a professional stager, you can do that too.

Hiring professional home stagers

Professional home stagers vary substantially in quality and prices.  If you want to use someone to do the staging for you, I recommend you contact several local home staging companies to evaluate their services. Here’s several suggestions for evaluating a staging company.

Most home staging companies will charge you based on the size of the home, either based on number of bedrooms or the square footage.  Some, only charge you if you sell your home.  But don’t choose a staging company based solely on their price.  Ask to what homes the company currently have staged and then go an view those homes in person.  Don’t count on pictures alone.  You may need to use your Realtor® to go with you to view these homes.  Also ask if the company stages occupied or vacant homes.  Some staging companies only stage vacant homes while others only stage occupied homes.  Lastly, some staging companies provide professional photographer with their services.  Be sure to ask prospective vendors if they provide a photographer.

Low cost alternatives

Some interior designers will provide you staging suggestions and provide a general staging plan for your home.  Additionally, some real estate agents will do basic staging.  Ask your Realtor® if they provide any staging services, and what is included.

How to stage a home for rent (or stage an empty home)

Staging a rental property has it’s own challenges.  You don’t want to have to move a bunch of heavy furniture in and out for just a couple of weeks.  More importantly, you don’t want to have to store it when your not using it.  And the costs of using a professional staging service probably outweighs the value.   Miller suggests using using a furniture rental company.  She says, “this way there’s no storage, costs are pretty low, and the company will transport and move the items into the rental.”

If you have several units, and you want to stage your rental property yourself,  Miller suggests using some  “inexpensive but nice-looking furniture for showing. Just a few key pieces like a small sofa, small dining set, a show bed, and a few decor items.”  Keep them lightweight so they are easy to move and will fit into a tiny space in your garage when you aren’t using them.  Super important, make sure to let your prospective tenants know that the staging is not included with the rental.