De-clutter and clean 

 

De-cluttering and cleaning top the list of home-improvement tasks realtors recommend to their clients, according to the NAR study.  

Without spending a ton of money, get your house clean, "from ceiling to floor, and wash the windows from both inside and outside,” says Caroline Harmon, trends and style analyst for retailer Lowe’s. “It will give your whole house a fresh pop. The more you can de-clutter or simplify, the easier it will be to sell your house.”

De-cluttering goes beyond removing your coffee pot or slow cooker from the kitchen counter. It means hiding garbage cans and pet litter; organizing coat closets, pantry and fridges; making sure toilets are clean and the lids down; and wiping off fingerprints and streaks on stainless steel appliances, which are often overlooked details. 

Depersonalize

 

The No. 1 advice Hayden gives to sellers: “Get out of the seller mindset and pretend you are a buyer and objectively criticize your own home as a buyer. Think of those things that will block someone from having a relationship with the house," he says. "A trophy case stacked to the ceiling doesn’t mean anything to the buyer.” 

The idea is to allow buyers to have that “blank canvas” so they can envision themselves living there, Harmon says. 

“Everybody takes pride in their home,” says Candace Hutchison, a professional stager for 13 years. “What we want to do is move your story out and create a story that speaks to a broader audience.” 

Light and color

 

The play of light and color is also critical. “You want the house to look as bright as possible,” Hutchison says. “Psychologically, it really appeals to buyers. If you have dark curtains, take them out. …You don’t want any light bulb that’s amber in color. You want one that’s a bright daylight bulb.” 

Making sure that lights work and match in each room is important. It's also critical to replace those compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs that take a long time to brighten, says Hayden, the Louisville real estate agent.

The use of accent pillows to match, say, a brown sofa or a new bed set, especially in the master bedroom, also helps, Hutchison says. In the bathrooms, even small ones, put in white fluffy towels that cost under $10 apiece and some baskets with rolled towels, bath salt or pretty soaps. 

“You want to dress it up and create that high-end hotel feel and a feeling that this could be a retreat,” she says. 

Plants also work wonders as people seek “that feeling of nature inside,” Lowe’s Harmon says. “It makes them feel calm and relaxed. That greenery is really important.” 

Furniture

 

It's critical to rearrange the furniture in a room so that people don’t see the back of a couch when they walk in, Hayden says. “You want to have ... a path to navigate the house without walking into a barrier.” 

Hutchison says she often moves furniture, turning a chair to face a sofa so that pieces are “in a conversation with each other” instead of all pointing toward the TV. “It’s a real subtle invitation to address the family and not the TV.” 

Cost 

 

Homeowners can spend $200 to $500 buying a few planters, cleaning supplies, light bulbs and things like trim baseboard paint or storage bins, Lowe’s Harmon says. 

According to the NAR survey of realtors, about three-fifths of sellers' agents say they either personally offer to stage a home, offer a home staging service or hire a professional staging service. The median dollar value spent on home staging was $400, the study shows.

“It’s a cost-benefit analysis,” Hayden says. “Just don’t go out and spend $3,500 to repaint the house or have a new carpet. Somebody might want a different color. You could just give a credit to the buyer.”