In-Depth Home Staging Guide. How to Make Your Home Stand Out

Picture of a living room.

Selling your home and selling your home quickly for top dollar are two entirely different things.


Yep! Anyone can have a comparable market analysis done on their home and put a for sale sign in their yard. But sellers who take the time to properly prepare and market their house are usually the ones who will sell their home more quickly and the ones who will based on the proper preparation and presentation of their home, will be the ones that get top dollar—every time—guaranteed!


Because their home appears bigger, better, and more well-maintained regardless of whether that’s true or not.

Unique, New (and Some Not So New) Home Staging Tips

What makes some homes sell faster and for more money than others (aside from the price)?

Think about that for a minute.

How does your home look from down the street and as you walk up to the front door? What feeling and emotion does your home give people the minute they walk through the front door?

People will make an immediate decision based on a feeling and how your home emotionally makes them feel. People want to feel comfortable, happy, and to experience an indescribable warmth about a home when they walk in. And if they don’t get that feeling, that immediate first impression will leave them feeling empty and they will move on to another house that does make them feel all that.

So exactly how do you go about making YOUR house feel like a home to someone else?

Through STAGING—but not just throw something together staging. Well-thought-out staging provides potential buyers with a visual and emotional experience from start to finish. This is what will confirm for your buyers that buying your home is the right decision…a decision they can make without having any lingering doubts.

So exactly how do you go about achieving that? Through thoughtful and methodical staging.

Here’s how…

Develop a Staging Strategy

Before you do anything else, sit down with your stager or with yourself and map out exactly what needs to be done to create the right environment. An environment that will make your home feel warm, inviting, and worth every bit of the asking price, if not more.

OK, but how do you do that?

Well, you simply use the following staging steps for making your house irresistible to potential buyers.

1. Get In Your Vehicle and Drive

You can start by getting into your vehicle and driving around the block then looking at your house from down the street. Make notes about what you see from a fresh perspective. What needs to be changed? What could you do to make your house look better—to make it pop? Is there anything you could do to make your house stand out and look like the best house on the block?

2. Curb Appeal

Your home’s curb appeal is the first impression a buyer will get as they approach your home. Sometimes a potential buyer will decide whether or not they are going to like your home based solely on how it looks from the outside. So you need to make sure the first impression is a good one. Here are some ideas to make your curb appeal pop.

  • Upgrade or paint your mailbox and add new numbers. Then plant some colorful flowers around the base, or simply add a fresh layer of mulch.
  • Trim all trees, bushes, and plants. Then rake underneath them to remove old leaves and dead growth.
  • Hang a seasonal wreath (or something decorative) on the front door and place some colorful potted flowers nearby.
  • Install new hardware such as new locks, doorknobs, and kickplates on all exterior doors.
  • Replace the exterior lighting.
  • Buy a new welcome mat.
  • Repaint or stain the front porch (if needed).
  • Power wash the exterior of your home and roof (if needed).

3. Decluttering and Neutralizing

Decluttering, or neutralizing as we prefer to call it, is the next step. Go through your house (and garage) and remove all non-essential items from the floor, walls, countertops, closets, etc.

The purpose of neutralizing is to turn your home into a generic canvas that will make it easier for a buyer to see the potential of your home and picture themselves living there. It’s more difficult for a buyer to do that if the countertops are covered with “stuff,” the closets are overflowing, and they see pictures of your family on the walls. Remember, removing as much as possible from your closets, cabinets, and pantries will make them look bigger and help potential buyers see their potential.

You have to pack anyway, so why not get a jump on that? Go ahead and pack up anything you don’t use daily and put those boxes in temporary storage, your garage, a friend’s garage, etc. Doing so will also make your home look and feel bigger which will help your home sell more quickly and for top dollar.

4. Cleaning

Now it’s time to thoroughly clean your house and that means every nook, cranny, ceiling, wall, light fixture, closet, window (inside and out), baseboards—everything! Hire a professional if you have to, but this one step could mean the difference between a good offer or a bunch of lowball offers. Remember, perception is everything. If potential buyers see a nice clean house, their first impression will be that your home has been well cared for. That alone will give them that comfortable feeling we talked about earlier from the moment they walk through the front door.

5. Furniture Removal and Staging

Sometimes staging requires the removal of large or excess furniture. And sometimes it just means rearranging your furniture, so it highlights the best use of the space. Whatever the reason, your goal is to create a blank canvas for potential buyers. If that means removing your oversized sectional and renting a simple couch to better showcase the space, then that’s what you need to do. Additionally, take a look around and do whatever’s necessary to highlight your home’s space in the best possible light and to make each space look as big as you can.

6. Don’t Forget the Garage

Organizing, cleaning, and decluttering the garage (and your shed) is just as important as doing it for the inside of your house. A clean, well-organized garage will give the impression that your house has been well cared for. Not to mention it will help potential buyers envision what they picture using the garage for themselves.

Remove anything you won’t immediately need and trash (or donate) anything you haven’t used within the last year or so. And, if you are so inclined, go ahead and paint the garage floor (using the proper paint) and walls. These are just a few visually appealing things that will make your home appear better than most.

7. Perform a Sniff Test

We all know our homes have lived in odors we can’t smell ourselves—also known as being nose blind. Therefore, ask your friends and family to come over and give you an honest assessment of any odors they detect so you can address them appropriately. Do they smell cooking odors, pet odors, cigarette odors, mold, mildew, or anything else?

8. Dealing with Tough Odors

Now that you know what odors are lingering in your home, it’s time to deal with them. How tough those odors are will determine what lengths you need to go to get rid of them. Candles and air fresheners are nice, but they aren’t always the best way to address certain odors because the underlying odors are still there. That means your potential buyers will smell an air freshener and odor combination which ultimately makes the problem worse. Here are some suggestions for the worst odor offenders.

  • Cooking and Cigarette Odors. For these odors, you might need to use an ozone machine to get rid of them. Ozone treatments are generally done by a professional and you (and your pets) will have to be out of your home for the day.
  • Pet Odors. For pet odors, usually, cleaning the floors and carpet (even if you had a pet treatment done) is not enough. Therefore, you will probably have to replace the carpet and padding. But that’s not enough for excessive pet odors. Sometimes you must also treat the concrete as well. This should be done before installing the new carpet and pad. If you don’t, the smells will almost always come back up through your new carpet. So remember, if there are tough pet odors that have saturated the concrete, you should consider treating and sealing that concrete before installing anything over it.
  • Replace All Window Treatments. For most tough odors, you will need to replace the window treatments regardless of what they’re made of. Almost all window treatments will retain odors. So if you’ve gone to the trouble of cleaning everything else, but don’t replace the window treatments, the odors will still linger and be noticeable. Additionally, consider having your furniture cleaned as well, especially if it’s fabric.
  • Vent Cleaning. Having your vents cleaned will help get rid of lingering odors and it’s also a value-added feature you can advertise to potential buyers. That’s one less thing they will have to do when they move in, and it shows you diligently perform routine maintenance on your home to keep it in tip-top shape.

9. What Do You Hear?

Turn everything off and pay attention to what you hear. Do you hear planes, trains, automobiles, noisy neighbors, barking dogs, a neighbor’s malfunctioning A/C fan motor, knocking pipes, etc? Most of the time, with the HVAC, TV, radio, and other white noise in the background, you won’t hear these things.

However, when people are touring a house, you and your family are probably not going to be there using those things. That means your potential buyers will be touring your home without all that background noise present. Therefore, your home’s inside and outside noises will be amplified. So listen to your home when everything is completely quiet. And if you do hear bothersome noises, consider having some soft music playing in the background to help eliminate that noise as much as possible.

10. Remove All Signs of a Pet

Remove all signs that you have a pet including pet bowls, toys, grooming items, collars, beds, etc. Then go to your backyard and pick up all the pet items there as well. And don’t forget to scoop any pet dirt before showing your home. Some people won’t buy a home that has had a pet in it, so it’s best to eliminate as many signs that a pet lives there as possible.

11. Highlight the Home’s Features with Tent Cards

Make some tent cards or have them made. Tent cards will highlight your home’s most valuable features such as “New HVAC,” “New Roof,” “Large Walk-In Closet,” “Granite Countertops,” etc. then place the tent cards on the item it represents. This will draw a potential buyer’s attention to that item and since it’s a visual, they will be more likely to remember it as well. Using tent cards works beautifully for drawing attention to your home’s features and you can bet no other home your buyer toured has them which will make your home stand out!

12. Personalize Features with the Potential Buyer’s Name

This is a tactic that no one else is probably using (similar to the tent cards we mentioned above). Ask your real estate agent to give you the first and/or last name of the person who is scheduled to tour your home. Then use their name to personalize your tent cards. For example, on the front door, you could put a tent card that says, “Welcome Home Jones Family.” Then you could put one in the kitchen that says “Jones Family Kitchen.” Continue placing personalized tent cards throughout your home. Even if you only place one on the front door, it will provide a warm welcome. This will make your potential buyers feel welcome and make them feel like they’re home.

13. Fresh Flowers and Baked Treats

Add some fresh flowers to your dining room table, desk, kitchen, and/or any other highly visible area. This creates a fresh, clean, inviting feeling that will help make your potential buyers feel more upbeat and at ease. In addition, if you bake some treats right before they arrive and leave them on the counter with a note that says “Welcome! Please Help Yourself,” this is just one more gesture that shows you care while engaging the buyer’s senses. You don’t have to make anything from scratch if you don’t want to. You could simply buy a roll of cookie dough and pop a few in the oven right before the potential buyer’s scheduled appointment.

14. Showcase Lifestyle Opportunities

Showcasing the area, the neighborhood, and the lifestyle opportunities it offers is a great way to show people exactly what it would be like to live there. This is going to require some good old-fashioned tactics like taking some pictures, gathering brochures and menus, printing reviews of fun things to do in the area and putting them into a Lifestyle Opportunities photo album, or perhaps making a collage on some poster board.

This will help your potential buyers see how much your area has to offer and how it could improve their quality of life. Or, if you don’t want to go old-school, you could drive around and record a video of these same things and have the video playing on your laptop or TV as they tour your home.

Alternatively, you could put this home and area amenity tour on a flash drive and give one to all potential buyers. This will enable them to review everything again while they are trying to decide which home to buy. Seeing is believing and you can bet no other house they’ve looked at has done this!

You should be determined to make your home stand out and be uniquely memorable!

15. Expand Your Home with an Outdoor Living Space

Showcase your backyard by turning it into an outdoor living space if you don’t have one already. This will make your home’s actual space feel bigger because it extends outside to a place where potential buyers can envision themselves entertaining, relaxing, and/or barbequing. You can add a firepit, table and chairs, TV and bar area, bocce ball, you could even install a hammock, and anything else you think would make your outdoor space seem more useable.  

16. Windows, Doors, and Hardware

You will probably want to replace the windows or the window glass panes if the seals are broken and are so fogged you can’t see out. In addition, make sure all your doors open and close easily and if they make any given room look smaller, then you might want to remove them for now. Another visually appealing touch is to replace all the hardware on your cabinets, drawers, doorknobs, etc. So when people look at them and touch them, they look and feel nice and new.

17. Maintenance—Repair or Replace

It’s best, whenever possible, to replace anything that needs to be replaced and repair anything that’s broken unless you are selling your house “as is.” Talk with your real estate agent for additional advice about which items will bring you a return on your investment if replaced and those that won’t.

18. Interior/Exterior Painting and Why

If possible, it’s best to have your home painted inside and out before putting it on the market. Painting is the single most effective thing you can do to make your home more marketable. And if you can’t afford to have the entire home painted, at least paint the trim, baseboards, shutters, and doors.

Now let’s move on to some popular staging tips and tricks.

Popular Home Staging Tips and Tricks

Here are some popular tips and tricks professional stagers use to showcase a home’s features.

  • Set the dining room table and add fresh flowers.
  • Place some nice, new throw pillows on the couch.
  • Add lighting to brighten dark rooms and corners.
  • Clear everything off your countertops except a few decorative items.
  • Pack everything in your kitchen cabinets and closets to make the space feel bigger.
  • Remove all refrigerator magnets and clean the door seal.
  • Empty all trash cans and place them out of sight.
  • Only use neutral-colored paints and remove any taste-specific decor.
  • Replace all switch plates and outlet covers with new ones.
  • If the dining room is small, use a small table with only two chairs.
  • If the bedroom is small, use a smaller bed, small furniture, and less of it to make the room look bigger.
  • Keep window blinds closed to areas where the view is not stellar.

The Bottom Line

Whatever you do, don’t skip the staging, and don’t stage anything unless you do it right; otherwise, your staging efforts could have the opposite effect. The goal is to showcase your home’s features, not its weaknesses.

Home staging, when done right, will almost always bring you higher offers and will also help you sell your home more quickly. So talk with your real estate agent about implementing some of these home staging tips. Or better yet, have your home professionally staged.

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