Secrets of Staging: Sell Your House for More, Quickly

How prepping your house can change the minds of buyers.

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Home staging—a popular trend in the competitive housing market—is often the next step in selling your house more quickly, and sometimes at a higher price. Staging is preparing the home before it goes up for sale.

The practice has become somewhat of an industry—there are certified stagers, staging assessments, and a spattering of literature on the subject. Since the '90s, staging has been practiced by designers and now increasingly by homeowners themselves. According to a study by StagedHomes.com, a website dedicated to all things staging, staged homes sold for 6.9 percent more then their un-staged counterparts. Staged homes stayed on the market for half the time (11 days) that un-staged houses did (22 days).

A comprehensive book published last year on the topic is The Complete Idiot's Guide to Staging Your Home to Sell, by Marcia Layton Turner and Julie Dana. In a chat with U.S. News, Turner explains the phenomenon and how the psychology of staging works. Excerpts:

What is staging, and how has it become so prevalent?
It started about 10 years ago in California and has become this process that homeowners are expected to go through before they put their property on the market. Some Realtors in California will not list the home until it has been staged. And what that means is positioning the home in the best possible light to make it much more likely to sell more quickly and for the full asking price. Only savvy sellers who were flipping homes more regularly would do [staging] in the past. They would set up furniture and take all their photos out and the tchotchkes out to showcase how big their property was. Staging is like Generation 2 for getting your home ready for sale.

What's the psychology behind staging?
When you have a buyer coming into your home, you want their first impression to be positive so they can be emotionally attached to the home and they can imagine themselves there with their furniture. If you have all your personal photos all over the house (you've got your kids artwork on the refrigerator and the family photos over the fireplace), it's hard for them to see their family there; it's distracting. Part of the home-staging process is you take all the photos down, you limit what's on your walls so that they can see how big the walls are. You take out the extra pieces of furniture so that they can get a sense of how large the room really is. Because that's what you're selling—you're selling space. People will pay more for more space, even if it's not literally extra square feet—there's the sense that it's bigger.

How does staging change the buyer's perception?
A lot of decisions are made even before the buyer gets to the front door. You need to make sure the outside appearance is spotless so that they look at it and think "this home looks nice and well kept." It's all these little images (the paint, the door mat, the lawn) that are hitting them all at once, and you're trying to shape that with home staging. If you wanted to move into a certain neighborhood 40 years ago, you'd only have one or two homes to choose from. Now you've got six homes on a block. People are trying to take that extra step. Staging will preserve more of the purchase price. And that's what people need to do—all that they can to get the perceived value of their home up.