“This house isn’t for you anymore, it’s for the next set of people,” says Michelle Vassey, owner of Mode Staging Design in Oakland, CA, who has 30 years of experience in the real estate and staging business.
As hard as it sounds, you need to depersonalize the house to sell it. Try to see it through a stranger’s eyes and think zero clutter, warm wall palettes, soft textures, and small bursts of color—you’re aiming for neutral, but still charming!
“What you’re giving them is a glimpse of how the home could be lived in, not how the home is being lived in at the time.”
Depersonalizing your home is overwhelming, we know. So, let’s walk through techniques and DIY projects for tackling a home’s worst offenders one by one, including:
- Personal collections
- Busy wallpaper
- Loud accent walls
- Furniture of a specific taste
- Family photos
- Kitschy front door decorations
Tight on time? Focus your depersonalization projects on these 4 major living areas
Depersonalizing a home goes hand in hand with home staging and design. Staging a house involves rearranging furniture and adding decor to make it look irresistible during walkthroughs and listing photos. But it starts with a blank canvas.
“You have to take your personal experiences out of the house and let the professionals come in. Get your Realtor and your stager, they work as a team to help you get the most money for your property,” advises Vassey.
If you’re like many sellers, you’ve set a deadline for listing your home and it needs to be show-ready by that date—no if, ands, or buts about it. So it helps to know where to focus your home prep efforts in case you run out of time.
Research shows that the rooms buyers care most about (and Realtors believe are the most important spaces to stage) are the living room, kitchen, master bedroom, and dining room. If nothing else, make sure you depersonalize those 4 key rooms before you open the doors to buyers.
Put away collection items, and erase any trace of your personal hobbies
Pack up your Beanie Baby collection and roll up the Queen posters. Before you start repainting and arranging the furniture, put everything that has even a hint of you away!
“[Buyers] need to see that most of your stuff is gone. Get moving boxes—start a giveaway, a throwaway, and a pack pile,” suggests Sarah Carroll, a top-selling real estate agent from Boston, MA, who sells properties 50% faster than the average agent in her area.
As you make judgment calls about which items to take down in the process of neutralizing your home, remember three words: hunting, religion, and sports.
If (and only if) you’re selling a cabin in the woods, then fine, you can leave your deer head on the wall to greet buyers.
But when showing your suburban single-family house to people who may have no idea how to hold a rifle? Please, take down your prized antlers and lock your shotguns in a closet before you scare off any offers.
Same goes for religious-themed items and decor. No matter how important faith is to you, you want your home to appeal to the widest array of buyers from all walks of life. So take down any religious art, statues, and relics and replace them with nothing at all or something more neutral, like a fern or piece of art.
While you’re at it, remove any sports memorabilia or special collections you’ve got displayed out in the open. Yes, it took you years to collect those baseball cards and sure, those baby angel cherubs are cute… to you.
But it’s a little off-putting when you show them off to strangers who want to buy your home. At best, your beautifully staged Pooh collection looks like noisy clutter.
=Strip off any peeling, dated, or busy wallpaperIs your wallpaper flaking off and yellowed at the edges? Does it scream “notice me!” with bold stripes, give off a pastel nursery vibe, or look like the garden room of a vintage hotel?
Wallpaper, in general, is a major check in the “cons” box for today’s home buyers, who will not only view busy patterns as an attack on their personal tastes but also as one more project to tackle once they move in.
So, get ruthless and strip all the wallpaper from your home before you list it, no matter how much you love the look or spent to have it installed. Then, cover it with a coat of fresh paint in a neutral tone.
In the above example, wallpaper removal in favor of a warm beige tone transforms the entire foyer and stairway into a cozy, inviting space agreeable with anyone’s individual style.
The blank wall gives buyers a chance to add their own personal touches later on. They can imagine where to put up family pictures, wall accents, and light fixtures, and it’s one less step in their own remodeling process.
The Family Handyman, a home improvement magazine that specializes in DIY projects, provides an easy-to-follow guide on how to remove all your wallpaper over the course of a weekend.
Paint over bright accent walls
Better Homes and Garden, a best-selling magazine that reports on home and lifestyle trends, finds that top interior designers stick to neutral tones as their favorite wall colors.
Top real estate agents in the HomeLight network agree, with 78% recommending beige as their top choice for home staging, and 30% rooting for white.
That means the red accent wall in the dining room you painted in the early 2000s needs a makeover.
See how this drastic but simple change from a rusty orange to a neutral beige transformed the living room into a modern and approachable space for any buyer.
Overwhelmed by the vast amount of paint swatches at the hardware store? Get inspired by our list of the top 9 home staging paint colors recommended by stagers and top agents.
We also suggest a warm light gray, like “Skimming Stone,” for a cozy living room, where home buyers can picture themselves cuddled up on the couch with a good book and cup of hot tea.
Cover up patterned, bulky furniture specific to your tastes
The living room and dining room are two places where the wrong furniture creates a big mental roadblock for buyers.
These are the spaces where families spend the most time and the rooms that Americans value the most. The right furniture, situated in the best spots in the space, is comforting and welcoming for home buyers looking to start a life with family.
So, imagine walking in to see your old family couch in that yellow ’70s style you love with gaping rips and tears. The classic “fish for old Halloween candy in the furniture” game is a fun party trick but not an ideal visual for buyers. Neither is the bulky blue La-Z-Boy that over time molded into the perfect shape for napping.
You have a couple of options: remove these treasured but worn pieces of furniture and put them in storage (if you’re done with them, well to the sidewalk for trash pick-up day they go!), or cover them up with neutral fabrics.
These days you can get slipcovers that, like magic, hide your furniture’s wear and tear and loud patterns without the need for you to go out and purchase a brand new set.
IKEA provides a vast selection of furniture covers that are neutral, modern, washable, and easy to slip on.
As for your dining room furniture, the nicks you’ve gotten used to seeing will only remind buyers that this is still your house.
Thankfully you can make it all look like new with some DIY tricks and a little TLC. Use furniture polish to restore shine, reinforce hardware to prevent rocking and swaying, or add a fresh coat of paint to take care of any chipping.
These small projects shave a couple of years off your furniture’s age and help home buyers imagine their own family gatherings at the dinner table, without reminding them of its past.
Remove personal photos from walls, dressers, mantles, and the refrigerator
If you’ve covered every wall and surface of your home with photos featuring your family, friends, and beloved pets, you can bet buyers will get distracted by them and have a hard time imagining the house as theirs.
It sounds simple, but take down these personal photos and put them in a folder or ziplock bag for safekeeping, and you’ll make leaps and bounds progress on the depersonalization front.
Pack up overly personal lawn ornaments and door decorations
Once you’ve depersonalized the inside of your home, grab an energy bar and head outside—you’re not quite done!
Your curb, landscape, and front door are the first things buyers lay their eyes on when visiting your property. You don’t want to give buyers the wrong first impression when all they can focus on are the cobwebs on your steps and the broken plastic flamingo laying on its side.
Follow these steps to make sure you don’t repel any buyers with your front lawn:
- Keep your holiday decorations neutral so as to not limit your pool of buyers. So, no big Santa and his reindeers on the lawn, or huge Easter bunny on the porch with plastic eggs scattered all around the steps.
- Don’t forget to hide any toys that your kids left behind on the lawn and stash them in the garage or their toy box.
- Sure, lawn gnomes and ceramic deer are your style, but they’re not for everyone—so get them out of sight. Focus instead on landscaping and keep the lawn and bushes trimmed and kept.
How to add elements of warmth and charm into your depersonalized home
The goal of depersonalizing your house is to help buyers see it as their next home sweet home.
The room you built around your collection of ceramic farm animals with a rustic theme is so very you but needs to be toned down for the purposes of marketing.
At the same time, the process of depersonalizing shouldn’t leave your house entirely barren and void of life. It still needs to look like, you guessed it, a home!
“It seems like an oxymoron that I’m asking you to take all the stuff out, and move all this stuff in,” says Carroll. “But, that’s just what the buyer wants. Don’t let that take offense, I love [the seller’s] style, but buyers want to see certain things.”
The items you throw back into the mix should help shape buyers’ vision of building a life there.
So once you take away your personal coin collections and crazy wallpaper, Vassey recommends adding in textures, warmth, and layers for a bedroom or living room to feel lived in—but, not lived in by you.
That means rugs, throws, and accent pillows in just the right places!
This living room above is the perfect example of how you can make a space neutral yet so cozy and inviting at the same time.
Items like a faux fur rug from IKEA and soft light pink velvet pillows from Amazon help a room look just the right amount of “lived in.” Plants, spice racks, flowers, and wall art can also make the kitchen and dining rooms feel welcoming and homey.
The very personal process of depersonalizing your home
By now you know how depersonalization lets the buyer fill in the blanks with their own vision of your home and their plans for the future.
But because you’ve lived in your home for years and years, you’ll find this process to be more difficult than you expected. Your judgment may be clouded by emotional attachment. That’s why a second or third eye on the big picture helps you spot which items need to go and what should stay with an objective lens.
A wrong choice here or there won’t go unnoticed as “[buyers’] perceptions are formed in the first 30 seconds they walk in. What you want to do is get them to spend more time picturing their stuff and life there,” says Carroll.
Work with a real estate agent who’s seen hundreds of homes of all different styles and tastes and can be the voice of reason you need. Find out what staging credentials or experience they have, or if they can bring in any stagers from their network to help you get the job done.
Then take it one flowered loveseat and family photo at a time. If your agent advises you to get it out of sight…well, don’t take it so personally!
For more depersonalizing and staging tips, follow us on Instagram (@gohomelight) for design and organization inspiration!