living room home staging

If your home is beautiful to the eye but smells bad, is strangely hot or cold, or has a noise issue (neighbors’ music, freeway noise, or strange in-house creaks or whirs), buyers might fixate on the multisensory challenges.


It’s time to face the facts: Your DIY staging could be holding you back from a home sale.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially in real estate. One person’s dream home might be a Mad Men–styled contemporary, while another’s includes all the gingerbread charm of a classic Victorian.

But when it comes to prepping a home to be viewed and (fingers crossed!) sold, there is both art and science to making your home appeal to all buyers. Studies have shown professionally staged homes sell faster and for more than nonstaged counterparts.

However, staging is an investment, one every seller can’t afford. That’s when staging becomes a DIY project, which can either have fantastic results or miserably fail.

If you’re selling your home, be wary of these mistakes DIY stagers commonly make:

1. Beat-up or ugly furnishings

Great staging — DIY or professional — includes choosing furniture that shows your home in its best light. Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging existing furniture to improve the “flow” of a room.

But if you’ve been meaning to replace faded upholstery or nicked furniture, all the rearranging in the world won’t help. You may need to rent some upgrades so to not scare off buyers. Check local stores or staging companies for rental options, or browse online for used furniture at great prices.

Remember, just because it’s a steal doesn’t mean it’s going to get the job done. Look for pieces that are in good condition, fairly neutral-colored, and on the smaller side to highlight the space in your house.

2. Off-putting themes and scenes 

Barb Schwarz, head of the International Home Staging Professionals Association, defines staging as “preparing a home for sale so the buyer can mentally move in.”

The goal is to help buyers visualize their new-and-improved lives within your home. With this in mind, some pro stagers will set up objects to communicate the lifestyle a home facilitates.

A home stager might set up a breakfast table and chairs on the patio of a home with lovely views, a crib and baby gear in a small room suitable for a nursery, or a popcorn popper and recliners to show off a media room’s theater-readiness.

Don’t get carried away with this side of staging. While a mountain cabin may be ideal as a hunting retreat, most pros wouldn’t advise you to fill a room with your taxidermy collection.

Avoid setting up too many lifestyle-specific scenes or run the risk of alienating prospective buyers. As you did with your furniture upgrades, create environments that are neutral and clean, with an eye to appealing to as many buyers as possible.

3. Clutter-filled rooms

It doesn’t take a truly filthy house to turn a buyer’s impression of your home from awesome to awful. The little messes that accumulate through daily living can be perceived by buyers as distracting at best — disgusting at worst.

It can be a challenge to keep your home in pristine condition, but do your best to keep the piles of clothes, mail, and toys to a minimum. This mess can quickly undo all the hard work and selling power of a well-staged home.

First, dedicate yourself to decluttering your space. Next, set up a daily “pickup patrol.” Take 10 to 15 minutes to sweep through your home each night to wipe, stow, and toss so that you can keep your place pristine.

4. Glaring staging gaps

Sometimes a home’s staging leaves a glaring gap. The seller either ran out of time to get to a certain room or just didn’t have the money to invest in the home’s exterior.

Areas that are commonly overlooked include:

Unused rooms: Don’t let there be one or two rooms that look as though you forgot about them. This goes for the garage, closets, cupboards, and drawers too. Buyers like to open anything with a hinge to see the space inside. If all they see is junk, it creates the impression that the house lacks storage space.

Exterior vs. interior: Some homes have amazing curb appeal, but their interiors look as though someone’s run roughshod over them. And the opposite also is true: Some look as if Martha Stewart handled the inside and junkman extraordinaire Fred Sanford was in charge of the yard. Neither of these is ideal. Make sure the wrapping reflects what buyers will find inside.

Multisensory gaps: If your home is beautiful to the eye but smells bad, is strangely hot or cold, or has a noise issue (neighbors’ music, freeway noise, or strange in-house creaks or whirs), buyers might fixate on the multisensory challenges.

If you have pets, you might want to ask a friend or your agent to give you a reality check on whether your home is smelly — you may be so used to it that you can’t trust your own senses.

5. Too much personality

Home decorating and home staging are two different things. When you decorate your home, you customize it with your specific tastes in mind. When you stage it, you aim to neutralize your home’s look and feel so it appeals to as many buyers as possible.

Barb Schwarz puts it this way: “Decorating a home is personalizing it. Staging a home is depersonalizing it.”

Your Elvis quilt art, red lacquer furnishings, or sewing machine collections may be beautiful to you, but they make it next to impossible for prospective buyers to envision their own lives in your space.

Even those on a tight budget should consider a home-staging consultation with their agent and a professional stager. These pros can call out little “edits” (furniture or decor items you should remove) that you never thought about and give you advice about what buyers love and hate to see in a home. Most of their tips you’ll be able to execute yourself at little to no cost.

What’s the biggest staging misstep you’ve seen (or made)? Share in the comments below.