5 Rules I Followed While Staging My Own Home Before Selling It

5 Rules I Followed While Staging My Own Home Before Selling It

When my husband and I decided to sell our home earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to declutter and work through our self-imposed list of repairs so I could begin staging our home. 

I love watching real estate and home improvement shows and seeing how nicely staged the homes look. While I’m no interior designer, I knew that I wanted to take a DIY route when it came to staging our 1,300-square-foot ranch-style home.

On average, a design consult with a staging company can cost around $300 to $600 per room, according to Realtor.com. Then, the actual staging can cost $500 to $600 per month, per room. DIY staging saved us a lot of money and also helped us get an offer under contract in less than a week of listing our home. 

Here are some practical tips if you’re looking to take a stab at staging your own home before listing it.

There’s nothing wrong with looking at examples before you stage your home — in fact, I encourage it. There are tons of home staging magazines and other content out there to help you start getting ideas of what could be possible for your space. 

This is a great way to test out ideas for colors, textures, and themes that might look nice in your home. Based on what I saw in my research, I knew that I wanted my home to look fresh, open, welcoming, and functional. The theme I settled on was “welcome home.” It was so simple, but fitting, as I really believed our home would be great for a family who’s just starting out. 

Start with what you have.

We were on a tight budget with staging our home so I decided to keep all my existing furniture and use the elements we had. I wanted to keep the living room as clear as possible so it looked spacious and people could have more visibility. To do that, I “edited down” some of the furniture in there.

This meant forgoing a coffee table and only leaving one end table, which actually made the room look a bit bigger. We already had a beautiful natural brick wall so we just updated the paint throughout, removed all family pictures, and added decorative letters that spelled out “home” to go with our theme. Our couches were pretty worn, so as a quick fix, we added some decorative pillows and throws so as not to distract potential buyers. 

The whole point of staging a home is to show what’s possible for its next residents. People like to see how the bed could be arranged, how the patio furniture looks outside, and how other elements of the home might function. 

With staging our home, I decided to keep a DIY pantry area we’d made by converting an old closet. To stage it, I decluttered the closet and kept a few brown wicker baskets to show people how the area could function as a pantry. 

When we originally bought our home, the previous sellers had used that area to store records, so it proved to be a very flexible space. Keeping the closet sparse on stuff could help someone touring our place to visualize another way to use it as well.

Don’t be afraid to add some personality.

Our Realtor recommended we remove personal family photos from our walls, and I agreed with this. However, I decided to leave a few shelves and books up along with some minimal decor on the fireplace mantle. 

While you never want to show too much personality in what should be a neutral space, I think it makes sense to include a few accessories — as long as you don’t overdo it.

Hire a professional photographer for last-minute tips.

Decluttering and cleaning were huge aspects of the DIY home-staging process. However, our photographer helped us step it up a notch further. 

I’m grateful that our Realtor hired a professional photographer to take photos for our listing. During the shoot, I stuck around to assist if needed. The photographer made some suggestions about moving certain things in our home that I’d never thought about. 

For example, it wasn’t really necessary to have some of our snacks and items like cereal visible in the kitchen. We found a better place to put our dog’s crate. We also talked about the importance of natural lighting. 

While you can definitely DIY photos of your home for your listing, I’d recommend going with a professional real estate photographer. That way, you can get some insight and feedback on your staging and see what the photographer thinks should be removed or hidden.

Staging a home is not all about perfection, but it is about putting yourself in the shoes of the buyer. Starting by thinking about what they’d want to see and which elements, furniture, and accessories will show your home in the best possible light is a great place to begin the DIY staging process.

See How a Home Stager Ditched Yellow Walls for a Neutral (Yet Glam) Palette

See How a Home Stager Ditched Yellow Walls for a Neutral (Yet Glam) Palette

Sylvia Gholston, senior designer at Showhomes of Cobb, knew that getting rid of the outdated hue throughout the home would modernize and refresh the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom house. “Staging cannot help inconsistent paint colors,” she says. “So we had the entire house painted a balsamic white.”

Luckily, the house had great bones and an appealing exterior, so Gholston’s goal was to provide a look that was lived-in, yet trendy, so that potential buyers could picture themselves living in the space.

Her approach is immediately clear in the living room, which featured the same dingy yellow walls, as well as exposed wires and hardware from a former wall-mounted TV. These elements eclipsed appealing aspects like the dual built-in bookcases, a sizable fireplace, and vaulted ceilings.

“Our primary goal was to showcase the high ceilings and the openness of this space,” Gholston says. “We placed the furniture in the center to indicate that an actual set could be used and fill the space. We wanted a bit of a glam look but not over-the-top.”

Painting the walls a soft dove gray with bright white on the fireplace mantle and surround, trim, and bookcases immediately made a difference, and removing old wiring from the TV created a clean slate.

“The bookcases were staged lightly so that the potential owner could see that you do not have to crowd bookshelves,” she says, noting that she chose clean-lined silver and white items, like vases and faux plants, to match that minimalist aesthetic. “My philosophy is less is more.”

To achieve the desired lived-in look with a glam twist, Gholston chose a furniture set, comprising a sofa, a love seat, and a chair, that was neutral yet plush. “This was important to show that you do not need the traditional staged look — couch and two chairs with two lamps — to highlight a space.” Coordinating throw pillows with a bit of sheen invite guests to take a seat and get cozy.

A faux fur area rug in a creamy hue grounds the seating arrangement and adds to the luxe vibe. On top, a square coffee table with silver X-shaped legs and a faux animal skin cushion displays a plush fur throw blanket and a barware set on a silver tray.

The granite on the fireplace pops against the new paint color, while a large-scale piece of abstract art in neutral hues draws the eye upward to the high ceiling. A silver vessel on the ground in front of the fireplace adds further shine.

While the overall color scheme is neutral, the interplay of textures, shapes, and materials keeps things interesting. “The ultimate goal was to show that glam can be functional and does not have to be over-the-top,” Gholston says.

Originally, the home was on the market for a month. But after Gholston was hired and worked her magic over the course of two days, it sold within 24 hours for $5,000 over the $850,000 list price. The homeowners were thrilled — and the yellow walls are now nothing but a memory.

Here’s How to Become a Home Stager

Here’s How to Become a Home Stager

When it comes time to sell a home, some owners don’t always know the best way to get their home sale-ready. On the flip side, many potential buyers struggle to picture themselves in a home that bears the mark of its current owners — think cat collectibles and puppy-destroyed rooms. That’s where home stagers come in.

While a common misconception about home staging is that it’s simply moving things around the house to make it look nicer, Cindy Lin, founder of Staged4more School of Home Staging, says, “A well-staged home appeals to the targeted buyers’ aspirational lifestyle through strategic placement of furnishing, lifestyle accessories, and art. A home stager pulls all this together through research, design, and project management to tell and sell the story of home visually.”

Home stagers can work with a wide range of clients and in various specialties, using their decorating and organizational skills to help clients sell homes faster and for more money.

The home staging industry relies on courses, certification, and training programs to educate new home stagers and provide continuing education for experienced home stagers. After gaining the training you need, you can strike out on your own and start a home staging business, or you can join a home staging company. Here’s how to become a home stager.

Complete a certification program.

The real estate staging industry does not have an official governing body, meaning that there aren’t certain requirements that you have to meet or licenses to obtain to become a home stager. Lin says home stagers “can be self-taught and start home staging businesses without any education, but they usually start with a staging training course to get an overview of the home staging business and skills required and then learn on the job.” 

Home staging is more than just tossing throw pillows on the bed. Lin shares that home staging “requires strategic placement of furnishing, lifestyle accessories, and art to create an aspirational lifestyle that potential buyers want to buy into. This requires understanding of design and composition theories, demographic research, current home and real estate trends, and project management skills to manage all the moving pieces of staging installations.”

When you make the decision to become a home stager, finding a certification program will help prepare you to start your own business or join a home staging company. 

Home staging does have its own trade association, the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA), which was formed in 2007 by a group of real estate stagers who wanted to create an accredited certification program to standardize the training that’s available and offer resources to home stagers.

There are also a wide range of price tags for certification courses. A beginner course can cost less than $200 while some of the more in-depth courses can run into the thousands, so you’ll likely find one that fits your budget as well as your goals. But beware of courses boasting how easy it is to become a home stager. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme and requires time to gain the experience you need to be successful.

Home staging encompasses a range of different properties and styles, and choosing one to focus on will allow you to become an expert in a specific area and create a more targeted marketing plan. For instance, you could work with single-family homes, beach homes, luxury properties, or condos. You can also focus on who you want to work with, including homeowners, real estate agents, or developers.

Create a business plan and market your services.

Creating a business plan is no small feat. Lin points out that while “staging may look fun and glamorous on TV, it’s still a real business to run, with a lot of moving pieces.”

You’ll need to research the requirements for starting a home staging business and create a plan to market your services. To get started, you can ask yourself questions like:

Lin says her favorite part of home staging is “getting to marry the creative and the business side of things, and I’m able to make an impact in my staging clients’ lives. Knowing that the successful sales have contributed to them starting a new chapter of their lives with more equity and peace in hand, that’s an amazing thing to do!”

Steph Mickelson


Steph Mickelson is a freelance writer based in Northwest Wisconsin who specializes in real estate, building materials, and design. When she’s not writing, she can be found juggling kids and coffee.

It’s Time to Stop Karate Chopping Your Throw Pillows, Says One Home Stager

It’s Time to Stop Karate Chopping Your Throw Pillows, Says One Home Stager

Truth time: I never followed the trend of karate chopping the tops of throw pillows before displaying them on a couch or bed. To me, it makes them look like defeated pillow people throwing their arms up in surrender, and I simply won’t condone aggression toward home decor.

I prefer to gently plump my pillows. Call me old-fashioned, but I actually like to use my throw pillows to recline while reading or watching TV, or perhaps under my head for an occasional cat nap. For me, a karate-chopped pillow just looks awkward and uncomfortable — the very opposite of what pillows were created to be. 

So imagine my delight when Cheryl Eisen, the founder and CEO of Interior Marketing Group, an award-winning staging, design, and marketing firm for luxury properties, told me the karate-chopped pillow trend “is over.” Her preferred technique? A gentle chop on the top of the pillow — you’re not going for a black belt here — followed by a smoothing of the pillow’s “ears.” The result is “a subtle crease, so it doesn’t look like it came right off the store shelf,” she explains. 

“I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with throw pillows,” Eisen says. (Same!) “Sometimes they’re just what a room needs to finish the design, and yet sometimes they’re overwhelming.” Here’s a look at her strategy for including throw pillows in the spaces she designs.

Don’t feel the need to place the same number of pillows on each end of the sofa, Eisen says. You’re not aiming for perfect pillow symmetry, though you should still attempt to strike a balance elsewhere throughout the space.

For example, in a recent home design, Eisen and her team arranged two pillows of different sizes on the left side of the sofa, keeping the right side empty. To fill the space visually, they placed a vase on the right side of the coffee table that was in front of the sofa. “The whole room was balanced because of that, and it didn’t look overly staged,” she explains.

Keep to the same color palette.

Throw pillows are indeed wonderful accents for furniture, and they can be colorful if you want them to be. However, Eisen recommends keeping them in the same color story or color palette that is represented throughout the rest of the room. 

Eisen and her team designed one space that had a large piece of modern art done in orange on display. They chose throw pillows in various shades of orange, including rust, brick, and mustard. The color scheme continued throughout the room with other elements, including a vase and even a coffee table book — talk about attention to detail! “Now there’s cohesion without feeling forced,” she says. 

Try to relax with your pillow placement.

Are you a firm believer that throw pillows are meant to be admired and not actually used? It’s your space, your rules. But know that there is no rule that says your pillow tops have to look “like the ears of a nervous dog” as Hadley Keller of House Beautiful once eloquently described karate-chopped pillows. It’s time we put the trend of combining martial arts with interior design to bed.

Barbara Bellesi Zito


Barbara Bellesi Zito is a freelance writer from Staten Island, covering all things real estate and home improvement. When she’s not watching house flipping shows or dreaming about buying a vacation home, she writes fiction. Barbara’s debut novel is due out later this year.