Home Staging on a Budget: 10 Simple Steps That Sell

Teenage boy's messy room. Tilt shift lens, with focus on pillow & comforter
Shutterstock"Cleaning out the clutter just creates so much space, and that's what people are looking for -- space."
By Teresa Mears

You've decided to sell your home, and you want to get top dollar for it. And you've seen TV shows where homeowners spend thousands of dollars staging their homes for sale, but there's an important detail to consider: You don't have thousands and thousands to spend.

The good news is there are many things you can do to spruce up the look of your home without shelling out a lot of money. "Updating isn't as expensive as it used to be," says Lori Matzke, author of "Home Staging: Creating Buyer-Friendly Rooms to Sell Your House" and a home staging expert in

"I've seen houses that look really frumpy on the outside and great on the inside, but you can't get [potential buyers] in the door."

Minneapolis who teaches workshops nationwide. "There's a lot of DIY information out there."

First impressions matter, and that's why you want to start by making sure your home exudes curb appeal. Go all out with small do-it-yourself projects. Cut the grass, trim the bushes, get rid of dead branches and consider planting some flowers. Replacing the mailbox and house numbers and painting the front door can also make your home more appealing to a prospective buyer driving by. If the house looks dirty, wash the siding or stucco.

"I've seen houses that look really frumpy on the outside and great on the inside," Matzke says, "but you can't get [potential buyers] in the door." Prospective buyers, particularly young ones, often can't see past the homeowners' decor to what's most important about a house -- the floor plan and the space. That's why it's important to make the home look as neutral and appealing as possible.

"People get so stuck on the negatives, all the homeowner's stuff, that they forget to look at the property," Matzke says.

Sellers should give themselves at least a few weeks to get their homes ready for sale, especially if they need to take up carpet or repaint. While painting is fairly simple and inexpensive compared with other improvements, a new coat makes a significant impact. "Fresh paint is a really good seller," Matze says. "Do it in trendy neutral colors." Painting dated kitchen cabinets can also make the kitchen look fresh and new.

You also want to make sure your home photographs well. Most buyers start their home search online, and they may quickly reject a home if the listing photos aren't appealing.

There's no rule of thumb about how much you should expect to spend getting your home ready to sell because every house is different. But investing a few thousand dollars can potentially increase your sale price by much more than that, in addition to making your house sell more quickly. "Anything that you can do is only going to benefit you," Matzke says.

Here are 10 economical ways to stage your home for sale:

Remove all clutter, personal photos, knickknacks and other junk. "Cleaning out the clutter just creates so much space, and that's what people are looking for -- space," Matzke says. "It just really makes your home look bigger and younger."

Edit your furniture. If your rooms are crowded, consider putting bigger and less attractive pieces of furniture in storage. This will open up space and make your home look larger. Make sure there is nothing obscuring buyers' eyes from focal points, such as fireplaces and views.

Clean, clean, clean – then clean some more. Wash the windows, clean the cobwebs out of the corner and scrub the grout in the tile floors. Even though you're not selling the furniture, clean that as well because it adds to the overall impression you're trying to give.

Spruce up the outside. Add a new doormat, new house numbers and maybe a new mailbox. Paint the front door. The little stuff matters here.

Refresh your landscape. Clean up flower beds, add fresh mulch and plant flowers. Make sure bushes are trimmed and neat.

Paint. In some cases, you'd be wise to paint the entire house inside and out. In other cases, touching up and painting the trim might be enough. Paint over your kids' purple walls with a neutral color. If your kitchen cabinets look old and dated, paint those. You can never go wrong with white, cream or brown, but you should pick a color that matches the rest of the kitchen decor.

Clean or replace light fixtures and cabinet hardware. "It's not a really expensive undertaking, but it really makes a difference in how the home is presented," Matzke says.

Don't forget the small stuff. Pay attention to details, says Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. "New, matching towel sets in the bathroom, accent pillows on the couch and fresh flowers can be welcoming elements to a homebuyer," she says.

If you can afford it, replace old carpeting. If your home has hardwood floors underneath, that's even better. Ideally, you should refinish wood floors but even just exposing them is good, Matzke says.

Make sure each room has a defined purpose. If you've turned your dining room into an office, return it to dining room status, Matzke says. But Chris suggests putting up tent cards that say "Dining Room or Office" to point out alternative uses for the space. That would also work in a bedroom you're using as an office.

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