“A vacant home is a soulless home,” says Dawna Johnson, a professional stager for 14 years and the owner of Sacramento Staging Solutions. Empty rooms give off a cold, lonely vibe—not exactly the “welcome home” gesture people buying a house crave.
Your real estate agent may recommend staging to help move your bare-bones house off the market faster. In fact 77% of Realtors say that a staged property, arranged expertly with select furniture and well-chosen accents, is easier for buyers to visualize as a future home.
But staging an empty house the traditional way is a budget buster and may cost anywhere from $750-$2,000 per month or more depending on your house’s size, location, and value. Luckily there’s another option.
“With vacant homes, what we’ll do is we’ll go in and we’ll ‘warm them up,’” says Christie Cannon, a top-selling real estate agent in Frisco, Texas, with 21 years of experience. “We won’t leave them completely empty, but we won’t fully furnish.”
Intrigued? Let’s dig into how to stage a house with no furniture using soft techniques and creative cost-saving hacks recommended by industry professionals.
Use area rugs to define spaces and show where furniture would theoretically go
When you sell a house, you need to show each area’s distinct purpose, so homebuyers don’t scratch their heads over what to do with an unconventional space during showings.
When buyers walk into your open concept kitchen/dining/family room, it should scream “Popcorn and movie night!” instead of “Help me!”
Plus, you’d be surprised how a room that’s just four walls and a ceiling looks smaller than it truly is, a problem when homebuyers love the perception of endless square footage.
If you don’t have furniture to configure into an obvious living space, what’s the solution?
“We’ll put out rugs in the main area to just help define the space,” says Cannon.
Most importantly, make sure the size of the rug you put down is proportionate to the size of the space—this can be tricky if you’re not measuring it up against furniture.
A good rule of thumb, though, is to leave 12-24 inches of floor exposed around the rug in larger spaces such as living rooms, and shrink that down to 6-8 inches around smaller areas like hallways and foyers.
As far as colors and patterns go, the rug should complement the general style of the house. You wouldn’t stage a sleek, modern home with an ornate rug, for instance. But rugs with a geometric or abstract pattern would fit in a contemporary home quite nicely.
Add a fresh coat of neutral paint to boldly colored rooms
Even if you don’t have furniture, you still have walls! And they need to be painted in a nice neutral tone or they’ll be a major turnoff to buyers.
In HomeLight’s 2016 Top Agent Insights Survey, all of the top agents we spoke to agree: put a fresh coat of paint on those walls before showings start.
The 100+ agents surveyed also weighed in on their color recommendations for this occasion, with 78% saying beige is their top choice, followed by white (around 30%) and to a lesser extent, gray (15%).
Narrow down your options with our list of the top home staging paint colors—a mix of brilliant beiges, crisp whites, and go-to greiges.
Small tables and lamp accessories create warmth
According to Cannon, rather than hauling in an entire living room set, you can get away with warming up a space by just bringing in a few end tables and lamps.
This enhances your ability to define a space and show buyers how a room is intended to be used without blowing your budget. Your real estate agent may have a stash of furniture or work with a home stager who can provide these items.
For a DIY route, get inspired by these affordable table options from Wayfair that range from a traditional to modern look.
Then add a lamp for another focal element and to brighten up the space. Check out these lamp varieties from Houzz’s 2018 list of the most popular table lamps. For a classic space, you could go with something like the Hamilton Antique Brass, or the Geometric Chrome for a modern look.
Pick light bulbs that are between 2000K-3000K on the Kelvin color temperature scale. These warmer temperature bulbs help create a cozy, calm, intimate, and inviting ambience.
Add a few light staging touches to the bathroom
The cold, hard surfaces of a bathroom are softened with some simple and inexpensive additions. Hang up or neatly stack some white hand towels—the fluffier, the better—to make the space feel hotel luxury.
For a small pop of color, pick a neutral towel set with bright trim, such as these Signature Banded White Fuschia towels from Pine Cone Hill.
Hang up mirrors for more natural light
Mirrors make a room look bigger and also reflect light to help a space feel brighter and more inviting.
A collection of mirrors cleverly grouped together can also create visual interest (get inspired by these affordable varieties of full-length, irregular, rectangle, and starburst mirrors from At Home).
Classic mirror spots include the entryway, living room, and above the fireplace.
Arrange accessories on the kitchen countertop
Kitchen staging works best if you stick to tasteful, decorative touches—in fact, what buyers most want to see is that you’ve got plenty of counter-space.
So leave the surfaces mostly bare save a few colorful accessories to add life and to keep the space from looking sterile.
Interior designers recommend picking up on traces of color, such as blue or coral, in an adjoining room, and using it in various places in the kitchen.
Keep in mind that your kitchen decor does not have to be food related. A few ideas include:
- A simple vase with fresh flowers
- Throw pillows in the breakfast nook
- A decorative tea kettle
- Small succulents
- Decorative wood bowls
- A beautiful piece of art on the wall
- A woven rug on a bare floor
Don’t let your curb appeal slide
When you sell a vacant home, it’s easy let the lawn and house exterior start to look shabby as you’re not there to tend to it every day.
But curb appeal defines a buyer’s first impression of your home so you can’t afford to let it slide. Plus, research shows that improved landscaping can increase your home’s value by 10-12%.
Aside from keeping the yard mowed and shrubs and hedges all in shipshape, you can stage the outside of your home with some simple upgrades like a neutral welcome mat, fresh coat of paint on the front door, new house numbers, and a modern mailbox.
For product inspiration, shop our guide for how to get curb appeal on a budget.
Funnel your staging efforts into the money rooms
According to Johnson: “There are rooms that are at the heart of any home. Focus your home staging efforts on those rooms.”
We’ve put together DIY staging guides for the most important rooms to stage according to the National Association of Realtors.
So look no further to find even more ideas for staging the rooms buyers care about most.
Get all the staging tips you need to breathe life into the living room, make the master bedroom feel like a retreat, honor the kitchen as the heart of the home, and preserve a classic dining room space.
Implore friends and family to loan their unused furnishings (and don’t discount bribery!)
Does your best friend have an extra loveseat stashed away in the garage? Or perhaps your parents have an antique table collecting dust? Asking friends and family to borrow furniture to stage your home is a very cost-effective (i.e., free) way to gather pieces to make a big impact.
You don’t need to ask for major pieces of furniture either—ask them to loan you their extra mirrors, lamps, and art to round out your staging needs. Don’t be afraid bribe them with pizza and beer.