Before and After: How to Stage Your Home to Sell Quickly

neutral living room
Photo: Matt Harrington
Two pros share the tips and tricks that’ll help potential buyers feel at home.

The difference between a home that sparks a bidding war and one that sits on the market for months often comes down to how it makes potential buyers feel. Cluttered rooms, cramped spaces and controversial décor are the main culprits that turn off many house hunters. But home staging—the art of redecorating rooms to appeal to the largest number of people—can not only result in a faster sale, but also a higher price. “It sets an atmosphere for the buyer to really picture their lives happening in that home and ultimately that is what sells the house," says Erin, a Long Island, New York-based real estate agent. To illustrate what a difference a few simple changes can make, we asked Erin and stylist Courtney De Wet to help us stage a house for sale. The proof is here in the dramatic before and after photos, but the two pros also shared smart staging tips that'll work in any home—even yours.

foyer before

Room: Foyer

While entryways are often overlooked, these small spaces can have a major impact on potential buyers. “I've seen some people turn right around and walk out because of bad first impressions," Erin says. Unfortunately, such areas can be dark and forgotten, not to mention a magnet for clutter. Shoes by the door and piles of unopened mail don't exactly say “welcome" to potential guests. To ensure home buyers get that warm, fuzzy feeling as soon as they step through the door, create a bright and organized space instead.

The Culprits:
With dim lighting, outdated light fixtures and sparse decoration, this space is seriously lacking personality.

foyer wallpaper after

foyer decor after

The Fix:

Since the entry was basically a blank canvas, Courtney wanted to add a punch of color to wake up the space. Removable wallpaper in a fun and funky palm print offers an easy solution. “People think a busy, bright pattern may make a space feel smaller, but it actually has the opposite effect if hung in the right place," Courtney says. In this case, the paper calls attention to the stairs, the natural focal point for this small foyer. She also added a modern light fixture, geometric table and small plant to bring some life to a formerly drab nook. The gold mirror is a key element too. “[It] reflects the pretty paper going up the stairs and bounces light around," Courtney says.

living room before

Room: Living Room

As everyone's favorite spot for family gatherings, afternoon catnaps and Netflix binges, the aptly named living room is an important emotional touchstone for buyers. To appeal to the largest range of people, décor should be neutral and accessories pared down to a few choice accents. “Homeowners often overlook the amount of personal items they have that clutter the spaciousness of the home," Erin says. “Remember that buyers are seeking to put their lives into the home, not yours." Courtney recommends putting excess furniture into storage and paring down clutter to minimize distractions. “You want to strike a balance between inviting and cozy, yet simple enough that people could see themselves in the space," she says.

The Culprits:

The large sectional and bulky coffee table dominate the space and shrink the room, while a lack of décor makes it feel cold and uninviting.

neutral living room after

living room nook after

The Fix:

The massive sofa blocked the flow to the door leading to the backyard, so half of it had to go. “It made the room feel smaller than it really was. Not a win for potential buyers!" Courtney says. She separated pieces of the sectional to transform it into a smaller couch better suited to the size of the space, which also opened up a path to the door. Raising the curtains to ceiling height and replacing the wood coffee table with an airy, see-through one also made the room seem larger. Inexpensive updates like simple artwork, a few plants, a floor lamp, plus some neutral patterned pillows all work to make a home look welcoming and lived in, without being too personal.

bedroom before

Room: Bedroom

Bedrooms should be cozy and comfortable havens where potential buyers can imagine themselves relaxing. When it comes to staging one, the goal is to create a soothing environment and, if possible, the illusion of extra space. It helps to work with an experienced real estate agent like Erin, who can offer professional insight into exactly what house hunters want. “Buyers are always looking for space, and they want that space to function for their needs," Erin says, noting that it's helpful to arrange furniture in a way that shows how each room can serve multiple purposes. For example, a bedroom can serve as more than just a place to sleep. Including a sitting area, even a small one, adds extra function to the room and gives it the feel of a master retreat.

The Culprits:

A bare floor and spartan bedding make the room feel unfinished, while low-hung curtains and an oversize bed crowd the space.

neutral bedroom after

bedroom nook after

The Fix:

The first step: repositioning the bed to make room for a new sitting area. In the previous layout, the large bed completely dominated the center of the room, but moving it only a few feet and pairing it with an open-legged nightstand makes it seem less imposing. A real bed frame, new bedding and a rug in different shades of gray make all the difference too. Layering neutral colors and cozy textures “feels fresh and clean but not so specific that potential buyers would be turned off," Courtney says. She also created a snug sitting nook using an Eames chair they found in the basement, which is another smart tip. After all, one of the easiest ways to stage your home on a tight budget is by rethinking and repurposing pieces you might already have. Just be careful what you choose. “Look for pieces that are the right scale for the room, [and] not too modern or traditional, so potential buyers could better see themselves in the home," Courtney says.

Photography by Matt Harrington; Styling by Coutrney de Wet; Art Direction by Alexis Jonnson