For most of us, putting our home on the market has a clear goal – to sell it quickly and for the desired price. So it’s vital that we present it in the best possible light.
And we’re not just talking about the odd scatter cushion and the scent of freshly brewed coffee.
Staging your home is about stepping back, disengaging from the home emotionally, and assessing its pluses and minuses with a cool, critical eye.
This means you may need to face the fact that a complete overhaul of its decorative scheme, furniture and lighting is needed for a successful sale.
But before you start spending a fortune, there’s a whole range of DIY dressing you can try first. We’ve canvassed expert guidance and top tips from estate agents, property gurus and interior designers from across the UK.
Here’s our guide to making your home stand out.
Making an entrance
Immersed in a busy life, you may have long stopped noticing the grimy doorstep and straggly bushes. So make a priority of ramping up your home’s kerb appeal.
"First impressions count for everything," says Robin Chatwin, head of Savills in south west London.
"Get the windows professionally cleaned and replace the worn-out doormat, so prospective buyers aren’t put off before they’ve even come inside." And remember, a presentable front door gives off all the right signals.
A simple paint job can make your home stand out in a row of terraced houses or an apartment block. Bold colours such as violet, primrose yellow and cobalt blue are on-trend, but soft greens and blues, pale pinks and greys are perennially elegant. Smart knobs and knockers in keeping with the style of the house will also impress.
The DIY snagging list
All homeowners have a to-do list they just haven’t had time to tackle, whether it’s that cracked window pane, shabby paintwork or unhung mirror.
"Deal with anything that might sow the seeds of doubt, such as damp patches, superficial cracks in plaster or stains on ceilings or walls left by previously fixed leaks," says Theo James-Wright, a negotiator in Savills’ country house department. "These things are typically inexpensive to remedy, but can be off-putting."
Target your audience
Before you do anything else, work out who is most likely to buy your home. Are they singletons, first-time buyers, downsizers or a young family?
"Sellers need to do as much research as buyers, so looking at the competition on sites like Zoopla is key," says Jane Cooper, co-founder of home-staging specialists Dressed2Sell, based in Kingston-upon-Thames.
"Your potential buyers are probably you 10 years ago, so tap into their lifestyle and aspirations. Look in magazines and online to see what styles and colours are on-trend."
Similarly, make sure each room has a clear function. "A viewer is much more likely to put in an offer if everything is laid out clearly," adds Harry Prynn, a negotiator at the Beaconsfield branch of Knight Frank.
"I was instructed on the sale of a home in Berkhamsted where the loft was considered unusable by viewers, with a huge bed that just didn’t complement the low ceilings. Once the vendors replaced it with a smaller, more reasonably sized bed, the home sold within weeks."
Declutter and tidy
Unless you are already a Marie Kondo acolyte, you can’t avoid the need to declutter and tidy no matter who your target buyers are.
"It’s the most cost-effective way to dress a home, and will give the impression that it’s spacious and well cared for," says Hannah Darrall, co-founder of Surrey-based interiors specialists Design Twenty Five.
"We love William Morris’s adage to 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful'."
Ellie Rees, co-founder and director of Brickworks estate agency in north London, takes it a step further. "You need to really, really declutter, to within an inch of your life - I mean multiple charity shop runs, recycling points, the dump and eBay. Besides, it helps with the catharsis and psychological space you need to be in to move anyway."
And don’t forget to clear out clothes and kitchen cupboards, too, as any serious prospective buyer will always check inside them. Kids protesting about you getting rid of their old, ungainful plastic toys? You might need to bribe them.
The power of fresh, clean paintwork can’t be underestimated. If the colour scheme in any room looks shabby or dated, you need to start sampling those paint tester pots.
Magnolia, once the go-to shade for a quick fix, has had its day, but other neutrals will do the trick. Think off-whites, stones, taupes and pale greys.
As nearly all of us start our house-hunting online these says, avoid anything that won’t look good in photographs. "Red and black is a big no-no," says Rees. "Likewise, if you have a red armchair, get rid of it."
Seeing the light
Buyers want to see rooms in the best light possible, so always pull up blinds and open curtains before viewings, and have the lights turned on.
"A mix of high, mid and low-level lighting adds atmosphere, with a few floor or table lamps giving a soft, homely glow," says Darrall.
"Try placing a lamp on a bookshelf if a corner of a room feels too dark – plus it will make the room appear larger. Even dusting your bulbs and fixtures can help let more light through."
Ben Ainsworth, Yopa's regional director for London, says: 'Any home seller needs to know their kelvins (the way bulbs’ colour temperature is measured). For bedrooms and living spaces, 2700K works well, helping them appear cosy, but still well-lit.
However, 4000K is better for kitchens and hallways, making the spaces seem brighter and more inviting."
Visit Ledhut for a handy guide.
Faking the furniture
Circulation space around furniture is crucial at viewings. If space seems too tight, a good rule of thumb is to remove half of the pieces in the room – the feeling of spaciousness will be worth the storage costs. Moving any furniture away from walls, so that it appears to 'float' in the room, is also a tried-and-tested interior design trick to make a room appear bigger.
However, if your favourite sofa is looking a little threadbare, there’s a plethora of firms devoted to providing stylish pieces short term. Visit HomeStaging's listings for furniture rentals to find a reputable local company.
If you after something mid-mod or edgy, harth.space allows customers to rent design-focused furnishings, accessories and artworks, taking in new, nearly new and vintage piece directly from brands, makers, galleries and dealers.
Hire hand-embellished cushions from about £3 a month, pink velvet banquettes from about £30 and fine-art prints from about £60 a month.
Call in the professionals
If this all feels too daunting or time-consuming, you can always call in a professional home-staging firm.
The burgeoning industry has services to cover all needs and budgets, with the best of them able to see the potential in your home that you might have missed.
The cost of staging will vary, depending on the size of your home and whether you are having a full or partial stage, how much furniture you are renting and for how long.
Dressed2Sell’s consultancy rates, for example, are £300 a day, covering project management, sourcing and transporting furnishings and props, plus styling and dressing your home, with any furniture rentals costing extra.
Remember, the smallest details can have the biggest impact. "If there is a tatty old dog throw on the sofa, it can really make people wince," says Paul Clarke, founder of estate agency Mr and Mrs Clarke.
"It's much better to buy a gorgeous cream wool throw and artfully drape it over the sofa. We give clients a shopping list of soft furnishings, such as new cushions, white bed linen, new towels, some vases and simple flowers - eucalyptus is our favourite as it smells gorgeous and looks effortless."
The estate agent calls and has a viewer keen to come straight over. Haven’t staged? Here’s a handy checklist of what to do in a hurry:
- Grab a washing basket and clear work surfaces and clothes dropped on floors (then conceal it somewhere that probably won’t be seen)
- Change towels for a fresh, colour-coded set
- Open some windows to let in some fresh air
- Turn the lights on
- Get smelly dog beds and cat litter trays out of sight