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Avoid These 10 Home Staging Mistakes When Selling Your Home

From leaving dog poo in the backyard to dumping your stuff in the garage, these errors could cost you a sale

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Photo Illustration: AARP; (Source: Getty Images (2))

Getting ready to sell your house? It’s time to stop thinking of it as your home and stage it so would-be buyers can imagine their story there. ​​That’s the advice of Angel Booth, owner of Vignettes Home Staging in Richmond, Virginia. “The whole concept is marketing,” says Booth. “We’re trying to tell that story of how the potential buyer could live in that space.” ​​Staging can range from relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself decluttering and deep cleaning to hiring a professional like Booth who can offer redecorating tips and arrange for rented furniture and accessories worthy of HGTV. But 44 percent of seller’s agents say staging had some effect on increasing a house’s sales price, according to a 2023 report on staging by the National Association of Realtors.

​​“Staging is really [like] getting dressed up for family pictures,” says Livi Folk, owner of Honey Bee Staging and Design in Ogden, Utah. “We don’t live that way every day. It’s a once-a-year-maybe thing. You just want it to look its absolute best.” ​​Of course, it can be hard to look at your home with a real estate expert’s neutral eye and knowledge of the market. So if you plan to stage your house to sell, here are 10 mistakes to avoid, based on advice from professional stagers and real estate agents around the country.

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​Don’t ignore buyer demographics

​​It’s important to think about how buyers will want to use the space, experts say. For example, you might be happy to use the dining room table as a home office, but young families might imagine something else. “They visualize the space as dining space where they can enjoy a meal with each other,” Booth says.

​Also, she and other experts say, staging a home for upscale or luxury buyers might mean bringing in accessories or furniture that’s higher-end than your own, appealing to buyers’ aspirational fantasies.​

Avoid stepping outside the local aesthetic

​Different regions call for different staging styles, says Danielle Hayward, a former stager who now sells real estate on Cape Cod with Kinlin Grover Compass in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. Buyers she’s working with, for example, embrace a coastal lifestyle, perhaps with marine or nautical themes, not a log cabin look. ​​“I think our staging on Cape Cod is going to look different than staging out west in the mountains,” she says. If you need tips, Hayward and others suggest scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest to check out trends. ​​

Don’t leave big projects to the last minute

​If possible, give yourself a few months to finish that long-standing DIY project or do a bigger makeover that might make a difference in sales price, says Matt Winzenried, a broker and co-owner of Realty Executives in Madison, Wisconsin.

​“Maybe there’s a half bath in the basement that just isn’t finished,” he says. “Let’s finish that project or finish a basement as a whole.”​

Stop using the garage as a dump zone

Hayward likes to quote the Jerry Seinfeld line that nothing ever comes back into the house from the garage. So take action on the things that you’ve thought about getting rid of but, instead, just moved to the garage years ago, she says. ​

​“I think a clean garage will tell you a lot about how the home has been maintained.” ​​

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Forgo the family photos

​​It might seem cold, but most experts recommend removing family photos when you stage your home in order to create a neutral space. "We don’t want to profile religiously, politically or personally,” Folk says. “If you’ve got a cute gallery wall, maybe just take the photo out and replace it with some cool nature print or do some little abstract design. We’ve used silly things like wallpaper samples in frames.” ​ ​

Don’t be cheap with the thermostat

​​Be sure would-be homebuyers are comfortable. If the temperature is low and buyers are shivering, it sucks all the enjoyment out of showings and is really challenging, says Winzenried. “We’re in Wisconsin, it’s 5 degrees out right now, and so you walk into home and it’s 55 degrees in the home, it’s not a welcoming environment.”

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​Avoid letting bathrooms get icky

​​In bathrooms, less is more, says Kiki Quiles, a real estate agent with Century 21 North East in Lawrence, Massachusetts. She and other experts advise a really deep clean, then swapping out a dark shower curtain for a light one, switching out dated light fixtures, putting out fresh linens, removing rugs and being aware that homebuyers will go through your cabinets. Be sure to remove or lock up any medications. ​​“And my biggest pet peeve is seeing agents that take photos of bathrooms with a toilet seat up,” Quiles says.

​​Hide signs of Fido and Fluffy

​​You love your pets but buyers might not. Put away beds, bowls, toys, litter boxes and everything else a pet can leave behind, says Winzenried. ​​“There’s been times where I’ve been walking in the yard and you step in something,” he says.

​Again, he advises thinking like a buyer. “Maybe they don’t want dog toys sitting on the couch, a chewed-up bone in the corner. Let’s get rid of that stuff.” ​

Don’t flunk the sniff test

​​Hayward compares home shopping to speed dating, and smell is often a buyer’s first impression. “You come in and decide within 30 seconds, ‘Is this home going to work for me?’ ’’ she says. “And if there’s a really strong smell in it, it may be a deal-breaker for some people.” ​​Ask a friend to tell you truthfully how your home smells, but be wary of going overboard with air fresheners. “Anytime you’ve got the Glade plug-ins or whatever in every single room, people start wondering what you’re trying to hide,” Folk says.

​Avoid misleading potential buyers

​​One trend of the past few years, particularly for vacant homes, is virtual staging, which involves adding digital furniture and accessories to photos of vacant rooms. If your agent suggests virtual staging, make sure they disclose in the online listing that the look is created digitally, Folk and other experts say. ​​Otherwise, would-be buyers may be disappointed when they walk into a house that doesn’t actually have furniture. ​​“You also run into that bait-and-switch feeling where you see [the house] online and it looks beautiful, but in person it feels like this big empty shell,” says Folk. “If you’re going to use [virtual staging], at least have those same virtual pictures blown up big and bold in the spaces for people to refer to when they walk through the home.” ​​

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