November 24, 2015

By Kelly Wurth


Step 1:  Declutter & Depersonalize

Step 2:  Refresh & Repair

Congratulations, you have made it to Step 3: Sanitize and Stage!  At this point I am assuming that all unnecessary items have been moved to storage and any required repairs have been completed on the home.  This includes all closets and pantries have been cleared of non-essential items and what is left is neatly organized.  All that is left is to do a good, deep cleaning and then stage the home appropriately to attract those savvy prequalified buyers.  Lets get the cleaning part over with and then you can move onto the more enjoyable staging. 

I have used the word sanitize to described this step because the cleaning that needs to be done is more than just your typical dust, sweep, kitchen disinfecting and bathroom scouring.  Although that is where you need to start, you will need to go above and beyond to tackle the dirt and grim that has collected over the many surfaces in your home throughout the years that you have lived there.  To help ensure that you don’t miss any dirty areas I have compiled a deep clean checklist below.  This list refers specifically to the interior of your home.   I am assuming that all necessary exterior window cleaning, gutter cleaning, power washing, etc. was performed as noted in Step 2: Repair and Refresh under “General Repair List for Exterior”. 

Deep Clean Checklist

1.     Dust all hard surfaces including countertops, cabinets, furniture, shelving, window treatments, window sills, wall art, light fixtures and ceiling fans.  Use a damp cloth to remove anything more than dust.   Don’t forget to clean behind furniture. 

2.     Clean all glass surfaces throughout the home.  Everything from shower doors to light fixtures to windows quickly collect dirt and grim.  A simple solution of white vinegar and water will typically do the trick in getting those surfaces clean.  

3.     Remove any dirt, grim and mold from all floor tiles, wall tiles, countertops and backsplashes throughout the home, including grout and caulk. 

4.     Have carpets professionally cleaned or rent a deep cleaning machine from your local grocery or hardware store and do it yourself.  Deep cleaning carpets is important as it will not only remove set in stains but also unpleasant odors.  Don’t forget to move and clean under all furniture including beds and sofas. 

5.     Sweep or vacuum wood floors and then deep clean with a soft cloth mop and wood cleaning solution such as Bona or Glitsa Clean.  Don’t forget to remove dust and cobwebs from floor registers and covers. 

6.     Clean fabric window drapes.  Review this article for 3 helpful tips to get them looking like new again. 

7.     Wash walls, including switch plates, and trim if not repainted in Step 2.

8.     Wash doors and disinfect locks and doorknobs.

9.     Vacuum and spot clean all fabric furniture and chair pads/cushions. 

10. Clean all sinks and drains.  Shine all faucets.

11. Disinfect all showers and toilets.

12. Clean the inside and outside of all kitchen appliances including ovens, stovetops, refrigerators, and microwaves.  Don’t forget to clean under the refrigerator and stove. 

13. Dust off and vacuum around and under washer and dryer.  Wash dryer lint trap. 

Now that the cleaning is over you may be exhausted and thinking that you are done with preparing your home for resale, but there is one last phase in this final step and that is to stage your home.  Bringing all the work you have done together in this final phase is extremely important and will ensure that you get the best value for your home in the shortest amount of time.  If you still need some convincing check-out the stats provided by NAR’s 2015 Profile of Home Staging and this article from

Now that you are convinced, lets get staging.  The ultimate goals of staging are as follows.

1.     Ensure rooms feel large, bright and inviting by choosing window treatments that allow for an abundance of natural light, placing lamps to lighten up dark corners of the room, keeping décor simple and using soft accent colors to evoke a feel of comfort and relaxation. 

2.     Create the illusion of extra space and fluidity throughout the home by choosing the correct scale and placement of furniture. 

3.     Use décor placement to accentuate features of the home such as fireplaces, window seats, window views and custom built-in shelving.

4.     Highlight each room’s single purpose.  A catch-all space is unimpressive to a potential buyer.  Remember, 90% of people cannot visualize a space in any other way than the way in which it is presented.  Therefore, you need to think about your target market and determine what would meet their needs.  Would a spare room be best decorated as an extra bedroom, an office or a children’s playroom? Would a loft area be better as a reading nook or a teenager’s lounge?


Now that you understand what we are working towards you need to decide how you are going to reach these goals and complete the home preparation process. 

There are 3 ways to tackle staging.

1.            Do it yourself.  Staging can be fun if you understand the goals I laid out above and if you have an eye for design and decorating.  If you choose to go this route see the section below entitled “Room by Room DIY Staging” where I will take you room by room and provide advice to ensure the most important areas of your home feel light, airy and inviting to potential buyers.      

2.            If you don’t have the time, energy or desire for staging then hire a professional to come in and assess your home, stage existing furniture and décor as well as bring in other items as needed.  Your Realtor should be able to provide you with a knowledgeable professional who can assist you or check on to find someone in your area who specializes in staging homes for resale. 

3.            If hiring a home stager seems like a daunting or expensive process then consider the more cost effective virtual staging.  To learn more about virtual staging and the associated benefits check out this articleContact Iconic Real to inquire about this service.     

Room by Room DIY Staging

In Stage 1 you removed all the clutter from your home and depersonalized it.  In Stage 2 you either repaired issues with your home or you refreshed them with a newly purchased item or a fresh coat of paint, stain, grout, etc.  The home is now sanitized and it is time to arrange the furniture and décor you have and possibly purchase or borrow a few items in order to achieve the 4 ultimate goals of staging.  Let’s start in the kitchen.


Remember, the look and feel of a kitchen can make or break the sale of a home.  Since there is no furniture to contend with in the kitchen area then you have already completed a lot of the work necessary to prepare your kitchen.  The only other item I would suggest is if you have a small kitchen with an adjacent breakfast nook consider extending the same decor color throughout to make it feel like one large room verses two small ones.  All that is left is too keep it decluttered and clean on a regular basis, especially before the photography shoot, open houses and home showings.  This can be difficult as you will still be living here and utilizing the kitchen on a daily basis unless you have planned to move out before the home sells.  Therefore, to make this easier I have provided a checklist below.  I have also included a downloadable PDF file at the end of this article which includes a short checklist for all major rooms throughout the home.  You can print it out or keep in handy on your tablet as a reminder of what needs to be done right before the photography shoot and before all open houses and home showings to ensure the entire home looks it’s best. 

·      Remove personal items that cause clutter

·      Remove small appliances from counter tops

·      Roll up rugs & store out of sight

·      Hide soaps dispensers & cleaning supplies

·      Remove dish-mats/racks & cutting boards

·      Pick-up pet food and water dishes

·      Place brooms, dustpans, mops in garage

·      Store garbage cans out of sight

·      Put all food in pantry or refrigerator

·      Place a small centerpiece in the middle of island and kitchen table (Optional)



All living areas need to feel spacious and inviting.  You should have already removed all unnecessary furniture, storage pieces and electronics in Step 1 so now we will rearrange existing pieces and décor that are left and/or bring in new ones.  Here is a list of things to consider and possibly modify.

·      Does the scale of your furniture fit comfortably within the size of the room?

The best way to determine this is to walk around the room and see if you can easily move between furniture and from the living area into adjacent rooms.  Also, if you have furniture with drawers can you easily open them to access what is inside?

·      Do you have the right amount of furniture?

This totally depends on the size of the room and the layout you would like to achieve.   Is the room large enough where it seems logical to float furniture away from walls and create one or more cozy conversation areas?  If you have a fireplace then this would be one obvious location where you can create an intimate area for congregation separate from the rest of the room.  You may also want to consider facing furniture towards a window if there is a gorgeous water view, mountain view, golf course or outdoor pool and lounge area.   This arrangement makes it feel like you are bringing the outdoors in.  If you do float the furniture you can always consider adding a decorative piece of furniture along one or more walls so they don’t feel too empty. Adding a large accent rug to further enhance the feel of separate areas or one big cohesive area is a good idea.  Ensure that at least the front legs of chairs and sofas are resting on the rug. 

If the room is smaller then feel free to move the furniture up against walls but try not to block windows and most importantly ensure there is enough room to move between pieces and into adjacent rooms.  Adding a accent rug is also appropriate in smaller rooms to bring the décor together. 

·      Is there enough floor visible?

One thing that can make rooms appear larger is the amount of visible floor space.  The more that is visible the bigger the room feels.  One way to achieve this without removing so much furniture that the room looks empty is to use accent tables and tables with glass tabletops. 

·      Does the room feel balanced?

Furniture does not have to be symmetrical but it should be balanced.  If there is a sofa on one side of the room or area then there should be a pair of chairs and an accent table or a loveseat on the opposite side to balance it out.  There is something about an unbalanced room that can create an uneasy feeling which is the opposite of what we are working towards.

·      Does the room have a single purpose?

A dining room that seconds as an office is not appealing to potential homebuyers.  It may be an inconvenience to you as your home is put on the market, but it is a necessity to ensure every room has a clearly defined single purpose.  If you present a room as a multi-purpose room homebuyers may get a negative idea that the home is too small to accommodate the needs of a typical family.  Plus multipurpose rooms typically look and feel cluttered and disorganized. 

·      Are the features of the living area accentuated?

The best way to accent features is to ensure décor and furniture is arranged appropriately.  Use attractive décor pieces such as vases, books, bookends, and deco boxes to draw the eye to custom built in shelving.  Use soft colored throws and pillows, as well as fashionable window coverings to accent window seats.  Mount window coverings four to six inches above the window frame or halfway between the frame and ceiling molding to create the illusion of a taller window.  Decorate the mantle with beautiful artwork and stylish candleholders to draw attention to the fireplace.  Dress up the hearth with cushions for seating or a rustic basket of wood. 

As you add finishing touches to your living areas please remember each open surface should not have more than 1-2 items on it or groupings of small items.  And for the best presentation these items should consist of solid colors, clean lines, or clean patterns. Utilize muted earth tones with pops of color added via pillows, throws and décor to make for a pleasant experience when buyers view your home online or visit the property.  Walls should be dressed with strategically placed artistic photographs (NOT family photos), paintings, mirrors, clocks, shelving/ledges, sconces or plaques/panels.  Not every wall needs something on it.  Too much wall décor will make the room feel like it is closing in on you, which is the opposite of the feel we are going for.

Now you may be wondering what to do if you furniture is too big or too small or outdated.  You have a few options here. 

1.     If you have a small budget for staging you could consider borrowing furniture and décor items from friends or family.  You would be surprised at what people have tucked away in storage that they do not have room for, but are afraid to get rid of.  Or maybe they would be okay with their home feeling a little empty while yours in on the market.  You can also purchase new small décor items that could be used for staging initially, but then utilized in your new home or returned to the store later as long as they are in new condition and it has not been longer than the allowed return time period.  Target, HomeGoods, Hobby Lobby, Michaels and often have reasonably priced décor items, pillows and throws.  I’ve even had good luck purchasing items from the online clearance/sale pages of high-end stores such as Crate & Barrel, Pier One and Pottery Barn.  Remember, if you are following the steps I am giving you the house should sell quickly and you will soon be able to return items to their rightful owners or utilize them in your new home. 

2.     If you have a larger budget then you could consider purchasing new furniture that you can then use in your new home once your current home is sold.  This can be difficult as you may not have your new home picked out yet, but if you are building a new home or have already bought your next home then you could purchase furniture which would ultimately fit in the new home, but could be used to stage your existing home while it is on the market. 

3.     The last option is to lease furniture.  To learn more about this option visit the Cort Furniture website.

Once you have the room arranged perfectly all you need to do is keep the room decluttered and clean for the photography shoot, as well as open houses and home showings.  Your checklist for living areas is below and in downloadable PDF format at the end of this article. 

·      Remove personal items that cause clutter

·      Hide TV & other remotes

·      Arrange pillows & throws decoratively

·      Store away children & pet toys

·      Remove non-decor books & magazines

·      Place vacuum cleaner out of sight

·      Clear-off office desktop

·      Declutter dining areas and add centerpiece

·      Remove all childproof equipment



Although special care should be given to the master bedroom as it is one of the most important rooms to potential homebuyers, it is important that all bedrooms are staged appropriately.  In previous steps we removed all unnecessary personal items and unappealing décor to create a more neutral theme. 

When arranging furniture in bedrooms you should start with the biggest piece first, which is typically the bed.  The most appealing layout is to have the headboard of the bed placed along the wall opposite from the door.  Another option is to place it along the room’s longest wall that is uninterrupted by windows or doors.   If the only place for your bed is in front of a large window then either hang floor length panels behind the headboard or install top-down, bottom-up shades to allow light in but create a backdrop for the headboard. 

Next, if you have a wide dresser with a lower height top it is best to place this along the wall at the foot of the bed.  On top of this dresser is a great place for a TV to be placed.  Taller dressers can be placed up against other blank walls around the room between doorways and windows.  A bedside table can be placed on one or both sides of the bed.  Place a couple small ottomans or bench at the end of the bed. Lastly, if you have a large bedroom or designated sitting area consider adding a couple of chairs with an accent table in between or a small decorative desk with chair. 

Once the furniture is arranged then décor items can be arranged remembering that each open surface only needs 1-2 décor items or groups of items as we don’t want the room to feel cluttered.  The side tables should already have lamps so I would only add one other small item as decoration.  The low wide dresser will have the TV placed on it.  If not then consider a deco jewelry box with candleholders or a tray with stacked books.  Bed linens should always be clean and fresh then decorated with pillows so that it looks comfortable and inviting. 

Remember to talk with your Realtor about the current state and trends of the market and identify your target homebuyer when considering how any extra bedrooms should be designed and decorated.  You have many options from simple guest bedroom to an office or a playroom. 

Once you have the room arranged perfectly all you need to do is keep the room decluttered and clean for the photography shoot, as well as open houses and home showings.  Your checklist for bedrooms is below and in downloadable PDF format at the end of this article. 

·      Remove personal items that cause clutter

·      Make bed and arrange pillows decoratively

·      Put all attire in closets or drawers

·      Remove all electronics and power cords

·      Place jewelry in secure location

·      Hide TV & other remotes

·      Store away children & pet toys

·      Remove non-decor books & magazines

·      Place pet beds out of sight



Bathrooms should be ready based on what was accomplished in Steps 1 & 2.  Remember, the ultimate goal here is to create a relaxing, spa like feel as that is the current trend that most potential homebuyers are looking for.  The only thing left to do is keep the room decluttered and clean for the photography shoot, as well as open houses and home showings.  Your checklist for bathrooms is below and in downloadable PDF format at the end of this article. 

·      Store away all personal hygiene products

·      Place laundry basket out of sight

·      Place medications in drawers

·      Put away toothbrushes & hairbrushes

·      Move toilet paper & Kleenex into closet

·      Remove soaps, shampoos, razors & makeup

·      Roll up bathmats and store away

·      Hide garbage cans, scale and toilet brush

·      Remove dirty towels

·      Place a small decorative item in the middle or end of countertop and/or corner of a tub(Optional)

·      Hang fresh decorative towels on towel racks.  (Optional)


Congratulations, your home should sell quickly at top dollar!  In order to guarantee this ensure the interior of the home remains clean & staged.  Before the photography shoot, open houses and home showings you need to go over the downloadable PDF checklist at the end of this article, as well as open window coverings to allow in natural light and turn on all lights throughout the home.  The lawn should be mowed, walkway and entryway cleared of dust and debris and garbage cans stored in garage.  Make your home a showplace for potential buyers!!!

Here is the Home Preparation Check-list for you to download.

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