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How not to stage your home: One seller left behind gun reloaders (plural!)

When it comes to how a property should be staged, simplicity is your best friend. Removing personal, religious, and political effects helps prospective buyers picture themselves in your home.

Remove the personal photos from your home. You don't want that kind of information on display in the online listing and prospective buyers don't want to see them.Adobe Stock/NLshop - stock.adobe.com

First impressions are everything, especially when it comes to selling a house.

So, sellers — please don’t put up a fight when your real estate agent provides tips on how to show your home. Want to get the highest and best offer? Declutter your humble abode and let potential buyers get an idea of how they could make your home their own.

Buyers don’t need to see walls packed with family photos, and, no, they almost certainly don’t want you to leave behind religious displays.

“I’ve had some homes where you walk in and you really don’t have to change anything,” said Ann Marie Silva, a Boston-based Redfin Premier agent. “But then there are others that want to leave it just the way it is for photos, and I’m like ‘no, no, no.’ It’s a three-hour process to get them to understand [that] if we do it that way, we’re not going to get close to the value that they’re looking to get.”

Yes, it was only a matter of months ago that homes would hit the market still in need of tender love and care (and renovation) and still spark bidding wars. But that was then, and this is now. Welcome to the new world of higher interest rates and more discerning buyers less willing to buy a house without an inspection.


It’s time sellers recognize that and put a little more consideration into the shape of their home before it goes on the market — especially since it’s no longer the piping hot housing market of early 2022.

“The market has absolutely changed. We’re not seeing buyers waive as many inspections anymore,” Silva said. “Cosmetics are a big, big factor in this market.”

Leaving up family photos is probably one of the biggest mistakes sellers make, Silva and others interviewed for this story said. They can make a space feel confined, but more important, you don’t want personal information like that showing up in the online listing photos.


Follow the golden rule. No, not that Golden Rule. The other one: Less is more.

“Sometimes you go upstairs, and they have their whole album of family photos displayed on the walls,” said Melvin A. Vieira Jr., a realtor with RE/Max Destiny. “Remove the photos on the staircase to open the space up. It means there’s less to stare at.”

But it’s more than photos.

Leaving behind political messages and religious displays can turn off buyers. Silva usually cordons off religious displays with a gate during a showing to prevent anyone from touching anything.

Sellers have tried to leave gun reloaders behind because they thought the next homeowner would be just as much of a firearms fan as they are, Vieira said. Another tried to leave behind a kerosene tank because they thought it would be a selling point. Others think leaving a piano behind at a showing drives value by showing the musical merits of the home.

“To them, it is perfect,” Vieira said. “But one person’s perfect is another person’s mess or calamity.”

It’s not always easy explaining why simplicity is better than leaving personal items behind or on display for a showing.

“Sometimes you wonder if you’re going to have to go through remediation because they look at you as though you just sprouted a second head,” Vieira said. “A lot of people haven’t sold a house before, so you become the true educator for them of what can and can’t be done.”


On a recent walk-through, DJ Gendreau, a realtor with Douglas Elliman Real Estate, took clients to a home in the western suburbs that wasn’t staged except for a few stools at the kitchen island, two sofas, and a standalone cedar sauna in an upstairs hallway. The sellers thought whoever bought the home would also purchase the sauna from them, Gendreau said.

“Sauna showers are very in with developments, and that at least makes sense because it’s tile and you can bleach that,” he added. “Someone else’s cedar sauna is a different story.”

Put stuff in storage if you have to do it.

A 2021 survey from the Real Estate Staging Association noted the U.S. national average staging budget of 1.3% of the home’s value resulted in a 7.1% over-list price return on that investment. The trade group also said staged homes sold $40,000 over their list price on average.

Not every seller has the budget to stage and repaint the entire house, but that’s no problem.

“Just declutter and keep it simple. Keep it clean,” Gendreau said. “It’s not like you have to get $20,000 worth of staging done. A fair market value and keeping it simple is going to sell the property.”

Send comments to camsperance@gmail.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at Boston.com/address-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter @globehomes.


Send comments to camsperance@gmail.com. Subscribe to our newsletter on Boston.com/realestate and follow Address on Twitter @globehomes.