Editor’s note: All of HomeLight’s coronavirus information for buyers, sellers, and agents is available on our COVID-19 hub.
A well-styled home is crucial to selling your home fast and for the most amount of money. That’s why real estate agents often recommend hiring a professional stager to style your home both for the listing photos and in-person showings.
But things have changed in the COVID-19 era.
These days, many sellers don’t want to risk any nonessential contact by hiring a pro stager to move their belongings around, or even bring in outside furniture and décor to improve their home’s look. And while you may be limiting the number of buyers you let into your home for an in-person showing, that doesn’t mean you should skip staging.
“Sellers are looking for less intrusion into their property, so many are opting not to hire in a professional stager. They’re staging it themselves with items that they already have in the home, or products that they purchase for staging purposes,” says Amy Rio, top-selling agent Hartford, Connecticut-based who is Move Safe Certified.
Staging will also help your listing photos shine on the internet.
“During COVID-19, everyone has their eyes online so it’s so crucial to have your listing photos ready to outshine other sellers” explains Nicole Gittens, principal staging designer at New Vision Interiors and Events.
Great staging isn’t easy when you can’t bring in a pro to do it for you, but this guide will give you all the info you need to DIY your own staging or get professional advice through a virtual consultation.
Shop your home for staging décor
“When staging, you need to be a minimalist and make your house look like a model home with decorative touches, but nothing cluttered or personalized,” explains Rio.
Decluttering, depersonalizing, and deep cleaning are a top priority—and you definitely need to make sure you’re using cleaning products recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency as certified to kill the virus that causes COVID-19. But that’ll only go so far toward getting your home ready for listing photos.
Unless you’ve recently purged thanks to binge-watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix show (or you’re naturally austere in your décor choices), you’ve probably got most of what you need for staging already in your home.
Here’s a “shopping” list to get you started:
- Hardcover books: Collect an assortment of colors and sizes to stack, fan, or display with decorative bookends; stick with hardcovers if you can — paperbacks may have bent covers and unattractive spine creases.
- Decorative vessels: Assemble all your good vases, jars, bowls, serving trays, candle holders, or any other vessel that can be used to display other items. Check your kitchen cabinets, too!
- Throw pillows and blankets: Gather all your decorative bedding, and hopefully you’ll find you have a nice assortment of colors and textures to play with
- Framed artwork and mirrors: Pull all your framed artwork and mirrors off of your walls, shelves and tabletops so you can assess what you have. Framed photos of landscapes are OK, as long as they are people-free.
- Potted plants: Bring together all your potted plants that can survive indoors (especially those already planted in decorative pots).
- Unexpected odds-and-ends: Pluck visually interesting items that can function as décor, such as: seashells, candles, sculptures, stones, decorative balls, small antiques, baskets, fruit (yes, edible fruit like apples, lemons, etc.), even colorful gravel from a cleaned-out fish tank.
Once you’ve identified the best items for your staging décor, play around with the placement to discover which items work best in which rooms. For example:
- Try bedroom throw pillows on the sofa for the perfect pop of color, or let that cozy couch blanket bring an extra layer of texture to the master bedroom bedding.
- Display your best-looking hardcover books stacked on your coffee table, or upright on an end table between two decorative bookends.
- Clean up that retro 1950s radio or antique clothes iron you found in the garage to display on a shelf as sculptural décor.
- Layer colorful fish tank gravel in a series of three small, low bowls to act as a bright, eye-catching base for simple, white pillar candles.
- Avoid extra nail holes by simply leaning your artwork against the walls on your mantel or wall-bound side tables. Add depth by layering smaller, framed art against the larger works.
The possibilities are endless.
Staging props for your home you can get online — right now
Still feel like there’s something missing? If you don’t have enough decorative objects lying around, you can still order any extra items you need right from your couch — even in the midst of a pandemic.
“In our virtual consultations, we will source any new items needed and send a shopping list so that our clients can simply click and buy these staging items, such as furniture or décor,” explains Gittens. “However, due to delays in shipping with COVID-19, it can take a little longer to receive your items.”
The specific décor needs vary from house to house, however here’s a list of go-to list of products that may just come in handy:
1. Layer-able throw pillows, blankets, and bedding
Layer-able linens are a versatile option for adding life, depth and coziness to your living room furniture, your bedrooms, and even exterior seating areas (weather permitting).
Think in terms of adding both color and texture as you’re making your selections. And save yourself a little money by purchasing decorative pillow and duvet covers for your existing throw pillows and comforters rather than purchasing all new bedding.
- Sage green fan jacquard pillow – World Market
- Silk hand-loomed pillow covers – West Elm
- Madison Park ruched faux fur blanket – Overstock
- Camille cotton duvet cover and shams – Pottery Barn
- Landover comforter set – Joss & Main
2. Beautiful serving trays
Setting random odds-and-ends around as décor can look like forgotten junk if they aren’t staged properly. One way to avoid that is to tie your tabletop décor together with a large, gorgeous serving tray.
The serving tray acts as a frame that pulls disconnected décor together into a vignette that immediately looks deliberate.
- Kate and Laurel Naples gold mirrored serving tray – Houzz
- Art Deco color block serving tray – World Market
- Birmingham mosaic serving tray – Joss & Main
- Gilded hammered serving tray – AllModern
- Rattan round serving tray – Birch Lane
3. Neutral area rugs
The age-old problem with furniture is placement. It seems natural to anchor everything to the walls, but that can leave seating too far apart and an awkward open area in the center.
Area rugs are the secret to bring your wallflower furniture out into the open without it feeling like it’s floating aimlessly.
- Rodelund flat-woven area rug – Ikea
- Cudney geometric area rug – Wayfair
- Kenley tufted wool rug – Pottery Barn
- Indra rug – West Elm
- Brigid hand-braided area rug – Birch Lane
4. Statement-making kitchen linens
Kitchens pose a dilemma for DIY stagers because there’s so little to manipulate. Cupboards, appliances, and countertops are all locked in their locations, plus there’s little you can do to alter their appearance without spending big bucks.
And since decluttering necessitates keeping the countertops mostly cleared, it leaves the little touches like your choice of kitchen linens to add a bit of brightness and mass-appeal personality.
- Oil & vinegar jacquard kitchen towels – Williams Sonoma
- Dip dye napkins – West Elm
- Organic retro recipes entrée tea towels – Birch lane
- Grasscloth aqua cotton placemat – Crate & Barrel
- Design imports fresh herbs 4-piece towel and potholder set – Wayfair
5. Eye-catching conversation pieces
Scan through photos of professionally decorated interiors and you’ll soon see that every design has a handful of intriguing décor elements that draw the eye without standing out as a distraction.
These hard-to-define, but know-them-when-you-see-them items stand out for their interesting details, yet blend in with the overall design thanks to shared elements of color, texture, or style.
Interesting odds-and-ends, unusual vases, distinctive sculptures, intriguing artwork all have potential as design defining décor elements. Select visually interesting pieces that give a “finished” look to your pared back, decluttered rooms.
- Primitive vases – Crate & Barrel
- Roman gear wall clock – Kirklands
- McHugh 3-piece aluminum decorative balls – Joss & Main
- Peruvian wall mirrors – West Elm
- Standing metal magnifying glass, set of 3 – Antique Farm House
A professional stager’s top 3 tips for DIYers
Gathering your items is one thing. Figuring out how to properly stage your décor is another. Gittens gets you started with her favorite DIY staging tips:
1. “Make your master bedroom shine. Buyers will be spending the majority of their time there, so make it an inviting place to retreat.”
Note the textural contrast between the crisp, cool white bedding and the cozy knitted blanket and fuzzy pillows. While different in texture, the layered linens remain harmonious in the cool color palette of blues, grays, and white.
Like the look? Shop similar items:
- Breuer chevron pillow – Wayfair
- “Home” sentiment-embroidered lumbar pillow – Pottery Barn
- Deep gray chunky knit blanket with tassels – Metfine
- “Gather” Stratton Home wood tray – Houzz
2. “Inject some humor into your home decor. Purchase a few items that’ll make potential buyers laugh. Positive vibes bring offers!”
Gittens plays with the Rule of Three by creating a vignette with three metallic sheen décor elements — the brass desk lamp, the brushed bronze sign, and the muted metallic cow skull. Dark, rectangular shapes also show up in threes — the table, the artwork mounting board, and the books.
Like the look? Shop similar items:
- Cupola brushed brass desk lamp – Lamps Plus
- “Fixer of everything” sign – Amazon
- Faux taxidermy tribal cow skull wall décor – Wayfair
- Vintage book bundles – Anthi Leoni Decor
- “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” sign – Amazon
3. “Make your kitchen inviting. This is another place where buyers will be spending a lot of their time cooking and entertaining so make it welcoming!”
Rhythm and repetition takes this kitchen from simply existing to subtly styled. Note how the black background of the sign and its white outline mimics the backsplash tile. Two decorative, metal trays reflect the sleekness of the stainless steel. And the plant on one tray recalls the height of the one on the shelf—while the three spiky, sea urchin wall hangings repeat the shelf plant’s spikes.
Like the look? Shop similar items:
- “Every Cloud” wall décor – World Market
- Galvanized metal serving tray – Pottery Barn
- Sea urchin wall plaques set of 3 – Kirkland’s
- “No Place Like Home”/”Happy Place” tea towel set – Amazon
- Costa Farms live indoor Aloe Vera in ceramic planter – Amazon
Virtual staging: How does it work?
Staging a vacant house during the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t bring up as many health concerns as staging an occupied home (at least for the seller, more on that later). However, when absolutely all the furniture and décor needs to be rented to fill the rooms, vacant home staging can get expensive fast.
That’s where virtual staging comes in.
Virtual staging essentially manipulates the photos of empty rooms to incorporate digital furniture and décor. This photo editing staging option also allows for the addition of special effects like adjusting the lighting, and even adding a digital fire in the fireplace.
Virtual staging isn’t only safe, it can also be relatively inexpensive, depending on the service provider you choose. Here’s a sample selection of the dozens of virtual staging companies online:
- Virtual Staging Solutions – $300 for 4 photos, edited by a virtual staging pro
- Box Brownie – $32 per image, edited by a virtual staging pro
- Visual Stager – $15 per image to access DIY virtual staging
- VRX Staging — $35 per photo, professionally edited by the service
Virtual staging is available as an inexpensive DIY option, but it isn’t exactly easy. First, you’ll need to make smart, complementary design choices when selecting your digital décor, just as you do when decorating your home in real life.
Learning photo editing skills on the fly is a must too, so that your selections fit in the scale and lighting of your images. Otherwise your virtually staged photos will appear fake, or worse, make the rooms appear smaller than they actually are.
Unless you’re already a photo editing pro, it’s best to avoid the unnecessary stress in this already stressful COVID-19 era, and go with a company who will do the virtual staging for you.
How home stagers are adapting to coronavirus
If you’re a seller currently occupying your home, and you don’t trust your own artistic eye to stage your house, help is available. Pro home stagers are adapting their business models to give sellers access to a professional eye from a safe distance.
Many pro stagers are setting up virtual staging appointments using Zoom or FaceTime instead of in-person meetings. This gives sellers the opportunity to give their stager a walkthrough of the home, help the stager see what level of staging the rooms need, and determine which items you already own that can be used to stage each area.
The stagers can then make detailed recommendations for how to get the home ready for the market, including altering furniture placement, creating vignettes with existing objects, and a list of additional décor to purchase.
“The cost for virtual staging [consultations] depends on how much preparation is needed and size of the home, but on average cost can range between $500 and $1000,” explains Gittens. “These consults have a ton of value because you’re getting professional advice and a look you wouldn’t otherwise be able to achieve for a fraction of the cost. You just have to be willing to put in the work to get things done yourself.”
Yes, some pro stagers are still staging in the COVID-19 era
The Real Estate Staging Association’s COVID-19 safety guide recommends that stagers stop all in-person consultations, and the physical staging of occupied properties. As a result, many real estate agents are stepping up to help out their clients to get their homes photo-ready. It’s especially beneficial if you hire an agent who’s also a professional stager, like Rio:
“I’m a stager as well as an agent, and we’re not bringing products into their homes to stage with at all like we used to. It’s a whole different process that we’re going through these days.
“For example, I used to accompany the photographer to adjust the staging for the photos. Now, because we practice social distancing, we don’t go into the house with them anymore. So I show up a little bit early to make sure everything looks great, then wait in the yard until they finish.”
While most pro stagers won’t come into your home to help you stage anymore, some, like Gittens, are still staging vacant properties — while taking the appropriate social distancing safety precautions:
“COVID-19 has changed my staging practices in several ways. I require all homes be professionally cleaned and that no one enters the property for 72 hours prior to installation,” explains Gittens.
“We wear gloves and masks to do our installs and make sure all inventory is fully sanitized for the safety of anyone who comes into contact with our staged listings. There’s much more time involved in prepping for stages but it’s what we have to do to meet the guidelines that are set for us in our state and by the CDC.”
Getting your home’s interior in shape for the listing photos and buyer showings is made even more difficult during a pandemic. Thankfully, experienced real estate agents and home staging pros are working together to help sellers get their houses ready to list while safely social distancing.
Header Image Source: (Francesca Tosolini / Unsplash)