Staging 101

Real Estate Agent with Lake & City Homes Realty

It's a well-known fact that most buyers have little imagination. Unless they see a home set up pretty much exactly the way they want it set up, they often have trouble imagining what a house would look like if it was arranged differently. That's why I'm a big believer in staging. I've been known to go to great lengths to stage a vacant listing, even using excess furniture from one listing to stage another listing! And I'm a big believer that in these challenging economic times, agents need to master the basics when it comes to staging their listings.

Sure there are a lot of expensive courses you can take to become a certified staging expert. I've even taken some of them. Or you can hire someone to stage your listing and cost your sellers (or yourself) a lot of time and money. There's no question a well-staged home (that's priced right) will attract a great deal more attention from prospective buyers, whereas an unstaged home (despite the fact that it may be well-priced) will more often than not sit on the market for an extended period of time.

With a little time, energy, creativity (and cooperation from your sellers!), however, you'll be surprised how well you can stage your own listings for little to no time and money.

Here are the basic principles I used to stage a new listing I'm putting on the market on Madison Wisconsin's East Side this week:

  • remove clutter from surfaces and replace with items (e.g. candles) that can be displayed in "twos & threes" 
  • don't mix vastly different styles of furniture in the same room (Victorian + Modern Contemporary = Ouch!) 
  • remove rugs that are sitting on top of carpeting (it might give the impression you're hiding a stain)
  • avoid clashing patterns when it comes to bed linens, throw pillows & blankets on couches, etc.
  • give each room one purpose (e.g. don't combine office equipment and bedroom furniture)
  • create "white space" in bookshelves, on side tables, on kitchen countertops, etc.
  • relocate any lamp that's sitting directly in front of a window
  • put fresh fruit or flowers in the kitchen and set the table
  • size artwork and pictures to the available wall space
  • open up spaces by removing or relocating furniture
  • if possible, create a focal point for each room
  • avoid putting too many pictures in hallways 
  • avoid displaying too many items on shelves
  • make sure outdoor furniture is left outside
  • avoid displaying personal items & photos
  • when possible, center furniture on walls

In three hours I was able to whip my new listing into shape (thanks to a very cooperative seller!). Here are a few "before and after" pictures I shot (I would have a lot more pictures to show you but I didn't think of writing this post until we were three-quarters of the way finished!).

Here's my before and after shot of the Master bedroom:


See how ghetto the first shot is?! My seller and I really laughed our heads off at these photos. Thank goodness he was so good-natured about it!

My seller and I achieved this effect simply by removing clashing patterns and pillows from the bed, relocating the office equipment and office furniture that was in the Master bedroom, moving a set of drawers to the other side of the room, removing outdated blinds from the patio doors and hanging sheers, setting up a small bedside table at the front of the bed, folding a blanket and placing it at the bottom of the bed, and placing a small number of decorative items on the remaining furniture. As a result, the seller (who had since stopped sleeping in the bedroom, opting for the living room couch instead), decided the bedroom looked considerably more inviting and decided to start sleeping in the Master bedroom again. Hopefully he'll even be getting better sleep now! I wish I'd gotten a before shot of the office furniture that was in the bedroom where the chest of drawers is now located- it really looked out of place! (See the photo at the end of this article for how the office looks now that it's relocated to a spare room that was just perfect for an office or den.)

Here's my rather dramatic before and after photo of the deck:


Here, it was simply a case of straightening the wrought-iron deck chairs (also taking one outside that was being used indoors) and opening up the umbrella. The snow was frozen solid so we couldn't do anything about that. Within less than 2 minutes we had a far more hospitable-looking deck!

Voila! The new office has been relocated from the Master bedroom to a spare room just steps away on the same floor of the house. How perfect does this look?!


For this staging exercise I spent no money and neither did my seller. Just a little time, creativity and teamwork got the job done (in three hours we staged the whole house). Most importantly, we got the job done before going on the market. There's simply no point putting a home on the market that you know isn't quite ready for prime-time (at least not in a buyer's market). Spend the time upfront to get the property in question in tip-top showing condition, even if you have to roll up your sleeves and pitch in yourself. You'll save yourself and your seller many hours of frustration resulting from negative or less than enthusiastic feedback. You'll also be able to market your properties with more confidence because you'll be secure in the knowledge you did everything within reason to get it looking its best.

For more pictures and information about this listing please visit my featured Madison WI listings located on the homepage of or call Jolenta Averill at Lake & City Homes Realty at (608) 230.5553.


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Steven Wright
Home Real Estate - Aurora, CO
CRS - Home Real Estate - 720-989-5283

Staging definitely makes all the difference. Thanks for the post.

Feb 05, 2009 03:10 PM #1
Jolenta Averill
Lake & City Homes Realty - Madison, WI

Hey Steven, Thanks for noticing! I honestly really enjoy staging my listings and always feel a great sense of accomplishment when it's all done to my liking. I'm sure my sellers think I'm nuts (although they always go along with whatever I ask them to do!) but I know from experience that staging absolutely works. -Jolenta

Feb 05, 2009 03:18 PM #2
Shane OnullGorman
Eau Claire Realty, Inc. - Eau Claire, WI
Eau Claire Wisconsin, Real Estate Agent & Realtor- Buy or Sell

Staging works. Thats a fact you cant deny.

Feb 05, 2009 03:24 PM #3
Jolenta Averill
Lake & City Homes Realty - Madison, WI

Makes you wonder then why there are so many poorly staged homes on the market? It can't just be bad photography. Well-staged homes look good even when the photos are mediocre.

Feb 05, 2009 04:00 PM #4
Libby Cousins
Extraordinary Processing - Spokane, WA
Contract Mortgage Processor, licensed in WA

When I saw the picture of the bedroom, before even reading the description, I thought your seller was a single guy! I am impressed with what a difference arranging the furniture on the deck made! even with the snow, it looks inviting.

Any chance the seller is going to paint the master bedroom? :-)

Feb 05, 2009 04:04 PM #5
Randy J. Mohr
Green Parachute, LLC - McCordsville, IN

Staging is a critical part of the selling process...nearly as important as pricing. Maybe I've been overdosing on HGTV, but I totally agree with your suggestions and hope you have continued success!

Feb 05, 2009 11:10 PM #6
Jolenta Averill
Lake & City Homes Realty - Madison, WI

Hi Libby, Good point about painting the Master bedroom and yes, my seller is a single guy (well, newly single anyway). He did paint the kitchen, he moved quite a lot of furniture out of the house, and I've got him working on a couple other projects so he's probably about tapped out. Plus, we're going on the market on Sunday. A different shade of bedding might do the trick and be faster. Thanks for your suggestion! Jolenta

Feb 06, 2009 12:58 AM #7
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