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How to stage a house to sell (Photos)

Thursday - 7/17/2014, 6:30am  ET

Staging a home helps potential buyers see how a space can be utilized or lived in. (WTOP/Rachel Nania)
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WASHINGTON -- Tiffany Parker spends her days talking with contractors and real estate agents, coordinating with movers and looking at apartments before they go on the market. She's not considering buying a home; she's helping others sell theirs.

Parker, the founder of Parker Interiors Home Staging, has been staging homes in the D.C. area for the past five years. Her job is to create an ambiance with furniture, art, color and accents in order to make a property appealing to potential buyers and help them see how a space can be utilized or lived in.

"In the case of a vacant home, it's bringing furniture to it to add warmth and personality; in the case of an occupied home, it's sometimes reducing that personality and neutralizing it so that it appeals to more people," Parker says.

The cost varies, but Parker says in the D.C. area, one can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the size of the home and the work involved in staging. And yes, it's work.

Parker and her team have staging down to a science; the key is balancing logistics. Parker purchases and owns all of the furniture, art and home accents she uses to stage a home -- she has enough to stage 35 properties.

Each week, Parker stages between three and seven homes, so her days require multiple trips to and from her storage warehouse, her office, the clients' homes and possibly a furniture store if she needs to buy a piece.

While Parker cannot promise that staging a home will make the house sell faster or for a higher price, she can guarantee it gives the seller an edge in the market.

"What I can say is that, for sure, it makes your home more competitive. You're going to get that second look; you're going to be thought about."

Developer and general contractor David Gorham, of Creative Design Contractors, has renovated between 30 and 40 homes in D.C. Before showing his properties to potential buyers or hosting an open house, he works with a stager to enhance his work.

"[We want] to give the buyer an outlook on what they can do with the property," Gorham says.

"If a person can visualize and see the difference the furniture makes in the home then that will give them the confidence to go ahead and put a contract on the house."

If you're looking to sell soon and are wondering how to best show your home, Parker has some advice -- starting with the basics.

Declutter, Depersonalize and Think Neutral

Many of Parker's clients live in their homes while the property is on the market. Sometimes, this works to Parker's advantage, since she doesn't have to bring a lot of staging furniture into the home. But often, this means she needs to focus on cleaning and packing.

Start by putting away anything overly personal, such as photos of family vacations, awards and cards from friends, Parker says.

"What you really want [buyers] to focus on is not your life story, but the home. You're moving anyway, so start to pack up as much as you possibly can."

If your home is filled with bright colors, Parker says shifting the color palate to neutral tones can help show the home. But she's very clear on one thing: This does not mean you need to paint all of the walls white.

"I'm not a fan of just off-white walls," she says.

Instead, try a gray or even a light blue.

Match the Furniture to Your House

If you need to bring in furniture, Parker says to think about the style of your home and the potential buyer. A modern apartment on 14th Street is going to be staged much differently than a traditional home in Cleveland Park.

If you are selling a condo, Parker says, avoid showing the home with big, traditional furniture. "You want to look for things that are sleek, that are light and have movement and edges and things like that," Parker says.

If you live in a single-family home in an established neighborhood, stage your home to blend in with its traditional surroundings. "Go a little bit more upscale," Parker says.

Make a Small Space Look Bigger

Do you have an apartment that's on the small side, or a master suite that's not as large as others on the market? There are tricks to open a space and make it appear larger and more functional.

First, Parker says, choose small-scale furniture, such as a couch with a low profile and chairs that are slim. Next, use glass tables.

"Introduce the element of glass wherever you can, especially in your living spaces. You can see through them, and it's almost as if they're not even there," Parker says. "Anywhere where you can create negative space is going to make it look bigger."

In a small bedroom, use light, airy colors and avoid bulky bed-side stands.

No matter how small a space is, Parker aims to create an eating area when staging a home. She says that even if buyers eat on the couch most nights, they want to visualize a space where they can sit down at a table to eat. It's just as important as showing them a space where they can hang out with friends in the living room and where they can relax in the bedroom, Parker says.

If the property includes a small patio or a deck, Parker will put a French bistro table outside to highlight the additional space.

Another key to staging any space -- especially a small one -- is letting in as much natural light as possible.

"Natural light is your best friend when you're staging. There are different layers of light (functional and accent), and natural light is the first and most important," Parker says.

All the Small Things

Displaying decorative pillows, blankets, wine glasses and bathroom towels might be last thing on your mind when trying to sell a house, but Parker says these elements are just as important as the couch in the living area and the neutral tones on the walls.

Parker can mess with the proper placement of a blanket on the couch for several minutes. She says it's important because brings a certain coziness to the space.

"It adds dimension, it makes it much more interesting to look at," she says.

Parker is also big on layers. The beds in her staged homes have three layers showing: the comforter folded down, the top sheet folded down and a blanket at the foot of the bed. She says those details and those touches are what make people see a space and say, "pretty."

Staging brings to life the amenities of a home as well, especially before photos are taken for the listing.

"If there is a wine bar built into the house, we're going to try to show it as the wine bar, whereas in the pictures, it might not show as a wine bar," Parker says. "But if we add a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of glasses on a tray, all of the sudden it's a wine bar."

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