Between real estate agents, bloggers and HGTV, sellers are constantly hearing about the need to get creative to attract prospective buyers to their homes. Suggestions include filling the rooms with warm and inviting scents, providing the perfect lighting or playing up fun and interesting features.

Another popular option is home staging, which involves arranging and decorating the home in a way that appeals to a wide range of buyers.

In the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) 2017 Profile of Home Staging, 39 percent of seller’s agents said staging a home “greatly” decreases the amount of time a home stays on the market, and 77 percent of buyer’s agents said a staged listing makes it easier for buyers “to visualize the property as their future home.”

In my experience, this is a difficult task for most many homeowners. From a professional point of view, it doesn’t matter if the dining room is staged with a beautifully set table when the walls show flowered wallpaper from the 1980s, for example!

The living room or a bedroom might have a professional home stager’s touch, yet if the carpet is worn and wall color is anything but neutral, it will still lose appeal. Have you ever seen a car for sale that was freshly washed and waxed with that new car smell, but the tires were worn out and it leaked oil? You see my point.

My first advice to a homeowner looking to put a home on the market is to start the staging process by removing clutter and depersonalizing the home. The buyer has to feel like it is home for them, not someone else!

For example, I recommend that sellers take photos off the mantle and refrigerator. I always encourage sellers to look at their home with the same eye they use to scan photos of their next home. If it distracts the eye, remove it! Furniture in rooms or traffic patterns that detract from the look of the house also need to be removed.

I walked into a master bedroom the other day that had two walls lined with bedroom and office furniture. The owners need to remove anything that doesn’t fit the utility of the room in order to maximize a buyer’s ability to see the potential in the space.

I have seen homes that moved quickly merely due to where the structure was located. I have seen homes sell quickly because of the school district — it was very clear that no professional stager had ever darkened the threshold of the house, yet the home sold and sold for list price. In the practical reality of everyday life, most sellers don’t get a home inspection prior to listing (even though they should), and most don’t stage a home. Yet the homes sell.

The home stagers will disagree with me, I am sure, but I find that the photo session prior to listing is more important than staging. I took over one listing that was listed in just one of the two major multiple listing services (MLSs) in our market. It had had 14 low-resolution photos that looked small and narrow online. We got 40 gorgeous photos of the home up on both MLSs, and it sold in two weeks.

I closed a house for a buyer client of mine. The photos on the MLS and around the internet showed the home from last summer when everything was in bloom. It looked like a French chateau priced around $130,000.

When she went to see it in person, in the dead of winter, it wasn’t so glorious — yet even though it was vacant, dirty and cold (the seller turned the heat off), that house still became her next home. The seller had done everything wrong in terms of having a house “show-ready,” and there had been no attempt to stage the space, but the buyer had seen the potential. She fell in love with what the photos showed her, not with how the house looked on the day of the showing.

So what should we take from this information? Always encourage a client to declutter and depersonalize a home prior to listing. Get the bad smells out! Remove anything that limits traffic patterns. Paint the walls with neutral colors and replace the carpet if it looks worn out. These tasks should be completed well before any attempt is made to stage a home. People can see through the nice décor to the frayed carpet underneath!

In the end, make it shine online, and as long as the home feels well-maintained, it will sell — and sell for top dollar. Even the vacant listing that was 40 degrees sold because of summertime flowers!

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

Hank Bailey is an associate broker with Re/Max Legends and a Realtor for more than a decade who provides buyer’s agent representation and seller listing services related to residential real estate.

Email Hank Bailey.

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