Friday, June 28, 2013

Hospitality in Absentia: Staging Your House for Showings When It's on the Market

(Hey there! If you are just now popping by, this is the third installment of a sort of series I've written on preparing to sell your house. You might want to read the first two, "Getting Your House Ready to Put on the Market" and "Consider Inexpensive Updates Before Your Put You House on the Market," as well.)

Photo credit

You've deep cleaned and done some updating, and now it's time to think about more refined touches, the little graces and niceties that will elevate your home above the also-rans. Think about these things: comfort, order, cleanliness, warmth. This is the overall sense you want to evoke from the moment prospective buyers walk in your door.

Honestly, most of these touches will appeal to the women buyers more than the husbands. Think about it: wives generally hold more sway in house-buying decisions. Yes, husbands can have strong feelings about yards, drainage, wood rot, termite contracts, roof ages, and the like (which wives are interested in, too), but it's most often the women who have a "feel" for a home. And you want your home to feel right.

You want your house to extend hospitality even when you aren't there.

So, now that you've stored or eliminated a lot of your stuff, you can set the stage in your rooms. And, provided you've done your deep clean, each room will need only a cursory swipe to keep things tidy. Let's take a look at each room type individually and then at a more general checklist.


Clear off and straighten all dresser/chest of drawer/nightstand tops. Straighten closets (if you haven't already) and close closet doors. Pick up everything off the floor. Make the bed neatly and attractively. (The girls and I hide our sleeping pillows behind our decorative pillow shams and tuck in sheet edges so they don't hang below the coverlets. I allow the girls to set out a few chosen stuffed animals.) Take out the trash. Open any shades, blinds, or curtains. Turn on a lamp or two and set the ceiling fan on low.


Wipe down counters and shine faucets and mirrors. A microfiber cloth works wonders for this task. Swish the toilets and wipe down. Close toilet lids. Refill the tissue paper roll, if necessary. Check the floors and sweep or wipe if you need to. Clear off counters. If you have special lighting, you may want to leave it on. I tend not to leave bathroom lights on for showings because they have a tendency to heat up the bathrooms. Remove all used linens and trash.


Buyers will give your kitchen a lot of attention, so be extra careful here. Put all dishes away. Either hand wash any dirty dishes or put them in the dishwasher and run it. I do this immediately after cooking or eating just to keep on top of things. Clear off the counter tops and wipe. Do the floors need a quick sweep? Turn on any accent lights buyers may not notice on their own, such as under-cabinet lighting. Set the table with pretty placemats and perhaps a centerpiece if you have one. I have a lovely piece of crockery in the center of our breakfast table. Consider a vase of flowers if you're expecting several showings within a day or two. If not, skip it. Droopy flowers that have been out too long don't set the right mood, do they?

Family Room/Living Room

If you have pets, roll the furniture with an adhesive roller to get rid of pet hair. Or use sheets to cover the upholstery for everyday use, which you can whisk off and hide away for showings. Clear any clutter, and dust and vacuum as needed. We keep all remotes in a bowl on the coffee table. We also close the armoire doors to hide the TV. Leave on one or two lamps and set any ceiling fans to low.

Dining Room

Cover your table with a nice table cloth to protect its finish. Dust, vacuum, and/or sweep as necessary. If your dining room is near the front door, this is a good place to set out all flyers and house information. Set out small bottles of water and treats for prospective buyers and agents. My go-to treat: Dove chocolates. Think small and individually wrapped.


Our study can be a real mess, and I worked hard to get it organized and tidy. Before every showing, I put all papers away in my desk drawers. I file items immediately so they don't pile up. I make sure the desktop is clear and dust-free. I turn off the computer monitor, too.

Here are more tips for all around the house:

  • Leave some lights on, like lamps and accent lights. If a showing is after dark, leave on more lights.
  • Turn the AC down a bit in summer and the heat up a bit in winter, so your home feels comfortable. 
  • Burn a couple of nice scented candles for an hour or so before the showing. Just remember to blow them out before you leave! We use citrus-scented ones. Bath & Body Works room spray is good, too. Just go easy. And select scents like lemon or spice; avoid like the plague flowery, perfume-y scents; they are headaches waiting to happen.
  • Make sure to hide all dirty laundry. I just put everything in the washer. If there's enough for a load, I run it. Which brings me to...
  • Wash clothes and fold every day. I wash in the evenings and toss in the dryer before bedtime. In the morning, I fold everything and put it all away before I even go downstairs.
  • Take out all trash, especially bathroom and kitchen garbage.
  • When you leave, take pets with you, if at all possible. I've looked at houses where the sellers put notes on doors: "Please don't let cat out!" Talk about too much responsibility. As for dogs, as a last resort, crate your pooch; however, it's always best to take him with you. What if he barks inhospitably during the entire showing? That will most definitely create a negative impression. Jasper and Georgette have gone on a lot of car rides lately, which they love to do.
  • Create a take-home flyer about your house and neighborhood. Yes, your agent will create a flyer with photos and information, but your flyer will be more personal. One I saw recently was titled, "Why We Love Our House." I created a flyer for our house and uploaded an example of it to Scribd; feel free to use it as a template or just to glean a few ideas.

Before each showing, check each room to make sure it conveys order, cleanliness, warmth, and comfort.

When your house is on the market, prospective buyers walk through your house and imagine living there with their own family. Your house becomes more of a stage setting than a home where people actually live. No one wants to view a house that has dog hair on the furniture, crumbs on the kitchen counters, trash in the garbage cans, or hair in the bathroom sink. Blech.

Having your home on the market is stressful, so take some time in the beginning to do your prep work, and make things easier on yourself when your house is active. Yes, this is a lot of work. I know it is; I've done it three times now. But it is SO worth it. In the two and a half weeks our house was active, we received several offers and are now under contract. And we got great feedback from all the agents who showed our house.

If you follow the same steps I did, your house will stand out from the rest -- in a good way.

Let me know how it goes!

1 comment:

  1. I concur with all your tips - I'm pleased to note that they are pretty much the same things that I did (over and over for six weeks, but then we sold!).

    I think the hardest thing about showing one's house is mentally detaching from it, and thinking of it as someone else's future home. We imagined that our house had become just a holiday house that we were staying in temporarily.

    A friend suggested that as I did the dishes / cleaned / lived in our house, I consciously let go of it. I also prayed both for the family who would buy our house, and for the family whose house we would buy. It was interesting finding out who they were!

    I really like your idea of the home-made brochure about the neighbourhood. I think I'll do something like that for our buyers.


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