As You Like It

Use this expert’s 10 best tips to stage your house to sell

Create the atmosphere of a luxurious boutique hotel and use minimal furniture to convey a sense of roominess.


Sofas, chairs, tables, lamps, and art bring life and warmth to a house, even when no one resides there. Realtor Joe Simeone’s experience bears testimony to the effect that furnishings have on those looking for a new place to settle in and call home.

“For every $1 a seller spends on staging, they average $3 in return,” says the Palm Springs-based veteran of the housing market. “Many times, I have been in competition with a similar listing — the same model of home or condo. My listing sells every time, while their unstaged one sits.”

Simeone relies on the services of Lee Thomas, owner of At-HOM in Cathedral City and San Diego. During the last seven years, Thomas has used luxe furnishings to stage more than 150 residential properties in the desert, many of which are multimillion-dollar estates. He offers 10 tips for turning “for sale” signs into “sold” signs.

1. Watch your curb appeal.
Some sellers are so focused on the staging of a property’s interiors that they forget the value of a positive first impression of a house’s exterior. “We may recommend a seller paint the house if it looks like it needs freshening up,” he says. “Even just painting the front door can freshen up the look of a property.” A new entry light and doorknob/hardware on the front door also help. Make sure the front yard is free of debris and there are no oil stains on the driveway. Potted flowers soften an entryway and make it more welcoming. A sometimes-overlooked detail is the house number. Make sure it is easy to read.

2. Stage your landscaping.
“Once, we had to take out an old withered tree,” Thomas says. “Not only did it make the house look messy; but also, by removing it, views of the mountains suddenly opened up.” Make sure there are no dying plants or grass anywhere — and no weeds. Consider indoor “landscaping” as well. A small palm or two can soften a room. An entryway can be brought to life with a vase of flowers or orchid plant.

3. Create an initial “wow factor.”
Draw potential buyers’ attention to one or two focal points. For an entryway, this could be a stunning antique or statue, a water feature, a dramatic light fixture, or a distinctive architectural element. In the living room, arrange furniture around where the focus should be directed (which could even mean a stellar view of the outdoors) and conducive to sit-down conversations. If possible, hide a television from view behind armoire or cabinet doors.

4. Aim for a luxurious, neutral feel.
The property should have the atmosphere of an upscale hotel. Avoid the jarring use of bright colors in lieu of a compatible range of hues throughout. Err on the side of lighter colors, which help reflect sunlight. Vintage furniture is fine for a midcentury modern house, but be sure it looks contemporary and not simply old fashioned. Whatever you do, don’t leave walls bare; but steer clear of nudes and religious motifs. Sometimes, a local gallery may lend you pieces in exchange for displaying their business card.

5. Keep the house spacious and flowing.
Use minimal furniture to convey a sense of roominess (but not emptiness). It’s important to maintain traffic space. For a sense of flow from room to room, floors should be close to the same color throughout. Mirrors can be used sparingly to reflect a view or to create a feeling of openness. In small bedrooms, use furniture of an appropriate scale to provide walking space.

6. Depersonalize.
Forgo visible personal items, like framed photos. People want to picture themselves living in the house, not someone else. Well-organized and light-filled closets help sell houses more than people realize.

7. Look at the light.
Nothing should block windows. Keep draperies and shades fully opened. In cases where sunlight streams in too harshly, use a diffusing sunshade. Make sure there are no missing bulbs in any light fixture, including outdoor lights.

8. Make outdoor spaces sing.
Play up outdoor living by creating a backyard lounge area with furniture and dining spaces. Small additions like a portable fire pit or outdoor speakers can liven up a back yard. Make sure patio furniture does not appear old or faded, the pool is filled and clean, and the barbecue shines.

9. Seduce buyers.
A few strategically placed candles, soft music in the background, and a lit fireplace create an inviting ambiance. Entice the sense of smell with bowls of potpourri, especially in the bathrooms.

10. Exercise control.
The idea of staging is to suggest rather than tell. A bar area should have a few bottles, a few glasses, and barstools. Play a tasteful movie on a television in a media room, but keep the sound turned off. Hang clean, attractive towels in bathrooms and the kitchen. Set out a bowl of apples on a table, but don’t go overboard with full place settings. Throw a float or two in the pool, but not every pool toy you can find. 

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