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Preparing & Staging Your Home for Sale

Preparing your home to show is not a matter of taste, but of strategy
-- which is encapsulated in this simple question:

Is there anything that might be done which would result
in making you more money?

Regardless of current market conditions, it has been shown time and time again that a well-prepared home will sell for a higher price and in less time than unprepared properties.

Many items that may be done cost comparatively little, and yet may dramatically enhance market response and value. However, from basic cleaning to full staging, anything that appears likely to add significantly more value (in achieved sales price) than what it costs to perform is worth your consideration.

Remember that most buyers and agents have little imagination: If a property looks appealing, they respond well, and if it doesn’t, they simply walk away without even thinking of simple remedies.

The options below range from items that every seller should undertake or at least seriously consider – because the return on investment is so clear – to options that may or may not apply to specific properties or make sense to specific sellers.


  • Thorough, professional cleaning of the entire house, including carpets, hardwood floors and windows. The kitchen and bathrooms, in particular, should look pristine for all showings.

  • Fresh interior paint, especially of main rooms, with light, neutral colors. Perhaps the best investment a seller can make.

  • Flower boxes for steps, walkways, patio, deck and/or exterior windows: it is incredible the effect this makes on buyers and the value this can add.

  • Remove clutter from shelves, tables, counters and desk tops, closets, refrigerator, bathroom cabinets, garage, basement and attic.

  • Remove unneeded or unattractive furniture to open up the room and make it appear larger.

  • Set the dining room table as if for an elegant dinner party.

  • Maximize light and enhance views as possible: new lamps, brighter light bulbs, adjustments to drapes and blinds, tree trimming. Minimize unpleasant views with decorative screens, window treatments or glazed windows.

  • Change the use of rooms to enhance value—for example, from child’s bedroom to adult’s bedroom, exercise room to media room or office, recreation room to den/library, basement to workshop.

  • Replace selected pieces of furniture or area carpets.

  • Fully stage selected main rooms, such as living room, formal dining room and master bedroom—a less expensive alternative to staging the entire house. More on the topic of staging can be found later in this article.

  • If necessary, consider wholesale carpet replacement, or the addition of area rugs. If there is hardwood flooring under carpeting, consider carpet removal and floor refinishing. Purchase new doormats and carpet runners.

  • Stage back patio, terrace or deck to look inviting; power wash or re-stain decks.

  • Stage the fireplace, bookshelves, hutches, coffee tables and end tables.

  • Order pre-sale pest and contractor inspections: remedy specific deficiencies as reasonable and cost effective. Get estimates for those major repairs you will not be undertaking. (Reports and estimates will be provided to prospective buyers.)

  • Make miscellaneous small repairs, especially those that improve appearance: replace broken windows and old light-switch plates, fix leaky faucets, touch-up paint.

  • Yard, lawn and garden work: weed, plant flowers, mow, trim shrubs and hedges; if necessary, re-sod lawn.

  • Fresh exterior painting, especially of the front of house, front door and/or front fence.

  • Re-glaze sinks and bathtubs; fresh grout in bathrooms.

  • Make pet arrangements for showing times and open houses; if possible, relocate pets for duration of initial marketing period. Hide litter boxes and pet beds.

  • Have your home photographed by a professional real estate photographer once preparations are completed. The vast majority of potential buyers will first see your home through its photographs, and then decide whether to come see it in person.

  • To consider, if feasible: moving out for the first week or two of intensive showing—sometimes sensible for Sellers with young children. Not only will your house show beautifully every day, at a moment's notice, but it relieves you of the pressure of trying to keep your home pristine while living there.

  • Should you Stage Your Home?

    No one wants to spend more money or effort in the process of selling one's home than necessary. But if an investment of $1 in preparing the home for sale - which might include "staging" the home - brings a return of $2 or $3 or more, then it makes sense to seriously consider making it. Most Realtors have little doubt that making the effort to prepare a property to show in its best possible light to the buyer profile most likely to pay the most money, pays off, clearly and dramatically. It's a no-brainer.

    The issue of whether to stage is not about whether your home looks bad without it. As they say in the movies, it's not personal, it's just business. It's a business strategy: Is there anything one can do to make more money on the sale of one's largest financial asset? Looking at it rationally, buyers should realize that what they'll get at close of escrow is an empty property - that might need some painting, cleaning, and so on - with none of the furniture, rugs, artwork and vases of flowers they see at an open house. But that is not how it works in the real world. Most people have very little imagination when viewing homes for sale: What they see, the impact of how the home looks, determines its desirability and value in their hearts and minds. It's a visceral, emotional reaction, and typically, a seller only has one chance to make the most of it.

    And, of course, if your home is located in a market, like San Francisco, where staging is more common, your home may be at a significant competitive disadvantage if you don't.

    Homes that look their best generate more excitement - what we call the "sense of urgency" - and more competition among buyers in the market. They sell much more quickly and sell for more money. Anyone who makes their living in the business has seen it over and over again. However, it is difficult to "prove" the value of preparation and staging, because one can't sell the same house twice at the same point in time to compare results, much less the hundreds of times one would desire in a rigorous statistical study.

    We recommend hiring a staging consultant, whose entire experience and only job is to help sellers identify options to enhance value in the eyes of prospective buyers. Then review those options, ideally with your real estate agent, to decide what makes sense to you and which will generate the biggest return on investment.

    Here are a few articles regarding home staging to help you consider this option.Some of them are written by stagers or real estate agents, so you might not be convinced by their arguments or "proofs." Ultimately, it's up to each seller to come to his or her own conclusion on the issue and proceed accordingly.

    The Art of Home Staging

    Increase Value with Home Staging

    Should You Hire a Home Stager?

    Increase Value with Home Staging

    Staging a House Could Equal a Higher Selling Price