How to Stage Your Home Like a Pro and Sell Quickly

Sell your house faster, at a higher price and on an educator’s busy schedule with these quick, affordable home-staging ideas.

Woman placing a vase of white flowers on her living room table

by NEA Member Benefits

Key takeaways

  • Home staging can make your home more attractive to more prospective buyers
  • A well-staged home can sell faster and for a higher price
  • Work toward having your home ready to list in the spring so you can move during summer break

Home staging, or preparing your home so it’s more appealing to buyers, can help you sell your house faster and for a higher price. For a minimum investment, most homes receive a 6%-10% return on staging costs, according to the National Association of Realtors.

It’s possible to stage your house on a tight budget and a busy school-year schedule. Here’s what home-staging experts recommend, plus a few success stories from other educators.

Determine your budget

“Staging can range anywhere from 0.5%-3% of the listing price of a home,” says Karen Gray-Plaisted, a home-staging professional and owner of Design Solutions KGP in Warwick, New York, who has staged educators’ homes. The high end of the range usually applies to unoccupied homes that require furniture as part of their staging, she says.

You might get a professional home staging for nothing, says Ali Wenzke, author of The Art of Happy Moving. “More than half of Realtors do provide some sort of staging service,” she says. “Before you hire a real estate agent, ask if a professional staging report is included in their marketing budget. In other words, free to you.”

Start making updates far in advance of listing your home

If you want hire a stager, Gray-Plaisted recommends getting a consultation at least a year in advance. Whether you hire someone or plan to stage your home yourself, review the entire property and set a priority list that you can work on during the year.

“This will give time for painting, decluttering and preparing the house prior to staging,” Gray-Plaisted says.

If you’re hoping to move during summer break, your final staging work typically will be done around April and spring break, before you put your home on the market.

Focus on a few key staging basics

The key is to “neutralize” your space so it appeals to the widest range of buyers and stands out above the competition, Gray-Plaisted says.

“Be objective about your belongings and your style,” she says. Put memories aside so you can view your home as a product you need to sell.

Most important: “Declutter, declutter, declutter,” Wenzke says. “Invest in a storage unit, or beg your sister to store items in her basement for a while. Less clutter means a higher sales price and a faster sale.” 

“A fresh coat of neutral paint makes a huge difference,” Wenzke adds. You also can brighten your home by investing in brighter light bulbs and inexpensive white towels and linens.

If you haven’t moved out yet, you can craft your staging plan around your existing furnishings. If needed, enhancements can be rented for a short time to showcase your home’s potential. Think guest bedroom furniture or a formal dining set.

Home-staging success stories

NEA member Sue DeGonge, a retired special education teacher in Warwick, New York, opted to use a stager to get the highest value for her house.

DeGonge spent about three years updating her home before she hired Gray-Plaisted to get personalized advice, such as paint color suggestions and styling ideas.

“Once we were ready to put the house on the market, we worked with her to streamline the rooms and set the house for staging,” DeGonge says.

“I think the most important thing we did was to freshen up the house prior to listing it,” she says. “We painted rooms, removed an in-ground oil tank, updated appliances and bathrooms, and made small repairs.” Those upgrades also made the home inspection go smoothly.

DeGonge hired her stager in May, listed the home in June, had an offer by early July and closed the sale at the end of August. “The money and time we put in came back to us in the quick sale,” she says.

If you’re thinking of hiring a stager, DeGonge recommends that you carefully read the contract so you’ll know what you’re responsible for and what the stager will do for you.

Debra Spector, a fourth-grade teacher in Galt, California, staged her home herself with suggestions from her real estate agent.

To get decorating ideas, Spector walked through several model homes. She purchased discounted items such as throw pillows, lap blankets, picture frames, towels and candles, with an eye toward things she planned to use in her new home. “It’s amazing how a little color provided by inexpensive items perked up our home,” she says.

Once her home was listed, she had to keep it ready for showing despite her busy teaching schedule. “We made sure the house was clean the night before, made lunches, and put dirty clothes in the washer,” Spector says. They also ate out often to reduce the amount of dishes that needed to be cleaned.

To “neutralize” her home, Spector removed lots of pictures and mementos, boxed up knick-knacks to store in the garage, and removed clutter. “That makes a home look smaller and less livable,” she says.

Staging definitely made her home more sellable and was worth the time and effort, Spector says: “We had an offer within a few days of marketing the home.”

When educator Dawn Casey-Rowe moved six years ago, “there was a glut of inventory on the market. Staging made the difference between selling my house and getting stuck,” she says.

Casey-Rowe staged her home herself, although she did follow her real estate agent’s helpful suggestions. “He had me move my aquarium downstairs and create a sitting nook. He also instructed me to paint an accent wall and helped direct a kitchen overhaul,” she says.

The biggest part of her staging job was decluttering. Casey-Rowe rented an affordable storage unit and boxed up everything but the basics. “Even your regular amount of stuff is too much from the eyes of a seller,” she says. “Declutter to the point of bare bones.”

For an emotionally appeal, she made a marketing card that included her family’s story. “We’d loved the house, but our family was growing, and it was time to move on,” she says. “I included a bullet list of all the things to do in the area that we’d loved.”

Casey-Rowe also created “a restaurant-style coffee setup” and cookies she baked right before every showing so the house “smelled like home.” Her tip: Keep pre-made cookie dough in the refrigerator scooped and ready to bake. “Chocolate chip cookies by far got the best reviews,” she says.

She also decked out her dining table with formal place settings, a nice tablecloth and a fresh floral arrangement. “I’m cheap, so it was often a weed flower and herb bouquet done up nicely,” she says.

Casey-Rowe says going the extra mile paid off. “All five senses sell a house. If they walk in and see, smell, imagine and sense they’re at home, they’re going to want to buy your house.”