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Home Staging Tips From a Pro

Staging a house to sell doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Check out these house-staging secrets from an expert and maximize your chances of your home selling at a good price.

Home Stager Debra Gould Of Staging Diva Photo by Virginia MacDonald

Who knew that getting rid of family photos and clearing off countertops could help you snag top dollar for your house? These are just two secrets from Debra Gould, founder of Staging Diva. Gould, a professional home stager, has helped scores of homeowners clean up, rearrange, and style their homes to command top price. That can mean anything from putting extra books in storage to getting rid of moldy caulk in bathrooms to renting furniture to fill up too-bare spaces.

"The goal is to make your home clean, organized, and welcoming so potential buyers can picture living there," says Gould. Thus the no-family-photos rule: "They make people feel like they're invading your space," she explains.

Based in Toronto, Gould has trained a network of 800+ home stagers across the U.S. "Most owners aren't seeing bidding wars the way they were a few years ago," she says. "But with the right staging, you can get close to your asking price."

Here are before-and-after photos of rooms in houses Gould has staged in the Toronto area, along with information fee costs and sales prices.

Home Staging Before and After

Before: A neglected front door…

Before Staging: Front Door Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: A dingy door in a blah color, plus out-of-season holiday lights, made this entry less than welcoming.

After: …gets fresh paint and new fixtures

After Staging: Painted Front Door With New Light Fixtures Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: Nixing the string of lights and adding black trim and a fresh coat of white paint spruces things up. Gould also swapped out the exterior sconces for larger ones that match the new color scheme.

This house sat on the market for a few months before Gould staged it.

Listed: $479,000
Sold: $459,000 (96% of list)
Staging costs: $3,000

Note: Staging costs listed are for the entire house, not just the room shown. The figure includes Gould's consulting fee plus fees for off-site storage and rental or purchase of furniture and accessories.

Before: A disorganized corner nook…

Before House Staging: Messy Corner Of Room Photo by Debora Gould

Problem: Buyers could see this area of the house from the entryway. A haphazard placement of tall plants, toys, and a huge TV made it feel awkward and cluttered.

After: ...is recast as a reading spot

After House Staging: Couch Near Window Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: The plants were given to a friend and the electronics and toys stored. Gould replaced them with a comfy reading chair and lamp to give this sunny spot a cozy focal point.

This house languished on the market for three months before it was staged. It was the only two-bedroom home that sold in the area that season.

Listed: $329,000
Sold: $327,000 (99% of list)
Staging costs: $2,500

Before: A chaotic living room...

Before House Staging: Messy Livingroom Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: With toys piled behind the sofa and books and knickknacks taking up space on other surfaces, the living room felt overcrowded.

After: ...feels larger once the toys are put away

After House Staging: Clean Livingroom Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: Gould decluttered, storing 10 boxes of toys and leaving just a vase of flowers and a couple of small sculptures on the coffee table and mantel. Plum-colored chairs from another room replaced the older, worn-out flowered armchairs.

This house sold the week after Gould finished her staging—much to the owners' relief, since they'd already bought another home.

Listed: $688,000
Sold: $667,000 (97% of list)
Staging costs: $5,000

Before: A too-bare family room...

Before House Staging: Empty Family Room Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: The homeowners went too far, taking away so many furnishings that the family room "felt naked and bland," says Gould. "Plus this room is adjacent to the kitchen, yet there was no eating area."

After: ...benefits from a little more furniture

After House Staging: Family Room With Added Furniture Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: Gould added some colorful throw pillows, plus a dining table and stackable trunks for a coffee table, which had been sitting in the garage.

The result: a warmer, more inviting space. The sales agent wanted to drop the price by $50,000 when it sat unsold for three months, but after Gould's work was done, the owners received three offers the very next week.

Listed: $949,000
Sold: $939,000 (99% of list)
Staging costs: $1,200

Before: A messy, underused space…

Before Home Staging: Unused Area Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: There was no obvious function or use for this area off the kitchen, where a jumble of art supplies and framed photos crowded every surface.

After: …becomes a gathering spot for meals

After Home Staging: Dining Table Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: Gould cleared away the mess and brought in a table and chairs to create a casual dining area. "Put family photos in storage when showing your house," says Gould.

The sales agent wanted to list this house at $749,000 before Gould finished her staging work.

Listed: $799,000
Sold: $820,000 (103% of list)
Staging costs: $5,000

Before: A cluttered kitchen…

Before House Staging: Messy Kitchen Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: Jam-packed counters and a table heaped with books left no room for food preparation or eating. (And how many fridge magnets does one family need, anyhow?)

After: …feels bigger once the table is gone

After House Staging: Clean, Spacious Kitchen Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: The owners decided to put the table in storage to open up the kitchen more. Gould cleared off the counters and nixed the fridge magnets to make the modest-sized kitchen seem more spacious.

This home sold the week after Gould finished her staging—much to the owners' relief, since they'd already bought another home.

Listed: $688,000
Sold: $667,000 (97% of list)
Staging costs: $5,000

Before: A bathroom with everything in view…

Before Home Staging: Bathroom Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: Toiletries and personal items strewn on the counter made even a fairly clean bathroom look disorganized.

After: …gets a scrub-down and clean-up

After House Staging: Bathroom Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: "Think hotel bathroom," Gould says. The entire room is sparkling-clean, bottles and jars are tucked away, and the window blind is closed for privacy.

The sales agent wanted to list this house at $749,000 before Gould finished her staging work.

Listed: $799,000
Sold: $820,000 (103% of list)
Staging costs: $5,000

Before: A neglected guest bedroom…

Before House Staging: Guestroom Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: This guest room "felt like an underused dorm room," says Gould. Because families with young children were looking at the house, she suggested transforming it into a child's bedroom.

After: …benefits from the kiddie treatment

After House Staging: Guest Bedroom Becomes Kid’s Bedroom Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: The toys and kid-appropriate bedding are more welcoming to buyers, and aligning the long side of the bed to the wall opens up a bit more floor space.

The owners, a couple with grown children, were showing their home to lots of young families. Their agent's original listing was $239,000.

Listed: $299,000
Sold: $311,000 (104% of list)
Staging costs: $900

Before: A messy master bedroom…

Before House Staging: Master Bedroom Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: "The bed should be the focal point of the master bedroom," says Gould. But in this case, leggy plants, stacks of books, and piles of clothes—not to mention a busy coverlet that's too short—are major distractions.

After: …is transformed to an attractive resting spot

After House Staging: Master Bedroom Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: Upgrading the bedding and putting in matching nightstands and lamps makes the bedroom an appealing retreat for twosomes.

The sales agent wanted to list this house at $749,000 before Gould finished her staging work.

Listed: $799,000
Sold: $820,000 (103% of list)
Staging costs: $5,000

Before: An unfinished basement…

Before House Staging: Basement Photo by Debra Gould

Problem: Even if the basement is unfinished, disorganized piles of junk are a huge turnoff to potential buyers.

After: …is revamped into a mini-gym

After House Staging: Basement Photo by Debra Gould

Solution: The owners had their movers pack and store most of the basement items, then Gould added the weight bench to help buyers envision other uses for the space.

The couple had to sell their home quickly because of a job transfer to Chicago.

Listed: $1,195,000
Sold: $1,186,000 (99% of list)
Staging fee: $2,000