Buyers will view your home with a critical eye -- all the while comparing current pricing and all other real estate in your area. They want to be certain the money they are spending to purchase a property is well spent! They do not want to overpay on a home that still needs work. So if the carpets are dirty and original, the carpet padding has lost it's resiliency, if there are water stains on the kitchen ceiling, there is rusty water underneath the hot water heater, the paint trim has yellowed, the windows are fogged up, the furnace is gasping, and the home is on the market with none of the needed maintenance taken care of, the buyer will say "Next!"

Clean and stages homes are important. The buyer needs to be able to envision themselves living in the space. Spending weeks -- or months -- on the search for their next perfect home has tired the buyer out. They don't want to see the grimy floors and the minor repairs that they'll spend week fixing when they move in.

For some quick tips, homeowners should:

  • Mow the yard and weed the flower beds.
  • Tone down the color. You love the red, but a neutral tone, such as beige. You are selling the room, not the color.
  • De-clutter, especially before and open house or a walk-through.
  • If you don´t want to clean, hire a maid service for a day. Have them mop and dust and scrub -- especially in the kitchen and bathrooms!

So sellers, listen to reasonable advice in the form of wisdom from the experienced agent you have hired to sell your home. Ask for the market statistics to be substantiated. Compare your homes to other homes in your own community "apples to apples!" Then paint, clean, fix, update, and still price your home or real estate competitively!


1. Make an Entrance

You know the saying: You never have a second chance to make a first impression. "The outside of your home is the first thing guests see.   Like it or not, it speaks volumes about what´s inside?and about its owner. A quart of glossy paint in a bold, cheerful color for the front door, new hardware (or a little elbow grease applied to clean and polish the existing knocker, lockset, porch light, house numbers, and mailbox), a fresh coir or seagrass mat, and a trio of seasonal potted plants on the landing will dramatically brighten and refresh your home´s entry and make visitors feel welcome.  Bonus: This small investment pays personal dividends, too, giving you an emotional boost and a dose of house-pride with each homecoming.


2. Conquer Clutter

Admit it: You have too much stuff. The most important thing most people can do to improve their home is to clear out, clean up, and get rid of clutter.   Be ruthless as you go about purging your belongings. If you haven´t used it in three months, stagers say, box it up and store it away; if you haven´t used it in a year, get rid of it. And make a house rule that for every new item that comes in, an old one has to leave. Any mixed feelings you have about tossing life´s accumulated detritus will quickly be replaced with a sense of relief and appreciation of your Zen-like new surroundings.

Sound daunting? Take it one room at a time. If your bookshelves are bursting at the seams, for instance, clear them off and start over.  It´s okay to have empty space around your books and knickknacks.  Inexpensive baskets make great hiding places for unsightly paperbacks, and add texture and visual interest. Books stacked vertically serve as pedestals to show off prized pottery or other objects d´art. You can even remove the dust covers from hardbacks and group them by color, turning a busy jumble into a decorative addition to the room.

If you simply can´t part with your collection of Architectural Digest or your kids won´t let you anywhere near their 300 carefully assembled Lego creations, it´s time to get creative about storage and organization. Retailers sell handy rolling bins designed to slip under a bed and house everything from household supplies to kids´ toys. And if you can´t get rid of it and can´t hide it, flaunt it with style: Places sell colorful and inexpensive fabric, cardboard, or melamine magazine holders. Lined up on a shelf, they look a lot cleaner than stacks of magazines everywhere and add a unified visual element to the room.  Your home will be far more inviting, , if clutter is out of sight.


3. Make "Less is More" Your Mantra

Don´t forget, too, that a cluttered look can also come from too much furniture. "People tend to line their walls with furniture?one piece after another," laments Christopher Breining. When professional fluffers descend on a home being prepped for market, they often whisk away as much as half of the owner´s furnishings?and the house looks miles better (not to mention bigger) for it. You don´t have to whittle that drastically, but take a hard look at what you have and ask yourself what you can live without. "You really only need two pieces of furniture per wall: A bed and a nightstand, say, or a dresser and a chair," Breining advises. Another rule of thumb: If you don´t use it regularly, lose it. While you´re doing this sometimes-painful pruning, remind yourself that every square foot you free up is prime real estate.


4. Float Furniture

If your couches are clinging to your walls, you´re not alone?it´s a typical decorating mistake, stagers say.  There´s a common belief that rooms will feel larger and be easier to use if all the furniture is pushed up against the walls, but it´s simply not true.  Instead, furnish your space: Float furniture away from walls, reposition it into cozy conversational groups, and place pieces so that the traffic flow in the room is obvious?in most cases, this means keeping the perimeters clear.  When you place furniture in a room, envision a figure-eight or the letter H in the middle, with clear pathways around it.  Not only will this make the space more user-friendly, it will open up the room and make it seem larger.  If you´re nervous about doing something that can seem a bit radical, try an area rug on an angle first, then move the couch and see how it looks. But just try it. If the new arrangement doesn´t strike your fancy, you can always put things back the way they were. But chances are, you won´t want to. Giving your furniture some breathing room, makes a room look larger.


6. Rediscover "Lost" Spaces

A big part of what stagers do is create fantasy spaces: An exercise room, a meditation space, an art studio, a family game room.  Take that unused space on the third floor or in the basement and turn it into something you´ve always dreamed about having.  So if you have a room that currently serves only to gather junk, repurpose it into something that will add to the value?and your enjoyment?of your home. Move those boxes to a rented storage space (or better yet, have a yard sale or donate their contents to charity) and get to work creating the space you yearn for. The simple addition of a comfortable armchair, a small table, and a lamp in a stairwell nook will transform it into a cozy reading spot, Russell suggests. Or drape fabric on the walls of your basement, lay inexpensive rubber padding or a carpet remnant on the floor, and toss in a few cushy pillows. Voila! Your new meditation room or yoga studio.


7. Let the Sun Shine In

Take off old, heavy drapery and put something light, airy, and gauzy in its place. This ushers in natural light and makes a previously closed-in space seem larger. Simple sheers on a tension rod are great for screening an unattractive view and providing a bit of privacy but still letting in lots of light and visually enlarging a room. If you have lovely vistas from a set of windows, try doing away with treatments altogether. If privacy is paramount, top-down, bottom-up Roman shades will block the neighbors´ view of your bathtub but still let you gaze at the sky while you soak. Bamboo or parchment shades and simple curtain panels made from fine cotton twill or translucent linen ? all of which let light stream in during the day, provide privacy at night, add touchable texture to a room. Or a favorite window treatment - Sheer fabric shades with built-in blinds, they look great and offer so much versatility.

Other window-treatment tips: If windows are narrow, extend curtain rods a foot or so on each side to suggest width. If your ceilings are low, hang rods right at the ceiling line and consider window treatments with vertical stripes to create the illusion of height.

8. Light the Way

One of the things that make staged homes look so warm and welcoming is great lighting design. As it turns out, many of our own homes are improperly lit?either we have too few fixtures, or our lighting is too dim or too harsh (or all of the above). To remedy the problem and make your home more inviting, increase the wattage in your lamps and fixtures (aim for a total of 100 watts for every 50 square feet). Then install dimmers so you can vary light levels according to your mood and the time of day. This is a relatively simple project for a do-it-yourselfer, or you can hire an electrician for a couple of hours to do several at once. (And while you´re at it, be sure to replace those dingy, almond-colored light-switch covers with crisp white ones. New covers cost less than a buck apiece and are a quick, easy update.)

Don´t depend on just one or two fixtures per room, either. It´s just as important to layer lighting as it is to have sufficient wattage, so go for ambient (general or overhead), task (pendant, undercabinet, or reading), and accent (table and wall) lighting.  A combination of overhead, floor, table, and accent lighting creates great ambience. Having lights on different planes provides good illumination and makes the room interesting.  Uplights, you can buy as little as $5 at home-improvement stores hidden behind a potted plant?creates incredible drama.  Another hint: Place mirrors, silver or glass bowls, or other reflective objects near lamps to bounce light around the room and make it glow even more.

9. Make a Splash with Color

Painting is the cheapest, easiest way to give your home a new look, Even if you were weaned on off-white walls, take a chance and test out a quart of paint in a warm, neutral hue (you can always paint over it if you don´t like the effect). These days, the definition of "neutral" extends way beyond beige? from warm tans and honeys to soft blue-greens.

Even deeper shades?long verboten for interiors?are enjoying a renaissance. Don´t shy away from dark colors in a powder room, dining room, or bedroom.  A deep tone on the walls can make the space more intimate, dramatic, and cozy?and surprisingly, it can even make a small room seem bigger because there´s no delineation of the corners.   

How to start? With a pillow, textile, or piece of art you love,  The background color is often great for walls, and you can pull out the other colors for accents around the room. You could also try painting an accent wall to draw attention to a dramatic fireplace or a lovely set of windows. Either paint the wall a contrasting?but still complementary?color (such as a rich red flanked by taupe walls) or a more intense version of the paint used in the rest of the room (say, a deep butterscotch that will play off the soft camel walls surrounding it). If you have built-in bookcases or niches, experiment with painting the insides a color that will make them pop?a soft sage green to set off the white pottery displayed within, perhaps.

If you´re too timid to whip out the paintbrushes, add punch with richly colored accessories, pillows, and throws.  Bonus: When seasons change or you´re ready for something new, these couldn´t be simpler to switch out.

 10. Paint It Black

Using white-painted furniture is a tried-and-true tactic for freshening a room, but don´t forget its opposite: A coat of satiny black paint can revive tired furnishings and lend a chic, dramatic flair to just about any space. Painting an old piece black immediately updates it. We use black in staging all the time.It´s a great punctuation?it has a graphic quality, provides contrast, and makes a real impact. Not only does black work with every other hue, it makes the colors surrounding it pop and melds with most any décor, from vintage to ethnic to modern. They key, as always, is moderation: Use black as an accent in picture frames, lampshades, accessories and small pieces of furniture.


 11. Make Your Art Sing


 If your home is like most, art is hung in a high line encircling each room. Big mistake: Placing your pictures, paintings, and prints in such stereotypical spots can render them almost invisible. Art displayed creatively makes the art stand out more and shows off your space.

Break up that line and vary the patterning and grouping by hanging a row of art diagonally?with each piece staggered a bit higher or lower than the next (great for directing the eye toward an architectural feature like a window or arched doorway), triangularly?with one picture above, one below, and one beside (a nice accent for a table-and-chair vignette), or in a vertical line (perfect for accentuating a high ceiling). "Hang pictures on different planes so that your eye goes up and down as it travels around the room?it creates interest on your walls,  Try hanging things a bit lower than you´re used to, as well, so that wall art relates to furniture groupings rather than floating (and getting lost) in its own space.

12. Accessorize with Flair



Now that you have your furniture placed, your rooms dappled with color, and your art hung, it´s time to layer in accessories for the finishing touch. When it comes to eye-pleasing accessorizing, three is the magic number?though one and five work well, too. And rather than setting your trio of accessories out in a row, imagine a triangle and place one object at each point. Scale is important, too, so in your group of three, be sure to vary items by height and width, with the largest at the back and the smallest in front.  On a side table, for instance, you might have a lamp, a plant or flower arrangement, and a book or a small box. For impact, group accessories by color, shape, texture, or some other unifying element, stagers suggest. Another hint, the eye naturally "reads" the room from left to right, so putting a striking object in the far right corner will automatically draw your gaze there and make the room seem bigger.


 13. Bring the Outdoors In

Staged homes are almost always graced with bountiful fresh flowers and pricey orchid arrangements, but you can get a similar effect simply by raiding your yard. "Take clippings of branches or twigs and put them in a large vase in the corner of a room to add height? it´s a great structural piece that doesn´t cost anything. It´s also an easy way to incorporate seasonal greenery. Budding magnolia clippings or unfurling fern fronds herald the arrival of spring, summer blooms add splashes of cheerful color, blazing fall foliage warms up your decor on chilly autumn days, holly branches heavy with berries look smashing in winter, and airy feather-grass plumes add elegance and texture any time of year.

Above all, get creative! Don´t be scared to try something different,  Indeed, just about every stager has tales of home sellers who, upon seeing their once-tired abodes transformed, were so blown away by the results that they decided to stay put. Who knows?you, too, may just find that you love your "new" home so much you´ll never want to give it up.

Ed Gardner
Ed Gardner
511 Congress Street Lobby Suite Portland ME 04101