5 House Staging Rules Sellers Should Ignore


When it’s time to sell your home, everyone seems to have an opinion about how to prep for house staging. Your neighbor recommends baking cookies, your spouse wants to put fresh flowers in every room and your best friend says to keep the house as-is so visitors can envision themselves in a lived-in environment. But, which house staging advice is actually helpful? We’re ready to bust a few seller myths!

Myth: Just before a showing or open house, you should bake something or light a fragrant candle so the house smells nice.

Fact: Some visitors are going to have sensitivities to odors or be suspicious that you’re trying to cover up something, such as mildew or pet odors. It’s best to present a neutral, clean home. Take out the trash, steam clean the carpets, wash the pet’s bedding and scrub the bathrooms to reduce lingering odors naturally. If the weather allows, open a few windows to fill the home with fresh air. Turn on ceiling fans to circulate the air, especially in basements or attics, to eliminate stale, stuffy odors.

What kind of smells can help sell your home?



Every house smells like something. We all know that no matter how scent-free our homes seem to us, someone else can walk in and instantly pick up on last night’s sautéed fish or the garlic that went into Wednesday’s spaghetti. Maybe the recycling needs to go out, or litter box odor lingers no matter how often the pan is changed. There’s always something. Even the fragrance products you buy might strike a guest as stinky.

Those odors are all fine if they’re fine by you, but they are not smells that can help sell your home. For that, we’re looking for light, clean and neutral.

First off, neutralizing a home’s air does not mean spraying a product that claims to neutralize or freshen. Scented sprays mask odors and often create the unpleasant effect of, for example, cheap artificial gardenia perfume layered over old cooking grease. Neutral means clean, as in nearly without smell.

Things that are clean smell clean

The deep house cleaning that prepares a home for sale is also going to improve its scent profile. However, be careful that your efforts do not leave the house reeking of ammonia, bleach or any strongly scented cleaner. Using well-chosen products, you’ll freshen up the air when you:


  • Wash all bed covers and wash or dry-clean drapes.
  • Have the carpet cleaned or, if necessary, replaced.
  • Mop hard-surface floors with a lightly scented or unscented cleaner.
  • Scrub the bathrooms top to bottom, again being careful to use lightly scented cleaners or to allow time for the room to air out.
  • Store old shoes in plastic boxes with lids.
  • Wash pet bedding.
  • If possible, move pet paraphernalia and litter boxes to a garage or otherwise away from main living areas.

Research shows complex smells may not sell

Eric Spangenberg, Dean of the College of Business at Washington State University, has spent years studying the effect of smell on buying behavior. He says complex scents — such as the intermingled chocolate and vanilla of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies — are distracting. They plain make our brains work too hard trying to figure them out. Spangenberg knows of what he speaks. His research published in the Journal of Retailing shows that sales in retail stores are lower when complex scents are present.

While homes aren’t retail stores, home buyers are buyers, and their behavior can be affected by smells. Spangenberg told the Chicago Tribune in December 2012: “I’ve noticed in some homes for sale that they will scent with a potpourri blend that may be very pleasant, but it’s just too complex. … There are too many scents in potpourri.”

Sales in Spangenberg’s study were higher when a store had no scent at all. But the study found sales to be highest when a simple scent was in the air.

So what smells can help sell your home?

What are these simple selling scents? Professionals offer some suggestions. If you want to use scent to help sell your home, try deploying a hint of a single-note organic one such as:



  • Orange
  • Lemon
  • Pine
  • Basil
  • Cedar
  • Vanilla
  • Cinnamon

“When you’re in the real estate business, you want someone to walk in and want to stay in the house, so you want (the scent) not to be overbearing, but familiar. You want it to encourage revisiting, because sometimes it takes several visits to decide to buy,” Spangenberg told the Chicago Tribune.

And if you’re stuck on baking, he suggests, skip the chocolate chips or anything gourmet in favor of a simply scented cinnamon bun.

Myth: Decluttering, sorting and organizing is enough to make your home show better.

Fact: Yes, putting your salt and pepper shaker collection in storage and removing your wall of bowling trophies will make your home more neutral and less personalized, but if your remaining decor isn’t unified, it’s still going to look messy and distract potential buyers. Pick a style, and make sure your furniture, decorations and color scheme work together. It’s time to get rid of the distracting bright orange 1960s couch on your newly refinished hardwood floors. And the avocado green appliances no longer belong in your partially remodeled kitchen. Use home interior magazines for simple decorating ideas.

Myth: Prepare for a last minute house showing by tucking clutter in drawers and closets.

Fact: Although a visitor’s initial impression may be positive on a quick walk-through, their interest will quickly wane when they open closet doors to see how much storage is available and find it overstuffed. Or, what about when they try to open a kitchen drawer, and it won’t glide because there are too many things inside? Instead, plan to pack up 90 percent of your home when you’re preparing to show it. You only need daily essentials — not knickknacks, collections and holiday decor — accessible since you’re moving soon. Once packed, you won’t have to worry about tackling last minute piles of clutter.

Myth: Your house staging plans should include a new coat of neutral paint in each room.

Fact: Fresh paint is a great way to make the home look clean and move-in ready — but don’t overanalyze the definition of neutral paint. Painting every single room white or eggshell is stark and boring. You want each room to have some character and a warm, inviting feel. Neutral colors can be subtle earth tone shades, such as beige, cocoa, light gray, pale yellow or even olive green. To keep the color palette neutral, avoid bold jewel tones such as reds, blues or purples, even in children’s rooms.

Myth: Move all of your furniture into storage so you can show an empty home. Buyers will be able to envision their personal belonging in the space.

Fact: It’s best to reduce extra pieces of furniture, but do keep a few key pieces in the home. As a guide, think of a high-end hotel room for inspiration. You only need a couple pieces of furniture and decor items in each room to make the space cozy and beautiful. Consider removing extra bookcases, file cabinets, end tables, storage containers, coffee tables and display hutches. Do keep some artwork and wall hangings in place, and a family photo or two in the living room is fine — a hallway collage featuring 20 framed personal photos is distracting.

When in doubt, visit Gottre.com for tips and tricks to show off the best features of your home. Your real estate agent can also provide staging advice and recommend a house staging service in your community.


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