This bathroom won't sell a house.

Home selling is, in many ways, an irrational business: A buyer’s decision to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on real estate depends in large part on the feeling they get when they walk in the door. That “I could live here” confidence doesn’t come from an empty room—which is why the experienced agent will spend lots of time and at least a little money on something called “staging.”

In high-end condos, this can mean bringing in a professional company to furnish model units with expensive-looking love seats and fake martinis. But for your average piece of real estate, it can just mean tidying things up a bit.

Nobody gets more enthusiastic about this step of the selling process than realtor Marty Hosking, who absorbed a design sensibility as a child from his mother’s constant redecorating. “Every house has its price,” says Hosking, at a Starbucks near his home office in Silver Spring. “but there’s something intangible about staging that a property just feels right to people and if you can get to that intangible thing you are going to get more offers more interest and more showings.”

Staging isn’t about making the property what it’s not, Hosking says, but about creating the “emotional” connection necessary for a buyer to make the leap. It enhances the best features of the property while minimizing the negatives and distractions, which can mean anything from cleaning and de-cluttering to rearranging furniture, replacing light switches, painting, replacing doorknobs, and redoing your floor.

“In this market, [staging] means you’re actually going to sell it,” Hosking says. “If you don’t stage, you might not even sell it, at any price.”

Each property calls for different levels of transformation. If the property still has furniture in it, cleaning and rearranging may suffice. But if the seller has already moved their furniture out, you might have to hire a company to bring in furniture for you, which can cost $1000 to start and $300 for every additional month you need it. For professional help, Hosking suggests Diane Peacor and Patti Cumming or Christian Salinas with StagingDesign. If you’ve got more time than money, looking for furniture on Craigslist is also an option.

But this bathroom might!

“You’re really telling a whole story here,” he says, “and if people think that doesn’t matter to buyers then they’re crazy, because they know it does.”

Hoskings’ biggest tips are:

  • Paint. “Paint is huge. You want to avoid extreme colors that only certain people like because if you blast them with that color, unfortunately, for a lot of buyers, its hard to see past it or imagine their own color palate in there. So you want to get colors that are kind of neutral. You want to avoid the pure white because they’re cold and sterile. You want to make it warm. I always like to go a step up from white to make it warmer.”
  • Light switches. “When people walk into a place and the light switch is gunked over with paint and it’s dirty— first impressions matter.”
  • Doorknobs (Of cabinets and the front door) should be replaced to look clean and new.
  • “If you think about it, anything that people are going touch and feel.”

Before-and-after shots are probably the best way to illustrate what Hosking is talking about. A professional staging company did these makeovers for less than $1000.

Hmmm needs some furniture.
Voila!
Living room, unsellable.
That's worth another couple grand.
Good luck with that...
Blinding!