One of the questions home sellers frequently ask Realtors is whether or not to stage a house they have vacated. Be assured that nothing is more boring (and forgettable!) to potential buyers than an empty house – especially if the floors and walls are all neutral colors and views are less than spectacular. Furthermore, home buying statistics suggest that vacant homes typically take twice as long to sell and sell for less than even unstaged “occupied” homes.

Does that mean you need to rent furniture or hire a professional home stager? Not necessarily. A few well-placed knick-knacks and pictures can easily create the illusion of furnishings. Instead of trying to figure out where their belongings would fit in a room, your small, inexpensive tray table can remind potential buyers that their buffet would fit perfectly in the same spot. Empty rooms always appear smaller because there is nothing for the eye to focus upon. Even minimal furnishings can create an important frame of reference and visually expand space.

Staging a house follows many of the same principles as creating a print ad:

  1. Create Focus. Whether an empty page or an empty room, the eye is going to be looking for somewhere to land and something on which to focus. It’s an automatic to human nature, our eyes need to look directly at something, or we assume there’s nothing to see. Silk plants can enliven an empty space and the artful placement of mirrors can add depth and dimension. Area rugs can create the illusion of a seating area or the placement of a bed where no furniture exists.
  2. Lead the Eye. A good print ad will guide your eyes naturally to read the copy in the order it’s intended – so will a few well-placed items in an empty room. Take an empty bedroom and add something to the corner directly across from the door (a print, plant, or decorative accessory) and that is the first place your home buyer will look. Since windows are often across from the door the eye will slide there next to take in the view. From there the gaze may drift to the closet or a shelf. You can add a secondary item here to finish the room.
  3. Pops of Color. As part of getting ready to sell their house, many sellers will seek to neutralize their space by painting walls beige or white. If your house is neutral, add splashes of color with your staging. A colorful picture or a bright floral arrangement can give your house the right amount of zip to avoid “boring.” But a pop of color is all you need – a print ad that blinds us with electric color only makes us want to turn the page.
  4. Leave White Space. The white space (or negative space) is important. We don’t like ads that fill every inch of the page – the eye needs a break from constant stimulation. The same is true of a house – never add so many items to one room that it feels cluttered! Your Kitchen and bathrooms in a vacant house are simple to stage as they don’t require furniture. Invite home buyers into the kitchen with place settings at a breakfast bar, a bowl of faux fruit on an island, distinctive kitchen towels and decorative mason jars filled with oils or pasta. After thoroughly cleaning the bathrooms, make them more welcoming with fresh vibrant towels, a shower curtain and attractive soap dispensers and bath decor.

After you’ve put in all the work of cleaning and staging, you’ll want to ensure that it’s fully noticeable. This will not happen if buyers walk into poorly lit rooms. Today’s buyers are looking for a home that feels light and bright. One of the easiest things you can do is to keep as may window coverings open when your home is being shown. Inexpensive floor lamps can do a great deal to illuminate dark corners. To ensure that your home never appears dark and dreary, strategically position lamps with inexpensive timers. And for goodness sake, remove the heavy cornice boxes and frilly valances! They only date a home and block valuable views. Natural light increases serotonin in the brain, so your homebuyers will be happy campers if you let it in!