Staging Your Home Checklist

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

May 18

Staging is about building your brand and there has never been a generation more conscious about branding than this one. Branding builds trust and trust creates the opportunity to make a sale.

Here are my 16 tips on staging a home.

Note that we have also staged office space, even industrial warehouse space (although using a similar yet different set of rules) to great effect. I deal with that later in this post.

Here’re a few suggestions:

1. De-clutter (remove excess furniture/create attractive furniture groupings)

2. De-personalize

3. Patch, repair and paint walls (neutral shades that match especially in adjacent rooms) as required

4. Clean everything (including under sinks)/wash windows and doors

5. Tidy cupboards

6. Air out home

7. Make sure everything works

8. Cut grass, tidy yard

9. Beds made, fresh linens and towels set out

10. If you have children, one designated play zone

11. If you store surplus things in the home, one designated storage area only (neat)

12. Add one memorable design element such as—elegant-looking (but inexpensive) chandelier, simulated antique bench with fold up seat for additional storage, hotel-chic towel bars, outside art-deco awning over entrance or street-facing window, decorative shutters bordering street facing windows, California shutters instead of curtains, drapes or blinds in great room…

13. Increase wattage in your lamps to 100 watts per 50 or 60 square feet, use LED lamps 

14. Hang compatible art in rooms

15. Accessorize in groups of three

16. Don’t spend a lot of money but do spend enough time on staging

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD, ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker, Ottawa Senators founder, Real Estate Investment and Business coach 1-613-762-8884


Postscript: when getting your home ready for sale… do not
spend money on expensive kitchen or bathroom renos. Just do the minimum.
Anything you spend on substantive repairs/renovations could be money wasted
because, say you like green granite and the prospective buyer likes black. He
or she will put a negative value on
what you have done because they will cost out the time and trouble of removing
the green granite and then adding black granite…

Home Staging
in a Commercial Setting

I am a
recent convert to the value of staging. Imagine if you went to your favorite
men’s store to buy a new suit and you found all the suits strewn about the shop
floor. To find one, you had to walk over others, pick it up, dust it off and
try it on? The store probably wouldn’t sell many suits.

In commercial real estate, I have long known that you need to
merchandise your products. If you own an old industrial building, it will lease
(or sell) a lot faster if: a) it is super clean, b) the paint is fresh, c) all
the ceiling tiles (in the office portion) are in place and none are water
stained, d) the grass is cut, e) the gardens tended to, f) broken windows or
signage are fixed. If you own a piece of land with an old building that is at
the end of its economic life, take it down, run a dozer over the land and let
people see the lot and imagine the possibilities—trust me, land with nothing on
it is worth more than land with a building on it*.

(* This is similar to when you buy a new car—you spec the color,
whether it is automatic or not, tint the windows, add fog lights, sun roof and
rear deck spoiler, etc. You drive it off the lot to work where you are promptly
let go so you drive it back to the car lot the same day you bought it and they
offer to take it off your hands for 30% less than you paid for it a few hours
ago. You freak out. But believe it or not, from the dealers POV, this is
rational. Because you have spec’d all this stuff, they have to find a buyer who
wants exactly what you want plus wants what is now a secondhand car. They have
to restock it, re-warranty it, re-plate it and prep it for a new buyer when one
is found. Plus they have to finance it while it is on the lot. So, if you have
an old building that has to come down, spend the extra money to take it
down—it’s a merchandising cost. If you put up a building, realize that the
moment you do, you have locked in all the options (size of building,
materiality, function and form) which reduces the value of the land…)

The Broken Windows Syndrome was first discovered in the 1980s and is
now widely applied in the field of urban planning (James Wilson and George Kelling,
The Atlantic Monthly, March 1982). For example, if you leave a
middle-of-the-road car which is clean and in decent shape in a difficult part
of town, it will experience little vandalism even if left for quite some time.
But throw a brick through one window then stand back and watch—within minutes
the car will be stripped to its hubcaps.

When he was Mayor of NYC, Rudolph Giuliani, a former prosecutor, read
about Broken Windows and he knew instinctively that this was the right approach
for his city. He brought in a no-tolerance policy for vandalism, graffiti and
petty crime. He understood that a neighborhood that looked like it was in decay
and that tolerated petty crime (prostitution and other so-called victimless
crime like drug dealing) would attract major crime and even faster decay would
result. In urban planning, you can not create any value from real estate if
public safety is at risk. Just look at Detroit practically giving away 100s of
vacant homes this year—homes that you can buy for as little as $500 and still
there are few takers.

In NYC, if your outside lamp is busted, a window or fence is broken, a
door askew, graffiti on your wall, whatever, you will get a notice to fix it
and, if you don’t, the City will fix it and charge you for it. There is no
tolerance for decay in either the public room or the property facing the public
room and NYC has become a much safer place as a result.

Home staging for houses has been known to be an effective selling tool
for a long time—if you are going to sell your home, do a few simple things that
don’t cost very much and you will add a lot of value: a) clean it up, b) paint
what needs to be painted, c) cut the grass, d) tend the gardens, e) patch any
holes in the drywall and fix whatever is broken, f) de-clutter the home, garage
and any outbuildings, g) stage it.

You notice I don’t say spend thousands of dollars updating your
kitchen and bathrooms, finishing your basement or adding a swimming pool. The
reason for this is simple—almost all major investments like this have a
negative ROI—it costs you more to do it than you can get if you sell it.

There is a useful online calculator that the Appraisal Institute of
Canada has on its site (
that shows a typical investment of $5,000 (say) in a bathroom renovation and
another $15,000 in a kitchen update may yield expected returns of between 75%
and 100% or $15,100 to $20,000*. I learned a long time ago not to make
investments that turn four quarters into a dollar and I don’t encourage clients
to do that either.

(* I love this one—add a swimming pool for $30,000 and your ROI ranges
from 0 to $7,500. In fact, heating, cleaning, repairing, opening and closing a
pool are so expensive and the risk of accident and home insurance premium
increases that may result from installing the pool in the first place, make me
think that AIC is overestimating the value—it may well be negative.)

So there are some smart, cost-effective things you can do to help you
merchandise your home or commercial property and one of those things is home

A recent experience proved that for me: we had taken over leasing of
an office penthouse floor in downtown Ottawa
with spectacular views of the Parliamentary Precinct. The floor had been the
head office of a major company but they had left behind some office furniture
in jumbled heaps, there was garbage everywhere, the place was a mess and the
floors were dirty.

The space is incredibly funky (in a good way) and would make terrific
space for a marketing company, an embassy, a cool tech firm, what have you. The
place has been empty for more than a year.

We finally got the OK from the Landlord to stage it—clean it,
de-clutter it, arrange the furniture, take professional photos and do basic

Before they even finished (the cleaners were just completing
vacuuming), we had a showing and a day later we had an Offer (from a finance

The value proposition of the two ladies who run the local staging
company—unbelievable. The IRR (Internal Rate of Return) on the $1,600
investment (to clean, take photos and stage it) was a ridiculous 10,683% p.a.
for the Landlord.

I calculated the IRR as follows:

Value Proposition: Home Staging in a Commercial Setting

Office Space 5,400 sq. .ft.

Net Rent $15.95 per sq. ft. per year

Op. Costs $16 per sq. ft. per year

Total $31.95 per sq. ft. per year

Total $172,530.00 per year

Cost of Staging $800

Cost of Cleanup $600

Cost of Expert Photos $200

Total Costs $1,600

Time vacant 1 year

Time to offer 15 minutes


0 ($1,600)

1 $172,530.00

IRR 10683% p.a.

Postscript 2: This is, of course, another example that is ripe for a
negative cost selling approach. If you are a home stager and you can visit with
a Landlord and tell him or her that by hiring you and your team for $1,600,
they will make $172,530 or, put another way, their cost for hiring you is a
negative $170,930, well that is a pretty strong value proposition. Or to
paraphrase one of my students, “I will
pay you $170,930 to hire me to stage your office building!”



Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhDROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty brokerOttawa Senators founderReal Estate Investment and Business MAKING IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.