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Staging a House on a Budget

Jun 29, 2020 by Barbara Zito

Staged homes allow potential buyers to envision the possibilities of living in that space, which often leads to quicker offers and higher sales prices. According to the National Association of Realtors Research Group's 2019 Profile of Home Staging Report:

  • 83% of buyers' agents said a staged home helps their clients see themselves living in the space.
  • 25% of buyers' agents say the offer price can increase up to 5% for a staged home.
  • The living room was noted as the most important room to be staged (47%), followed by the master bedroom (40%), and the kitchen (35%)

With this data, it's hard to argue against staging your property for sale -- at least a couple of rooms, anyway. But if professional home staging is not in the budget, then it's time to take on DIY staging for your next open house. Here are some home-staging tips for key areas of the home that could lead to a quicker sale.

DIY home staging on a dime

Professional stagers can command thousands of dollars per staging project, using high-end furniture and decor that will stick around only for the open house before getting whisked away to storage. The effects are incredible, but unless you've got a luxury property on the market, you don't have to go nearly that extravagant with your staging. In fact, you can do it yourself without spending much money.

The same NAR report states that the median amount spent on staging is $400. That's not too bad considering the potential return on investment (ROI). But what if you've sunk enough money into the home and need to cut costs somewhere? It means you've got to do it yourself.

Staging a home you're still living in

If you're staging a house that you currently live in, you don't have to worry too much about having enough furniture to fill the space. What you should focus on is decluttering. Whether you subscribe to Marie Kondo's philosophy of tossing anything that doesn't "bring you joy," or you simply decide to get a head start on packing, start to limit the "stuff" in the living space.

For example, now would be a good time to remove family pictures from the walls. When prospective buyers are coming through the home, non-personal wall decor will allow them to envision making their own memories in your home.

Staging an empty space

If you're an investor staging a flip, then you're dealing with staging a blank canvas of a space. For a few hundred dollars per year, rent storage space and get ready to launch your own amateur staging company. Fill the storage unit with home decor and furniture that you collect, borrow, or buy on the cheap. You don't have to stage a whole house to make it attractive to buyers, nor do you have to go high end with anything. Even the most economical of staging can woo home buyers with a glimpse of their future life inside the home.

Here are the top areas to focus on, as well as a few other staging tips that will create a space that potential buyers will love.

Living room

No need to cart in a big-screen TV to stage this room. For the living room, focus more on seating. If you've got a sofa and coffee table, great; if not, a few chairs and side tables will work too. Arrange them in the area where the TV might go, or if there's a fireplace, set up the seating there.

Staging tip: If you want some wall decor, go with a mirror. Place it on a wall across from a window. The light that streams in will be reflected off the mirror and the living room will seem bigger.


If you only have the budget to stage one of the bedrooms, make it the master bedroom (or primary bedroom, a term that some real estate listings are now starting to favor). It's more than acceptable to leave the other bedrooms empty. Potential buyers can choose to use bedroom space for any number of options besides an actual bedroom -- such as office space -- so let them see the size of an empty room and closet space without having it staged. Include a bed (it's OK if it's a lumpy old mattress -- no one's sleeping here) and a nightstand. Make up the bed so it looks pristine, and put a book and perhaps a small piece of decor on the nightstand. If the closet has an organizing unit already in it, perhaps put a few items of clothing in it to show how organized the future homeowners can be with their wardrobe.

Staging tip: Now's not the time to blow what little budget you have on throw pillows. Buy an inexpensive bed-in-a-bag set that comes with a few pillows and shams and make the bed neatly.


No need to go crazy with decor here. When it comes to staging a kitchen, it's all about keeping it clean. What people want to see the most in the kitchen are the appliances, cabinets, and countertops. Keep them all clean and sparkling and empty -- house hunters will open doors and peek in, so don't use the kitchen cabinets to store clutter. If there are open shelves or windowed cabinets, go ahead and place some brightly colored pieces like mugs or plates that you pick up on sale at the home store.

Staging tip: A bowl of fruit (real or fake) on an island is an optional add; otherwise, let the homebuyers imagine where their own kitchen gadgets and small appliances will live in the kitchen.

Dining room

This is another important room to stage, though it depends more on whether it's a closed-off formal dining room or part of the open floor plan. If it is a separate room, you could leave it empty -- potential buyers will focus then on the size of the space rather than how it's staged. But if you have an open floor plan, you'll definitely want to set up a table and chairs to show homeowners how the larger space might be carved out for a dining area.

Staging tip: Set the table for dinner. Put out plates, glasses, cloth napkins, and a centerpiece; fresh flowers in a vase will do well here. A table that is set will encourage buyers to think about how they'll entertain their own family and guests here.


This one's easy, as there's no confusing a bathroom with any other room in the house. If it's a new renovation, the gorgeous shower tile and fixtures will likely show off enough on their own. All your bathroom needs is some tasteful accents like hand towels and a pretty soap dispenser, and you're set.

Staging tip: Remember to lower the toilet seat when you're taking photos for the listing.


No need to stage here, as there are so many different configurations. People will be mainly looking at the size of the basement and envisioning it as any number of things -- playroom, workout room, man cave, etc. If there is built-in furniture, like a wet bar, then go ahead and put out a tray of glasses and a bar stool for effect.

Staging tip: Basements can be dark, so make sure all light bulbs are working. Consider adding one or two brighter bulbs (if the fixture allows it) to really illuminate the space.

Outdoor space

This one all depends on the size of the space. Like in the kitchen, cleanliness and tidiness is more important than adding a full set of lawn furniture. If there is a pool and it's open, make sure it's skimmed free of any leaves and debris -- go ahead and throw a single float in for a fun touch. If the outdoor space is big enough, consider adding some patio furniture. It doesn't have to be a full setup -- sometimes all it takes is a couple of lounge chairs. If the yard is small, don't worry about furniture at all, but do make sure it is swept clean. If there's grass, make sure it's cut.

Staging tip: Hide the garbage pails if possible -- or at least keep them out of the way in staging photos.

Staging for the eyes -- and the nose

If the house is smelling a bit musty, you might think the best plan is to start spraying rooms with air freshener, or perhaps light fragrant candles in a few areas (while attended, of course). You may have even heard about the old apple pie trick: Pop a pie right into the oven before your open house and welcome prospective buyers with the fragrant aroma of baked goods.

Put down the candles and air freshener. Save the pie for another day.

According to, it's better to skip any scent -- no matter how delicious -- altogether. Buyers don't want to be overwhelmed by any strong scents when they come to the open house; it can cause a negative impression even if you staged everything else perfectly. The best thing to do is open windows to get some fresh air in the space before you greet the first wave of house hunters.

The bottom line

Home staging pays off big time. But if there's no room left in your budget, it's time to get creative and do it yourself. Buyers will fall in love with the space -- and the offers will start rolling in.

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