Three Steps to Staging a Listed Property

[photopress:Jackass_20Penguin.jpg,thumb,alignright]On Friday Fieldtrips, I have been going to properties that are already listed for sale and doing a 3 Step Staging Technique. Since the properties are already for sale and listed in the MLS, it is a shortened process that takes anywhere from two hours to most of the day. Getting a property ready for market that is not already listed often has more steps and takes much longer. This simple process will help to improve a property already on market.

It is also the method I use on a listing appointment to give the seller a few tips of what they might need to do before putting the home on market. These homes are occupied and already furnished.


From the time you enter the front door, walk at a fairly rapid pace from the front door, through the main living areas and back to the front door. Keep your arms at your side with your hands about 8″ from your hip. In other words…Walk Like a Penguin.

Remember there are often three people walking through the property during a showing, the buyer(s) and their agent. Anytime they need to walk around a piece of furniture or get cornered inside the furniture or are just uncomfortably fitting through an opening, the house “feels too small” even if it is a 2,500 square foot home.

Make sure the walk path is as wide as possible. If one of your hands hits anything as you walk through, whatever you hit with your hand likely needs to be moved.

As you walk quickly like a penguin, keep your head straight and even with your shoulders. Don’t look up, down or sideways. When you get back to the front door, walk through again in the reverse direction.


It really is quite that simple. When your hand hits something, you get a sad face. When you can move through freely and without impediment, you have a happy face. When you smell something bad, you have a sad face. When you see attractive things, you have a happy face. When you see unhappy things (I call them implements of destruction) you have a sad face. Remove knives, arrows, scary masks on the walls, anything that makes you grimace or feel uncomfortable for even a split second.

Now go back through the area slowly and look for your best items (mirrors, pictures, vases, etc…) that you DID NOT SEE while walking through like a penguin. Move those to the walk path so that you see your best pieces when walking through quickly.

Do you see something good out the window, or something bad out the window as you walk through quickly? Open all the blinds and window treatments and walk through again. Happy Face? Leave the window treatments open. Sad Face? Close the blinds or drapes if you see moving cars, trash cans or anything else that is not attractive.

If when you first walked through you had 3 happy faces and 14 sad faces and now you have 14 happy faces and 3 sad faces, you have improved the property showings. If a buyer feels good most of the time during the showing, they are more likely to buy the property, than if they had a sad face during most of the showing.

Pretty simple stuff.


If it is a newer property, I often don’t have to shop. One of the purposes of shopping for items is to have at least one item in every room that is CURRENT. Often the homeowners things are very nice, but from 15 years ago. If the house is 15-20 years old and all of their things are 15 to 20 years old, the house screams “needs updating”, and that means lower offer.

Seems silly, but I can tell you for fact that homes where buyers said, “It’s going to cost $100,000 to update this place”, sold after a bit of updating. The more people see something in the house that they may have seen recently while shopping, the more you have added current to needs updating.

By Shopping and adding currently popular items and colors, you can change your showing feedback from “too 80s!” to an offer.

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ARDELL is a Managing Broker with Better Properties METRO King County. ARDELL was named one of the Most Influential Real Estate Bloggers in the U.S. by Inman News and has 33+ years experience in Real Estate up and down both Coasts, representing both buyers and sellers of homes in Seattle and on The Eastside. email: cell: 206-910-1000

76 thoughts on “Three Steps to Staging a Listed Property

  1. This is completely off topic but maybe a contributor can post on the following article that came out in the November 15 issue of Fortune.

    The article is about real estate prices versus rental prices.

    The article basically states that the price to own is a ratio of the price to rent. The article takes the historical normal ratio for owning versus renting and then expands it out five years with rental increase projections. The result is an estimate of where home prices are heading in the next five years.

    There is a list of the major metro areas within the country.

    The article can be read at:

    And then ‘flip’ to page 77.

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  3. Very nice and refreshingly simple view of the basics of getting a home ready to sell. Sometimes we overdo it and the reality is that you hit the nail on the head – the idea that there are genreally three people walking through is something that sellers really need to consider.

  4. Athol,

    I think it’s sad when agents only want to drop the price and never consider improving the condition instead.

    On the other hand, I think it’s even worse when you see 20 buyers bidding out a piece of crap house just because it has great staging.

  5. Does that imply that a buyer might be able to get a better deal on a badly staged house? Do you help your buyer clients locate such houses and help them look past bad staging?

    We placed a pomander in one of our rooms when I sold my last condo. I think that was one of the things that helped it sell in a few days above local comps. Our agent even gave us a discount on her commission since our staging helped it sell so quickly.

  6. Alan,

    Yes I do. But sometimes buyers pass up some great buys because they can’t get passed a smell. Smells are really hard to overlook. Especially “old people smell”. I’m quoting buyers there, not my words. Some of the best values I’ve seen have been houses with the same owner for many years with no updates but very well maintained. But they smell old, and often a buyer just gets the creepies and won’t buy it. I’d have to check, but off the top of my head I’d say 60% to 70% of my buyers purchase easy to update good values vs. needs no work, staged well properties.

    I agree that a quick sale, good condition, staged by owner property deserves a lower commission. Good for you!!!

  7. The last three homes I’ve purchased were vacant when I walked through.

    I do remember walking through a staged home and it felt like I was being manipulated emotionally.

    Example: fresh cookies had just been baked, there was soft classical music playing, there was a table set as if company was expected, with fresh flowers in a vase (we all have fresh flowers in a vase in our homes every day, don’t we?)….It felt like I was walking into a home that wanted me to buy it. It was the same feeling you get when you drive onto a car lot and look at the salesmen waiting for you, smiling, staring at you while talking to their buddies trying to figure out which one’s gonna get the girl car buyer and taking bets on how much money they’re going to make off you.

    I’d rather just see the house instead of what someone else thought I should see, feel, smell.

    Do some houses sell for more when they’re vacant?

  8. Vacant houses do not usually sell for more, but could sell for more than that same house if it is messy and dirty and smelly, but not if it is staged, etc. A very small house often sells better vacant, or almost vacant, with very little furniture.

  9. Peter,

    I read the article. The logic that areas where homes didn’t rise yet, may increase the most from here out, didn’t make much sense to me.
    Also, seems to me the supply of rental housing would be a factor. Some areas in Florida have a huge % of out of state owners who rent out their homes. Other areas have very few options in rental housing. In Seattle, I think you would have to separate the condos from the single family homes to perform this analysis, in order to factor in supply and demand.

    Still, I do see the propensity to rent vs. buy and the propensity to sell vs. buy will take its toll on prices…to a point. A lot will depend on interest rates.

  10. Ardell, excellent article and great tips. I try to have all my listings staged either by me or a professional stager (depending on the property) and agree with you a “feel good/happy” house will sell faster and for more money. I love your penguin walk suggestion and happy/sad face. It really doesn’t have to be very difficult. You simplified it perfectly. THANK YOU!

  11. Thanks for the insightful article, from a longtime reader and first-time poster here. I’ve never sold a house, and I’ll be sure to put these tips into practice when I do.

    But this article also does affirm my take on things as a buyer. I have zero interest in looking at houses that are staged like a Pottery Barn spread, because that sure as heck isn’t worth 20 or 50K of my money. Those listings with pictures of laundry piled up on the messy desk? Or with the half-eaten box of takeout on the counter? I’m definitely interested–the price isn’t overinflated to begin with, and I’ll probably have a better chance at negotiating the price futher down, to boot.

    I can clean, paint, and refinish with the best of ’em. I’m totally fine with deferred gratification and working through cosmetic upgrades over time. Taking this tack has allowed my husband and I to buy (and keep) two houses in Seattle, on a wholly unremarkable income. We’re on track in the next few years to turn our current residence into a rental and buy a third house…so I’m always keeping my eye out for those diamonds WAY in the rough!

  12. I believe in getting a house ready for sale and properly advising a seller as to what needs to be done. But proper pricing is where most agents have recently fallen off the rails. When a market stalls you need to jump ahead of the downward curve. Agents get so caught up on the balloons and nonsense that they dont price the property properly. We are in a flat or down market through 2008 so while staging helps it will do little if the pricing is wrongly based on sales six months prior.

  13. My feeling is with the idea of staging (and photography) is to never get anyone to think “this place has been staged”. All you want buyers to think is “nice house”.

    It is quite possible to over do it and get a negative result from your efforts. You don’t want people thinking “wtf pottery barn?” has they walk through the house.

    That being said, the majority of homes I’m seeing on the market in my area, really need to be presented to the market much better than they are. So many sellers and agents are just too darn lazy about this. Having a buyer walk through and think “wtf early K-Mart?” is really bad.

  14. I spent a weekend staging my townhome prior to its sale a few years ago, and it worked great. I spent about $300 at Bed/Bath/Beyond

    Note to self: If you are going to spend the time and money to stage, remember to remove tightie-whities from the laundry room prior to showings.

  15. Don,

    I don’t agree with “jumping ahead of the downward curve”. Literally that would mean selling for less than your sellers might be able to get. There’s clearly a danger in that outlook.

  16. Athol,

    Some early K-Mart could go well in a 60s house 🙂 It’s not really the store or cost that matters. Often it is color clashing, like bright blue kitchen accessories that they obviously bought back when they were renting. When they are brought to the new home with granite counters and tuscany green and gold colorscheme, you have to ditch the pecock blue. You can bring in gold and green, and yes, these towels can be bought at K-Mart. I use Target because we have more Targets around here. Ikea. I do use Sur le Table…but usually from the Clearance Rack.

  17. fooman,

    Do you remember what kinds of things and colors you bought for $300? I can probably see the photos in the mls if it was listed when you sold it. Email me the address. I’d love to see the photos. I couldn’t post them here, as it is against mls rules, unless you emailed me the photos. But I’d still like to see them.

    What was the year built of the townhome? Newer ones are easier to do than older ones.

  18. Athol,

    I took some clients to see an over-staged home that had huge defects in the flip improvements. Even popped off the show head seal with my pinkie. Crappy improvements, but great staging!

    Teaching buyers how to look past the staging has become part of our job description.

  19. Hi Ardell,

    One of the key things I think are important about staging and moving things around is that rooms PHOTOGRAPH better when the camera has something to focus on so that the viewer has something to “look at”.

    Nothing looks more stagnant or deader than a vacant room when you are looking at homes on-line. It is very challenging to photograph empty space and compete with on-line photos of homes that are staged.

    When items are added to a vacant room, it “warms up” the room. There are now things for the viewer to look at, adds depth and personality. Adding items also helps to lead the eye through the room. Photographs of rooms with staging slows the viewer down so that they will look longer and are more likely to consider seeing the house in person.

  20. Nicely done. Simple but staging is very much a part of my business. I tell every sell what needs to be completed to make the house in “showcase” condition and yes, smell is very much a part of staging. Get all the rest right but have a mildly unpleasant odor and buyers walk. It is just that important
    Thanks for the article.

  21. #28

    When you represent the seller, only what is best for the seller is relevant.

    When you represent the buyer, only what is best for the buyer is relevant.

    There is never an answer that will suit both types of representation simultaneously. This is a seller oriented post.

  22. Ardell said:


    When you represent the seller, only what is best for the seller is relevant.

    When you represent the buyer, only what is best for the buyer is relevant.

    There is never an answer that will suit both types of representation simultaneously. This is a seller oriented post.”

    Suggesting that a seller be price competitive *is* in the interests of the seller. My post specifically stated an example in which the *seller* would have been better off had they taken price more into consideration than they did and got “ahead of the market”, as you would put it.

    “When you represent the seller, only what is best for the seller is relevant.”

    I know what you meant, but in a literal sense this is just silly. As a current buyer – and I’ve both bought and sold in the past – *my* interests should be the interests of the seller. If we’re in a buyers market, which we are, and my interests are in a lower price, then that should be the interest of the seller. There are too many properties out there right now with fancy photographs, pottery barn tablecloths, and fresh cookies. None of them stand out to me, and sometimes the smell of cookies smells like desperation.

  23. We’ll agree to disagree for now. So far I’m seeing patience paying off better than jumping ahead of the curve and getting too panicky about not having a fast offer. It’s not a buyer’s market. Not a seller’s market either.

    Just because there is a lot of inventory doesn’t mean the best of the pack needs to jump ahead of the curve price-wise, nor should they.

  24. I’m sorry but this is not a very interesting post at all, could sombody post some interesting stuff i can troll on….. PLEASE!!!!!!
    3 steps to staging is not INTERESTING!!!!!!!

  25. I’m sorry; I’ve been slammed this week with phone calls and emails from several thousand loan originators who have put off their continuing ed until now. I have two posts almost ready to go. One on HR3915 and another on mortgage fraud part 2, but you all will have to wait another day! I’m more of a weekend blog poster.

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