June 16, 2021

Many home sellers are looking for advice on staging a house on a budget. I understand the desire to save money, and moving out of your house and hiring a staging company to fill it with their assets can get really expensive. But there's an alternative: A professional home staging consultation that will provide custom recommendations specifically for your home. During a staging consultation, the consultant will visit your home (or, if it's an online consultation, preview photos that you provide) and offer suggestions for making your home marketable to your targeted buying demographic.

For example, you might be wondering if you need to paint. I have no idea. I haven't seen your house. Let's say that you already know there are some rooms that should be repainted. What color should you paint them? Again, I can't specify without seeing your home. And there's no such thing as "just neutral" or "just white" when it comes to paint colors.  A professional home staging consultant would need to see the fixed finishes of your house (flooring, countertops, cabinetry, etc.) to know which paint color you should use to sell your house quickly and for more money. Each color has an undertone, and some grays, whites, and beiges can clash horribly with other colors and finishes in a home.

But if you still believe you can't afford a professional, custom consultation, there are some one-size-fits -all home staging tips I can offer for staging a house on a budget. Since money is tight for you, I'm only including the tips that cost around $100 or less each to implement. Most of these tips won't cost you anything but your time and effort.

Checklist of 20 Free Tips for Staging a House on a Budget

  • Depersonalize Your Home - Remove all family photos, collections, items that indicate your religious and/or political ideologies, sports memorabilia, framed diplomas and degrees, awards, trophies (especially taxidermy), plaques, and anything with your name on it. Reason #1: When buyers see these items, it feels to them like you've marked your territory. By being reluctant to prepack these items, you're giving the impression that you haven't emotionally detached from the house, preventing buyers from forming their own emotional attachment to it. Reason #2: Your personal effects everywhere make buyers feel like they're intruding. Those items are reminding them that it is someone else's home. Not only does this make it more difficult for them to imagine the house as their home, it makes them feel rushed. They may feel badly for inconveniencing you and will be in a hurry to get out so you and your family can return. If they are rushing out of the house, they're very unlikely to submit an offer. Reason #3: If these items are important to you, that's all the more reason to get them out of the house before dozens of strangers start touring it. Prepacking these items will keep them from getting damaged or stolen. This is especially important for sentimental objects that no amount of money can replace. Reason #4: Last but not least, this is for your personal security. There is not one good reason for all the strangers who will be viewing photos of your home on the internet and visiting the home in person need to know what you look like, what your names are, where you work, where your kids go to school, etc. These strangers could be predators or identity thieves posing as buyers. Be especially careful to hide all bank and credit card statements, birth certificates, etc. And for goodness sake, if you usually leave spare keys and/or garage door openers in the open, hide them well. Also hide prescriptions medications, even the ones for your pets. 
  • Remove All Magnets and Other Items From the Refrigerator - Photos, reminders, calendars, school lunch menus, children's drawings.... everything should be removed from the front and side of the frig.  
  • Remove Excess Furniture - This will open up more space and give buyers the perception of more square footage. If I were providing a custom consultation for you, I would be able to point out specifically which pieces should be put into storage, and how the rest of the furniture should be rearranged. Since I'm not there to help, the best guidance I can give you is too look for pieces that are there solely for your comfort but don't fit in with the rest of the furnishings in your room. For example, in my own home, I have a huge, outdated, chocolate brown recliner that I still love. It's my favorite place to watch TV. But I've replaced all the other furniture in the family room since I purchased that chair many years ago, so this recliner no longer coordinates with the rest of the room. It's also crowding the room a bit. If I ever decide to sell my home, I'll sell the recliner or put it into storage until I move into my new home. Your turn to do this is now, however. Just don't remove too much. Each room should still be left with the standard quantity, size and type of furniture a buyer would expect to see in such a space. We need them to be able to guage the scale of the room and be reassured that it has adequate square footage by seeing how much furniture can fit without the space looking crowded or cluttered. If you're concerned about the cost of renting a storage unit or pod for the things you'll need to store, ask family or friends if they have extra space in their garage they'd be willing to loan to you for a couple months.  
  • Remove All Visible Toiletries From Bathrooms - All makeup, perfume, deodorant, hair care products, nail polish, toothbrushes, and other toiletries sitting out on the bathroom counters should be in a drawer or cabinet. Use a shower caddy to store all of the hair and skin care products you use in the tub or shower. Keep the caddy in a cabinet when you're not bathing.
  • Pack Away Most of The Kids' Toys - Keep out the ones they can't live without, but pack the rest away for now. When they open up those boxes at the new home, it will be like their birthday or Christmas again for them. Be sure to keep all the toys that will be staying in the home in the kids' bedrooms or a designated playroom.  If your targeted buyer is likely to have kids or plans to start a family while in the home, toys in the family room, dining room, etc. will give buyers the impression the house isn't big enough to raise a family. In reality, they'll probably end up with toys in these areas, as well, but every home buyer has grand illusions of an always-organized, spacious new home. If they don't see an organized, spacious home when they visit your listing, they may doubt that it's possible in this home. A final note on toys: Keep your kids' favorite toys hidden from other children who may be accompanying their parents when they tour the home. You want to prevent those treasures from being damaged or carried off.
  • Remove Items From Top of Cabinets - If you have any items on top of your kitchen cabinets and/or refrigerator, pull them down. This is includes decorative items. You may be able to use a few of those things to style your countertops, but the rest should be packed away.  I used to get a lot of compliments on the way I styled the area above my kitchen cabinets, but that was twenty years ago. It's an outdated look and also makes the kitchen look really cluttered in photographs.  
  • Power Wash - Professional pressure washing can get pricey, so if you don't already own a power washer, I recommend renting or borrowing one. Wash the sidewalk in front of the house, the driveway, the front porch and any other hardscaping on the property. Wash the house itself, too, but be sure not to use too high of a setting or the pressure may damage the house, particularly if it's covered in stucco. 
  • Wash All Windows, Every Level, Inside and Out - Again, you could hire a professional window cleaning company, but this is also something that can by a DIY project if you're willing to put in the time and effort.
  • Repair Any Damaged Window Screens - There are several how-to DIY videos on YouTube showing how to change the mesh in a window screen. 
  • Clean Up the Landscaping - Pull weeds, cut out dead foliage, trim trees and shrubs, plant some fresh flowers by the front door, and spread dark brown bark in your flower beds between the plants. Be sure not to purchase a mulch that has manure in it, or the odor is all buyers will notice as they approach your house.
  • Remove Almost Everything From Kitchen Countertops - Pack away all those gadgets and small appliances that you hardly ever or never use. Definitely remove the block of knives, if you have one (this is for security reasons). Clear space in your cabinets or pantry for the items you use regularly and store them behind closed doors. You can leave out your most attractive appliances, such as a stainless steel coffee maker that coordinates with your stainless steel appliances or a classic Kitchen Aide mixer in a color that coordinates with the kitchen accents. Replace some of the stuff you removed with a few decorative items, and make sure you have at least one plant sitting out.
  • Deep Clean - This is another item on the list you do yourself to save money. But commit to doing as good a job as a professional cleaning company would. Shampoo carpets, steam grout, dust everywhere including the tops of door frames and ceiling fans, clean the blinds, etc.
  • Neutralize Odors - Since you live there day in and day out, you may not notice them, so ask a friend or neighbor to come by and give it the sniff test. If there are any odors, use an odor neutralizer rather than just trying to cover up the odor with a fragrance. The best fragrance for selling a home is none. Some people have very strong aversions to certain fragrances, no matter how much you might love that same smell. Other people have strong allergic reactions to synthetic fragrance oils or even natural essential oils. If you fee you must add fragrance to your home, pick a fragrance like "Fresh Linen", "Clean Cotton" or similar. Stay away from all other scents. Even if they don't have an aversion or allergy, when buyers smell anything but "clean", they will suspect you're trying to cover up a foul odor problem in the home.
  • Add Plants - Unless you're a plant lover and your home already looks like a jungle, you could probably use a few more plants. There should be at least one plant in every room. Plan ahead by deciding where you'll put them so when you go shopping you'll know what sizes and types of containers you'll need.
  • Add White Bedding and Pillows - If you already have white or very light colored bedspreads, blankets, and accent pillows, great. Use those to style beds, sofas and accent chairs. Most homes I encounter have dark bedding and dark upholstered items. Rooms can be updated by adding white bedding and accent pillows. White also photographs better than dark colors. If you need affordable pillows and bedding, great places to shop for those are Home Goods, TJ Maxx, Amazon, Tuesday Morning, At Home and Walmart.
  • Keep the Toilet Lids Down - Just start getting into that habit now, so that it's easier to remember to do it before every showing. It looks much better when the lid is down, especially in the photos.
  • Keep Shower Curtains Open - Closing shower curtains 1) makes it look like you're trying to hide something; 2) creates a divider that shrinks the perceived size of the bathroom; and 3) makes it more likely that buyers will need to step all the way into the bathroom to inspect what's behind the shower curtain, making it more likely they are going to get a much closer look at the area around the toilet and other areas that you may find hard to keep squeaky clean every day while your home is on the market. If the shower curtain is open, they can often see everything they feel they need to see just from the door threshold.
  • Keep Pet Beds and Food Dishes Hidden - During the photo shoot, open house and for every showing, the pets' water and food dishes, beds, crates, toys, steps that help them get into your bed... everything that indicates that animals live in the home should be hidden away. And, of course, this includes the animals themselves. Just as every human family member should be absent while buyers are viewing the home, so should the family members of other species.
  • Kitchen Trash Can Shouldn't Be Visible - Unless there is the absolute perfect spot for it (and I mean a spot that looks like it was made specifically for a trash can) and unless your trash can is particularly attractive (like a shiny, new stainless steel trash can with a lid), then hide it away as well. Some of my clients will put it in the garage during photos, the open house, and showings. Take out the trash before every showing and put in a fresh liner to prevent any odors from permeating the home.
  • Use the Fans in Your Bathrooms - Remember to turn the exhaust fan on in your bathroom every time you use it to keep air circulating and prevent steam and odors, but turn them off before showings. Also try to schedule your showers and baths at least one hour prior to an open house and every showing so the steam has had plenty of time to dissipate. Walking into a steamy bathroom will gross buyers out, and it will be another reminder that someone else lives is currently living in the home (review tip #1). 

These are just a few generic, low-budget tips I can share with home sellers getting ready to put their home on the market.

Not too long ago, Redfin reached out to several home staging experts, including myself, for our best tips on staging a house on a budget. You can read it at Redfin's blog here.


Larimar Home Staging 

We offer online pre-listing consultations for home sellers all over the US

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