Hide the My Little Ponies and other tips: staging and photographing your home for sale

By on Jun 1st

Hi, buy my house

We sold our first house seconds before the US real estate market crashed in 2007, and honestly? I credit the staging and photography of the house as the main thing that made it sell quickly.

The mortgage industry was crashing down around our ears (our buyers' mortgage company declared bankruptcy and collapsed half way through the sale process) but I worked my ass off to make our house shine. Realistically, much of what I did could have been outsourced to our Realtor, but I couldn't resist doing it myself. (Triple shot: I'm a marketer who does editorial work involving lots of photography. I was NOT going to outsource marketing and documenting my own house!)

There are a million tutorials out there about how to stage your home if you want some more general ideas, but here are the things that I did personally that I felt like really worked for us.

Empty your house

Everyone says this, and it's true. You have to basically move out of your home to stage it, or make your peace with living in a sparse, slightly twisted version of your home. You're allowed bland art (not too much!) and one tchotchke per room.

Here was how our living room looked before I staged it:
The new livingroom

Here's what it looked like after I took all our stuff out of it:

You are compelled

Still funky and colorful, but way less cluttered. No My Little Ponies or sagging spider plants to distract potential buyers.

Fresh flowers and plants

Don't pack your plants! Leave out every plant you own, and then get a couple bouquets of grocery store flowers. They make sparse feel welcoming, and keep the space from feeling like a ghost motel. People DO live here — tasteful, invisible people, who smell good.

This kitchen could be yours!

Our kitchen magically sprouted a fern, some sun-flowers, and a couple bowls of fruit. But not a dish to be seen. The invisible people only eat fruit.

Stage rooms by use, aka make a fake bedroom

The larger of our bedrooms was my home office, but I quickly emptied it of my office stuff and staged it as a bedroom. We'd painted it a very dramatic combo of red and deep orange (a combo we didn't end up liking), and I was too lazy to paint it bland, so I decided to make the best of the drama by emptying the room and making it a sparse, bedroom with a huge white bed to lighten up some of the dark red drama.

I also go great tip about how to create a fake staged bed — I packed all my home office stuff into four big plastic tubs. I then borrowed an inflatable mattress to put on top of the tubs. I purchased a $25 King-size white fleece blanket, which I then draped over the air mattress/tub "bed." A few decorative pillows scrounged up from the basement, made a nice little sign that said "Do not sit on bed," and VOILA: bedroom.

Don't sit on the bed, as it will collapse beneath you.


Borrow or rent a wide-angle lens

If you have a DSLR, borrow or rent a lens like this. These lenses are expensive, but TRANSFORM the way you can photograph your house. Here's how much of my old kitchen I could capture with a point 'n' shoot, vs. here's how much I could capture with a wide angle. Tiny rooms look palatial — this is how manage to make Tavi's walk-in closet bedroom look big. If you don't have a DSLR, borrow one. They all come with point-and-shoot options and you don't need to know how to do anything to get better pictures than you'd get from a point 'n' shoot.

These wide-angle lenses are EXPENSIVE, but so powerful that you'd likely make the $800 back in the cost of selling your home. It's everything.

Process your pictures: brighten, sharpen, saturate

I am NOT a photo editor, but I used Picasa and Picnik (Google's two free photo apps) to fix up my pictures. We're not talking crazy photo nerdery: I clicked the "I feel lucky" button and bumped up the sharpening a tiny bit. See, when looking at real estate listings online, I noticed that a lot of real estate photos are just a TINY bit sharp. It makes everything look a little crisper and cleaner — ESPECIALLY when combined with a wide-angle lens.

Before: even with all the lights on, it was a cloudy day, and the house looked dark.

AFTER! Four button clicks in Picasa got me to a brighter, cleaner, richer-colored house.

I'm betting professional photographers and photo editors are wincing right now — I'm not a pro, and my point here isn't to show you that I am. Rather, I just want to show how much you can improve photos with a couple subtle clicks, even if you have no clue what you're doing. The key is SUBTLE shifts. You don't want your photos to look like a glowing, airbrushed Blingeed unicorn ranch where only twinkly, soft-focus woodland fairies would live. It's still your house, just a little crisper.

In closing, I will say this: I think the wide-angle lens and the post processing are what sold our house. It sold to a European couple, I think in part because we made a bland home in a working class neighborhood look crisp and cool. The photos made it stand out among the listings in our price range and neighborhood. It was a solid little starter home and a Realtor did good work too, but staging and photography make a HUGE difference.