I am not a real estate agent, and I don’t profess to be a pro at staging and/or selling homes. All that I can tell you is that in 2008-2009 when the real estate market was tanking, I sold my home. If I’d had the choice, I would have stayed in that home and rode out the market, but do to a military relocation I couldn’t choose to sit on the house. It was time for it to sell. I did lose some money on the house, everyone at the time did, but I did not lose months of mortgage to leaving it empty or tons of cash to rental damage. At a time when people weren’t getting showings, I got over 60. It took me the average seven months to sell it, but I did it. Here’s how I think I helped my chances of getting my house back off the market.

PreSale Cleanout

A lot of people suggest having a yard sale, or purging extra belongings prior to a move. Just prior to the move. Like the week before the movers come. I don’t agree with this. I think you should continually clean out your home to be sure that you are rid of items that would better be honored and used by another family. If you don’t use it, love it, or need it – see ya later. Knowing that my house was going to be going on the market just after the birth of my girl, I went through a huge purge just prior to her birth. I got rid of the items that I didn’t want to take with me to the next house. I donated a couple of truckloads to Goodwill, sold some furniture on CraigsList, and got my house down to what was going to the next location with us. There is no reason to hold onto it, and the time to get rid of it is before you attempt to sell your house. They are needless distractions to those looking in your home.

Go to an offsite storage facility. Rent space. I’m telling you, you can hide your stuff in the garage, but the people considering your home will see it there. It is my belief that offsite storage is the way to go for removing belongings that clutter your home, but you want for the next location. If you cannot afford to do this, make sure that your garage is COMPLETELY empty so that you can store your belongings in ONE SIDE of the garage. Make sure that there is a CLEAR path all of the way around your belongings if you choose to do this, so that someone who is serious, can walk around the outside to get a feel for the space available. Storage space sells homes, and garages count.

Go through your closets. Storage space sells (worth repeating). You can’t just do the age old shove it in a closet and no one will see it routine. During a showing, people open closets and cabinets. They want to be sure that THEIR stuff will fit. If YOURS doesn’t, it doesn’t plant the seed for them to believe in the possibilities does it? Take everything out of the closets and put it back in in such a way as it looks organized and/or spacious. If you don’t need it during this week/month, put it in a pile in your garage to be taken to offsite storage. This is the time to remove the belongings, not hide them. Go through the attic, the basement, the kitchen cabinets, the garage, the bathroom cabinets – everywhere – and remove anything that you don’t require. Showings ARE inspections. The people inspect your cleanliness, your organization, your maintenance, and your space. Why would they want to buy something that wasn’t taken care of? If I didn’t think that someone took care of their space, I would lowball them if I could see past it to see a worthy home. If they don’t care enough to take care of it, they must not care what they get for it, and will get what they deserve. Just sayin’.

If you have kids, have them bin up their toys. I know from having two kids that this one is tough, but make your kids pair down to just a few toys. The rest can go in large bins to the offsite storage unit. Take regular trips to the offsite location to rotate the toys. This is a suggestion that was made to me by friends, but I have not had to endure since my child was only 2.5 months old when I staged.

Move the holiday decorations and all of the non-essentials from your storage areas to your offsite storage unit. This will give the prospective buyer the opportunity to see the size of the space available.

Once your house has been paired down, and all extra stuff is off to the storage unit, you’re ready to stage.


I knew from watching way too much DIY and home improvement television that in order to sell my house, it needed to be staged. After the great clean-out (previous step), I went through each room and removed any personal items that made the space MINE. All pictures of personal experiences, photos of my personal family and friends, etc had to go. I left more generic photos (ie: Fenway Park, a lighthouse, rubber ducks in a bathroom, flowers) up. Why do we take down the personal stuff? I do it for two reasons: 1) It’s a first step in realizing that this house is no longer mine. 2) It allows the people to see the house as THEIRS. If my stuff is everywhere, they may feel as though they are visiting someone else’s house and have difficulty imagining their own ownership.

Clean. Clean. Clean. and then Clean. I don’t think I ever maintained a house as well as I did during the seven months that I was selling it. Get your carpets shampooed, or rent the Rug Doctor from your local store and do it yourself. Do not leave any reason for someone to think that your house isn’t just right the way that it is. Remove all spots from the walls. I used several boxes of Magic Erasers. Do you need to repaint? I don’t know how bad your walls are. We did not. We chose to leave the walls the colors that I had them, including a red accent wall in one of the bedrooms. Later, I found that the people had left the room the way I had it until they resold my house a year after they bought it. Clean all grout, showers, and surfaces meticulously. Make sure that all areas of the house are cleaned up and out, because no one wants to buy a house that looks like it needs work in this economy.

Take out any furniture that is unnecessary and takes up a ton of room. Add any that is required to accent something awesome in your home. (I put out a basket on the corner of our fireplace because I wanted people to recognize that it existed.)

Add fresh flowers or potted plants to rooms that need a splash. I did fake ones in my bathrooms, but fresh ones on the dining room table. It makes the place seem more alive. I also added planters by the front door and hanging plants on my porch.

Make sure that your landscaping is up to date and tasteful without looking as though it is high maintenance. No one wants more work, but everyone wants something pretty.

Remove all appliances (but maybe a coffee maker) from your counters. Make your counters look as empty as possible. Space to work and store things in a kitchen are very important things that people see subconsciously. You don’t want them to think “I can’t even work in here!” Even though you have it set up just the way YOU like it. They may operate differently and get turned off.


List with an agent you trust. Make sure that you believe they are working in your best interest and truly want the sale. I looked for a “bulldog in the room”. I wanted someone who was going to be a tough negotiator, who did the real estate thing FULL TIME, had awards and experience, and was honest with me. The woman that came and told me “you’re not gonna sell this house” was out because she didn’t believe in the possibility. The guy who said “your house is great the way it is, no problem, you’ll be fine” was too laid back. The lady that said “This is a tough market, you’ve got to be ready to play hard ball”, made suggestions, and told me no when I asked to do things she knew weren’t in my best interest? Hired.

Do not put papers out on the sale sign for your house. These handouts make it possible to see your house without a showing. I realize that sounds like a good idea, but your house is the best thing you have in your arsenal to sell your house. You want people to come in. People who are serious come through. My agent told me that, ironically, most of those flyers get picked up by nosy neighbors. I picked up a few when we were selling to compare ours with what they were doing. I wouldn’t use those.

I would take as many pictures as possible during the daylight hours, with all of the lights on, for your online listing. With the “papers on the sign” thing said, it is important to include as much information and photos on your online roster as possible, IMHO. I think you should give someone a taste of what they’ll see. People can look at a kazillion houses online. Make sure yours takes their attention. I didn’t even look at listings that didn’t have multiple pictures listed online when I was looking. Why waste your time? This is how you’ll get out of town people to be serious about seeing your home on the day or two they have in town. In military towns especially, this is important. We only get so much permissive leave people.

List on many sites. Ask your agent where you are listed. MLS is a given. Make sure you’re also on Zillow and MilitaryByOwner and the other sites that private owners can use. Check with your agent prior to listing, but putting your home on as many sites as possible will ensure you reach as many perspective buyers as possible. By the law of averages, you’ll get a buyer faster that way.


I had high expectations of myself for each showing, and I didn’t waiver. Here were the rules:

1) All lights on and shades up. In every room. It makes the house look brighter, and more inviting. Many times I’d come home, and the people would shut them off while they went through. I always knew where they went!

2) Remove all pets and pet boxes. They shouldn’t be able to tell you have them. I had all three cats, two litter boxes, and my dog in the car with me whenever someone came through. I don’t want to inherit your pet hair/problems… Why would your buyer? (PS – When we were looking at BUYING a house, one of the families left a horrifying dog in the house. Not. Smart. Another family hid in the garage which became awkward when my husband opened the door to look in there. Hi everyone!) Exception: If your litterbox/pet live in your garage, they can stay as long as they aren’t eye-sores or stinky.

3) Vacuum all rooms. There shouldn’t be a footprint on any of your carpets. I did this (sneaky) again to see where people went. Also, when people see the lines in the carpet from the vac, they can tell you tried. It counts.

4) All clutter/evidence of my living in the home during its sale needed to be removed. All of the babies toys were put away, all of my personal items from the bathroom were put away in the closet, all of my paperwork on my desk was shoved into a drawer. There was no direct evidence that I’d run out of the house with the baby just moments before they arrived.

5) Every night, make sure that everything is put away. That way, you only have to deal with the “damage” you’ve done in the few hours you’ve been awake if you get the last minute call for a showing. (I once had 15 minutes to get everyone out and the house vac’ed and I did it!)

6) Set the table. Seriously. With plates. It looks homey. Some people don’t do this, but I did. I wanted to say “welcome home”.

7) Have a roll of cookie dough in the house. Whenever you get a call about a showing, shove a few slices of it in the oven 15 minutes before you have to vacate the house. You can either put the cookies on a plate for the prospective owner, or take them with you for the kids, but you will leave the house with the smell of home. People remember smells. I did end up using a candle with a homey smell to it at one point (Christmas Cookie from Yankee Candle, I think) that I warmed on the warming pad of my oven instead of doing the cookie thing.

8) Make sure the yard isn’t a mess. All pet “evidence” has been removed, and your flowers watered. They will notice if they step in a ‘special offering’ or your flowers are wilty.

This economy is tough. Selling a house is always stressful. Make sure to give yourself a break, and a pat on the back for working so hard. After a little while, living this way is actually habit! In my current home, I still run around every night putting things away so that when I wake up my house is clean. I find a quasi-staged home to be most comfortable to me actually. Your family may end up liking it too. I wish you the best of luck in your selling adventures. Remember, my tips here were just from MY experience.

What about you? Do you have any tips/tricks to share with the group? Any/all of them will be appreciated!!