Ready, Set, Show! How to Sell a House
Updated: May 22
As DC reaches for the clean monogrammed hand towel hanging next to his sink, I dive in for an interception. I whip the towel away an instant before his soggy mitts, which are aiming right for the center front of the pristine towel, make contact.
“Don’t use the towel that way!” I say. “You have to dry your hands on the back side.” I reach to the back half of the towel by the wall to demonstrate. “Or air dry.”
“Are you serious?” His eyebrows raise like a drawbridge.
“It’s a staging trick,” I add. “Oh, and please don’t use the bar soap.” I look down at the just-used brand new bar of designer soap, now sitting soppy in the dish that a minute ago was free of soap residue and scum. “Use the liquid stuff under the sink, please.”
I reclean the soap dish till it shines, replace the used hand soap with a new designer bar, and try not to sigh too audibly.
DC looks at me as if he’s not sure I am the same woman he married. Since we bought our house two years ago, and got married, he’d never had to live with the live-in home-stager side of me. Until now.
When I’m in house-sell mode, like someone who turns into a werewolf at the full moon, I shift from neat nick to neat freak.
The house listing was going public the next day, and our first showing was already scheduled. Over the past few weeks, I’d had the house power washed outside, carpets cleaned, the big tree out front trimmed to let in more light, the front yard re-landscaped, the carriage lamps outside repainted, and the flowerpots in the courtyard professionally planted.
Next, I got --- and please don’t tell anybody this as it would ruin my reputation – a pod. I know! I am miss anti-storage, but I can explain! My rooms show better with less furniture. Plus, I don’t know what I will want in the new place, so don’t want to get rid of extra furnishings just yet. So, for just two months, until moving day, I am storing stuff in a pod.
Still. I’m ashamed.
After the filled pod went to wherever full pods go -- how mortifying -- I began moving through the house like Mr. Clean on rollerblades and steroids, like he needs steroids. My dormant live-in home-stager skills kick in.
As I detail this and polish up that, Celine Dion sings “It's All Coming Back to Me Now” on my brainwave radio station. Next I hear Whitesnake’s “Here I go again.” Didn’t I swear the Happy Yellow House would be my last? Never mind, I am purging and cleaning and tossing and donating to John Cougar Mellenkamp’s, “Hurts So Good.”
As I style each space, I cut through the complacent neglect that has settled in like a fog. I touch up scuffs, thin magazine piles, reorganize closets, wipe crumbs from drawers, and eliminate evidence that two dogs live here. Finally, I add back lifestyle touches. I set the dining room table as if for a fancy dinner party. I put out board games in the bonus room, hang a little black dress on the back of the master bedroom door. Then, right before the first showing, I light the prayer candle, a bergamot-scented pillar.
When staging fever hits, here’s how you, too, can take your home from lived in to show ready:
Give great curb. A home’s first impression is the most important one. If buyers don’t like what they see when they view that first photo or drive up, you’ve lost them. Power clean, prune, spruce, replant, reseed, edge and add bursts of color.
Thin it out. Look at each room, and ask what furniture can go to make the room flow better, so buyers see the room not the furniture. This may mean pulling out items you use – a dresser, a chair, a china cabinet -- but that crowd a room. (Choose form over function.) Open cupboards and closets, and pack or purge everything you don’t need right now.
Cover up. Survey every surface with the eye of someone seeing it anew. Now get out the touch-up paint, stain markers and white out, and erase or color in dings, scuffs and scratches.
Detail everything. Hang a clean robe on the back door of the bathroom, and tie the belt with a bow. Make sure towels are pristine, bathrooms sparkle, and fingerprints have vanished,
Get under the surface. Organize cupboards, closets and drawers, because buyers will open them. Leave a lot of empty space, so buyers can see that storage is ample.
Remove pet paraphernalia. Reminders of a pet’s presence in the house can be a turn off. Apart from a decorative dog bed, put away pet toys, crates and bowls. Vanquish smells and fur.
Keep house. Beyond the obvious deep clean and routine housekeeping -- making beds, doing dishes, vacuuming, wiping counters – your goal is not to leave a footprint. When you’re done with your bath towel, stick it in the dryer. Don’t hang it up wet. Keep indoor trash cans empty. Put laundry, mail and the soap you use out of sight.
Project a lifestyle. When the house is in order, set the stage.
After the first buyers came through, DC and I asked our agent how they liked it. “They loved it,” she said. “The place was so clean, they had to ask, ‘Does anybody really live here?’”
Ready, Set, Show! When staging a home, remember you aren’t just selling a house, you are selling a lifestyle. Create the vision. Photo courtesy of Alan Fraebel.