If there’s one thing that’s hammered home during the selling process, it’s that prospective buyers hate walking into an empty house. They need to imagine themselves in your space, and that means seeing furniture, accessories, and other decor trappings that make a house feel like a home—and wake prospective buyers to the potential of the place.
To the rescue: home staging. Consider it the professional makeover your home gets before the big dance. If done correctly, it can be a seller’s best friend, slashing the time your home sits on the market and boosting your profits.
But it’s also possible for home staging to go desperately wrong, even when you think you’re doing it right. Take heed of these oh-so-easy-to-make mistakes when staging your home.
1. Overdesigning your space
The goal of home staging is to help buyers visualize what the house could look like once they move in. The trick is to give off that feeling subtly, not smacking buyers in the face with design, design, design right when they walk in the door.
“Home staging is like being a backup singer to the house, which is the star,” says Justin M. Riordan, founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency. “As a backup singer, you have to be good, but, girl—do notovershadow Miss Tina Turner.”
Staging should boost your home, not the other way around. Keep it simple with furnishings, some decor, and textiles to add softness. Don’t cover every nook and cranny, even if you think it’ll look amazing.
2. Displaying fake everything
Making a home feel lived in without actually being lived in is tricky. But if your home stager suggests a nice bowl of fake fruit or anything inflatable, run quickly in the other direction.
“Fake plants, fake flowers, fake food, fake TV screens and computers, and, most of all, blow-up mattresses,” Riordan says. “Every time [buyers] see a fake item they are reminded that this is not real, this is not achievable, and this is not their new home.”
Keep it real, and forget the artificial bananas and silk leaf palm trees.
3. Not staging to scale
What home seller doesn’t want to create the illusion of more space? And to do that, you might assume you should use smaller, lightweight items.
Au contraire! That tactic can actually dwarf a home, experts say. Instead, make sure your furniture and accessories match the room in scale and proportion. In other words: If you have a huge family room with a vaulted ceiling, don’t opt for a small, low-backed sofa and tiny ottoman coffee table.
Plus, buyers should walk in and feel like there’s room for the family to grow and for entertaining. If the furniture used for staging is too small, the whole space will scream, “not enough room for life in this house.”
“Putting a small four-top table in a giant dining room does not show good use of the room,” Riordan says. “It shows poor use of scale.”
The same goes for decor accessories—your Italian ceramics, votive candles, artwork, and other odds and ends. If they’re disproportional to the space, the whole room can feel visually cluttered—even if you’re not displaying many items.
“No piece should be smaller than a softball,” says Tori Toth, home stager, founder of Stylish Stagers, and author of “Feel at Home: Home Staging Secrets for a Quick and Easy Sell.”
4. Staging your entire home in one aesthetic
Even if you’re selling a restored Victorian, buyers might not want to see oil lamps and fainting couches in every room. Buyers are trying to envision themselves—and everything they already own—in the space.
To help them get there, feel free to showcase eclectic furniture that proves to buyers their mismatched furniture will also go great in the house, Riordan says.
When in doubt, however, opt for traditional pieces: light-colored sofas, tables with clean lines, and timeless decor pieces. Your goal is to create the feeling of home for the buyer, not a museum.
5. Keeping doors closed
This one seems like an obvious no-no, but sometimes we’re all guilty of habitually closing doors.
“Having a person be able to move through the house without thinking is hugely important,” Riordan says. “We have seen entire floors missed by potential buyers because a door was closed and the buyer had assumed that the door was a closet rather than a staircase to the basement or upper floor.”
Before your real estate agent shows your house, do a final walk-through and make sure everything is open and ready to go.
6. Going too neutral
There’s nothing wrong with a classic color scheme, but if you keep everything ivory and beige, it won’t make your house stand out from the pack.
We’re not saying you should go crazy with the color. But your home should have a bit of unique appeal—some pops of color here and there, and one or two rooms that don’t look like every other room in the house (and on the planet).
“We create one color story for each room,” Riordan says of his design firm. “There might be a red office, a green living room, and an orange bedroom in a single house.”
The end result? After a potential buyer has seen 10 houses—each with eight rooms—in one day, she’ll have an easier time calling yours to mind.
“The red office is much easier to recall hours later than the office that had a desk in it,” Riordan explains.
And, after all, your goal here is to have the house that buyers remember.