If you browse the Seattle area’s real estate offerings online, you’ll notice that many homes have a certain clean, crisp interior design — remarkably free of scattered children’s toys, ugly sofas and mystery-stain carpets.

Sure, the sellers might live like that 24/7. But it’s more likely that they’ve used the services of a professional home stager. 

Home staging is the preparation of a house for sale. When done right, staging offers a “neutral, inviting atmosphere that appeals to a wide buyer demographic,” says Tessa Kluetz Pernell, owner of TKP Design, a home staging and interior design company that serves the Seattle-Tacoma area.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 83% of buyers say staging helps them visualize a property as their future home. 

“Investing in staging is worth every penny,” Pernell says. Not too many pennies, though — the median dollar value spent on home staging was $400, according to the NAR.

Staging requires a little addition and subtraction, not to mention division of labor. Here are 10 budget-friendly tips for prepping your condo or Craftsman, whether you work with a pro stager or want to tackle a real estate refresh on your own. 

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1. Clean up

First, cut down your home’s items by 50% to two-thirds, suggests Josh Clark, director of operations for The Results Team at Keller Williams Mountains to Sound Realty. He points out that while lots of space has been consistently sought-after, spaciousness is at an all-time premium due to recent stay-at-home orders.

“A cluttered space leads buyers to think there isn’t enough room for their own things,” says Pernell, who suggests giving away items to Goodwill, via your local Buy Nothing group or by holding a yard sale. Open-house shoppers will note ample storage when they peek in your closets. Decluttering makes your move easier, too.

2. Visualize your stage

Before starting your project, get clear on what you’re trying to accomplish: an interior that appeals to a wide demographic.

Browse catalogs for Pottery Barn, Ikea, Crate & Barrel and the like to spot the simple, streamlined look often found in staged homes for sale. To stay on track, Pernell suggests clipping photos for a physical image board, or using websites and apps such as Morpholio Board, Pinterest or GoMoodboard.com for a virtual image board you can refer to often. 

Stay-at-home orders have placed a premium on spaciousness, and home shoppers will be attracted to interiors that are open and free of clutter. You can create more space in your home by using smaller furniture, such as replacing a king-size bed with a queen. (Getty Images)
Stay-at-home orders have placed a premium on spaciousness, and home shoppers will be attracted to interiors that are open and free of clutter. You can create more space in your home by using smaller furniture, such as replacing a king-size bed with a queen. (Getty Images)

3. Refresh the interior

Use neutral paint colors, such as soft grays, whites or light beiges, so your home’s next owner can more easily envision their own belongings inside, Pernell says.

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If you’ve had pets, children or other messy creatures in the house, get the carpets cleaned and replace any sections that are beyond repair. “A buyer may subtract far more for dirty carpet and old walls than it would cost to clean or replace them,” Clark says. 

4. Position furniture

Think of your decor as layers, suggests Eduardo Mendoza, who works as a home stager and interior designer and runs The Enhanced Home, a Bellevue consignment shop for upscale furnishings. 

Mendoza “edits” homes using the owners’ furnishings, and if necessary, adds a few staging rental pieces to complement the mix. Many stagers include furnishing with their fee.

Think of your decor as layers, he suggests. A basic living room might include seating (a sofa and two armchairs), a floor lamp and a coffee table.

Pernell suggests arranging furniture near attractive home features, such as a fireplace or a beautiful view. Create more space by using less or smaller furniture where appropriate — swapping in a queen-size bed for a king in the master bedroom, for example.

If you need to round out decor on your own, pick up affordable and neutral pieces at budget-friendly places such as Home Goods, Target, Wayfair, Ikea, Etsy and OfferUp, or local consignment or antique shops, Pernell suggests. 

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5. Focus on the kitchen and bathroom

Buyers often prioritize kitchens and bathrooms in their searches, Clark says. Use that to your advantage by ensuring the kitchen looks great.

Cost-conscious options include replacing the backsplash, countertops and old or mismatched appliances, but don’t overspend. Dropping $10,000 on a top-of-the-line dishwasher won’t earn you an additional $10,000 at final sale.

Local home stager Tessa Kluetz Pernell redecorated the bathroom of this Seattle-area home while staging it for sale. She painted the walls white and removed bulky items such as the medicine cabinet to make the space feel larger. (Courtesy of TKP Design)
Local home stager Tessa Kluetz Pernell redecorated the bathroom of this Seattle-area home while staging it for sale. She painted the walls white and removed bulky items such as the medicine cabinet to make the space feel larger. (Courtesy of TKP Design)

In the bathroom, allow in as much natural light as possible, add warm lighting where necessary and consider replacing fixtures such as sinks, toilets, countertops and faucets.

Antimicrobial paint on high-moisture walls could decrease mildew issues — a perennial Northwest problem. It’s a “potential selling point that differentiates your home from others,” says Sherri Monte, of Elegant Simplicity. She and her husband, John, offer interior design and organizing services in the Seattle area.

6. Look out for lights

Experts agree that light fixtures are particularly problematic. Mismatched or dated fixtures won’t impress potential homebuyers, so update them with budget-friendly, on-trend buys from a hardware or big-box store.  

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But lighting goes beyond fixtures to the bulbs themselves, Sherri Monte says. When living in our homes, we often swap out bulbs without paying attention to hue. Seek out warm, cohesive lighting throughout the house, and skip the blueish or “daylight” tones, she advises.

7. Keep a few photos

While traditional staging advice suggests that homeowners put away all personal items, Mendoza likes to retain a few pieces of positive memorabilia. A photo of your Hawaiian vacation can inspire a potential buyer to see themselves as … you. 

“I try to grab the warm and happy, successful feelings, and keep those elements in the house,” he says. 

Be extremely selective, Mendoza suggests. “I went to an open house with certificates on the wall from Stanford, Harvard and MIT. It was a little too much. Tone it down and choose one.”

8. Curate for clicks

Most shoppers today will see your home online first, Mendoza says. Color, when used sparingly, can help your listing stand out from the online crowd. In a neutral-hued home, a colorful layer, such as pillows, a rug or wall art, can help your home pop. 

When placing decorative accessories, don’t use any objects smaller than a fist because they won’t show up online. 

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9. Keep up on maintenance

“Think about maintenance in terms of playing offense versus defense,” Clark says. Some moves protect the value of your home (such as servicing your furnace or maintaining gutters) and others increase the value of your home (new windows, cosmetic upgrades). “We always start with defense first before moving to offense when strategizing with potential home sellers.” 

Maintenance gives buyers the impression that there’s “one less thing to do,” says John Monte of Elegant Simplicity. It minimizes any perception that the home isn’t taken care of, or that the new homeowner will have to tackle several maintenance projects. 

10. Consult with your agent

Before investing in upgrades, consider speaking with a real estate agent. Clark says they can offer you a prescription — within your budget — for whatever ails your home.

“Our team has people working full time, watching which trends bring value to sellers and which trends don’t,” he says.

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Strategies for selling

Josh Clark of The Results Team at Keller Williams Mountains to Sound Realty shares some pro tips for protecting (defense) and increasing (offense) the value of your home.

Defense

  • Annually service your furnace and hot water heater
  • Clean carpets and windows regularly as needed
  • Maintain your gutters and roof
  • Order home inspections once every two or three years for issues such as crawl space or attic problems, and to address any deficiencies
  • Care for your home so little issues don’t turn into big ones down the road

Offense

  • Replace old, outdated fixtures, such as sinks, lighting, counters and appliances
  • Cosmetic improvements. Varies depending on what’s “in,” but some examples are the backsplash in the kitchen or a shiplap accent wall.
  • Upgrade windows and/or appliances to more efficient models
  • Get new carpet installed
  • Replace old heating units such as electric baseboard heating with a newer alternative like a ductless HVAC system
  • Minimize personal items and stage strategically to emphasize the most valuable aspects of your home