Staging A Home On A Budget – 7 Top Tips

Home Staging An Ex-Rental Property For Sale

About 12 years ago, my husband and I bought a brand new, new build 4 bed townhouse. We happily lived in it for about 5 years, before moving to be closer to work. After 6 years of renting it out we decided to sell. The house hadn’t been decorated in quite some time, so it needed a refresh before going on the market. Having studied tips and tricks for staging a home on a budget, we decided we would furnish the house, rather than showing it empty. This would allow people to get a proper sense of what it would be like to live in.

What Is Home Staging?

Home staging is a bit of a new concept in the UK, but has been popular in America for many years. One definition of it is: ‘the art of preparing a property for sale, to appeal to the widest number of buyers in order to sell in the shortest possible time and for the best possible price’. If anybody remembers the ‘House Doctor’ tv series that was on years ago, this was what it was all about. It is about trying to make people imagine how they might live in a property, not how the current occupiers do. So the aim of the game is to make a property fresh and neutral. Also to highlight it’s best features, without making it so bland it is forgettable.

Some people thought we were crazy to spend money on staging a home to sell. My thoughts were you wouldn’t sell your car without getting it thoroughly valeted, so why put no effort at all into selling your biggest asset? Our costs amounted to not even 1/2 a percent of the house value, so on the grand scheme of things, we felt it made sense. I watched lots of builders show home tours on You Tube and looked at lots of show home photographs to get ideas for how to stage a home on a budget.

Staging a Home on a Budget: Our Strategy

1. Neutral Colours Throughout

We didn’t have the money to get decorators in, so we did it ourselves. Aside from the main bedroom and the living room, we kept the paint colours in the whole house either white or magnolia. The house had been redecorated by our last tenants when they had moved in about 4 years previously. Although we had asked them to keep it neutral, they hadn’t always stuck to this!

When seeing the house empty, the different paint colours in different rooms really made you think ‘oh, the whole house needs painting’ – which we felt would really put off many viewers. We also wanted to appeal to as broad a range of potential buyers as possible – a key part of our home staging strategy. The painting was a mammoth task, but with the help of family and friends we managed it in about a week.

Main Bedroom Decor

Being a townhouse, the main bedroom was on the top floor and a lovely large and light south-facing room. The tenants had decorated a feature wall behind the bed with bold wallpaper. Whilst not unpleasant, I felt this was too distracting and took some of the light out of the room:

Bedroom with bold floral wallpaper behind bed before home staging.
Previous Estate Agents photos from Zoopla of Main Bedroom before Home Staging

I didn’t want viewers to be referring to the house after their viewing as the ‘house with the lairy master bedroom!’ We therefore removed the wallpaper and repainted the wall in a calming grey/blue. The rest of the walls were white. I replaced the red curtains with silver grey voiles to maximise the light from the windows:

Light grey feature wall behind bed with royal blue accent bedding - after home staging.
A much lighter calmer bedroom space – after home staging

Living Room Decor

The living room had good foundations, having a lovely warm red wood floor. Despite 10 or so years of wear and tear, it was still looking good. The tenants had wallpapered a feature wall which gave the room some personality, but I didn’t feel it was too distracting. I simply repainted the other walls in a lighter warmer shade. I also replaced the roman blinds the tenants had left with curtains, again to maximise the light coming into the room.

Staged living room with warm neutral decor and uncluttered furniture.

2. When Staging A Home On A Budget Shop Your Own Home First

As the house was being sold unoccupied, we wanted to put a few key pieces of furniture in to give a sense of the space. However we didn’t want to buy lots of items we had no use for once the house was sold. I tried to keep buying big items of furniture to a minimum. As far as possible we used things we already had with a bit of creativity and improvisation.

Main Bedroom

For the bed in here I absolutely was not going to buy a real bed, so I used an inflatable bed that we normally use for camping!

Blow-up mattress used for home staging.

The duvet was spare from home and the bedding was a simple plain white set from Argos. The throw was off our own bed. I styled the bed to make it look as fabulous as possible – see my top tips for this here. We added a couple of cheap Lack side tables and a couple of bedside lamps from Ikea and voila!

We didn’t add any other furniture to the room – having the bed in place meant that it was obvious that there was acres of room for wardrobes / drawers etc. in the rest of the room so we just left it at that.

Guest Bedroom / Bedroom 2

This bedroom had one wall that was baby pink and in previous estate agents photos, looked a bit cluttered:

Estate agent's photo showing a slightly messy guest bedroom before home staging.
Previous Estate Agent’s image from Zoopla

We repainted the walls white with one wall magnolia (to add a bit of warmth and interest) The bed in this room was also improvised. It was a double camping mattress propped up on boxes. I had to tell the estate agent not to let anyone sit on the bed! We had no other furniture in this room as we didn’t feel it was necessary. Aside from a couple of cushions and pillows and another simple white duvet set from Argos, our spend in this room was again very low.

Bedroom 3 / Home Office

A home office set up for home staging.

Although it has good light from the juliet balcony, this room is north facing and can be quite dark. One of the walls was painted a very bright blue. A few coats of white paint covered it up. We kept it all white, adding a desk and chair to give a sense of the size of the space. A colourful picture and rug gave the room a pop of colour and personality. The props were all items we had at home – so the cost of ‘staging’ this room was virtually nothing.

Bedroom 4 / Box Room

Box bedroom turned into a young child's bedroom with a toddler bed for staging.

When we lived in the house, this bedroom was our son’s nursery. The tenants had painted the room bright pink. We repainted it a neutral white with one wall painted magnolia to give the room a bit of warmth. Luckily our youngest son had just grown out of the toddler bed and we had recently redecorated his room. I therefore used the smaller bed (which was great as it made the room feel larger). I also had the bedding and matching decor bits to use. Staging this room cost us virtually nothing.

Living / Dining Room

This was the one part of the house where we did spend quite a bit of money. If people weren’t sold on downstairs, then upstairs probably wasn’t going to change their mind. It needed to look great! We bought a 3 seater sofa for the living room (our single biggest expense), a tv/shelving unit, and a table and chairs. Several of the items I sourced secondhand from Ebay. We were able to resell them once we had finished with them. The rug on the living room floor was from our living room at home, and the artwork was also from our house.

3. Create a Welcoming Hallway

They say that viewers make up their mind whether to buy your house or not within the first 10 seconds (or something like that!), so having a welcoming hallway when staging a home is really important.

The hall and stairs were probably the most hard work part of transforming the whole house! We had allowed our tenants to decorate the house when they had first moved in, as long as they ‘kept it neutral’. So we were a bit horrified when we came round to check the place to discover that they had painted all the way up the stairs in a very deep aubergine colour. Given the stairs are at the front of the house – and so in the darkest, north facing part, it made the hall feel like a black hole! We had to paint what felt like 50 coats of white paint over the aubergine to get rid of it…I forgot to take any ‘before’ photos of it – I think I was too in shock…

I painted the wall going up the stairs to the first landing in magnolia – again to add some warmth and to make the entrance hall feel inviting. To add a bit of interest I broke up the large space on the walls with a mirror and picture frames from Ikea, filled with samples of wallpaper that were in similar warm tones and different textures. I also bought an attractive new doormat to give a good impression right from the front door.

4. Don’t Forget The Outside When Staging A Home

Before the first viewings I gave the outside of the house a quick spruce too. This included simple things such as ensuring the front path was weed free and that I had washed down the front door and checked the door bell worked. I also bought a smart new door mat and bought some cheap plants from the garden centre to give the flowerbeds a bit of colour. See my top tips for improving your kerb appeal here.

5. Create A Vignette Or Purpose For Each Room

When planning how to furnish the rooms for home staging, I tried to create a ‘vignette’ or focus area that would draw viewers eyes. I tried to ensure this emphasised the best feature of the room. In the bedrooms I tried to ensure that the beds were beautifully presented and had lots of space around them to give an airy feel. I ensured the living area and dining area were clearly defined, and chose a glass dining table that wouldn’t impinge on the sense of space too much. In the kitchen I created an attractive area around the cooker with some attractive pots of pasta and pretty bottles of oils etc.

6. Shop Carefully – The Wonders Of Ikea…

I picked up most of my smaller accessories and pieces of furniture from Ikea. It was somewhere I knew I could get everything I needed and it would be cost effective and look good. However what I didn’t realise was that Ikea has an amazing returns policy. So if you return something – as long as it is in re-saleable condition, (i.e. not obviously used), they will take it back – for a whole year.

This was fantastic for us – as we were selling the house unoccupied, the things that we bought basically sat untouched in the house for 3 months. Once the house had sold I took a whole load of items back to Ikea and got a refund. The customer services never batted an eyelid that I was bringing a huge trolley load of things back, saving us several hundred pounds. Obviously I would never do this if the anything had been used at all.

7. Clean, Clean And Then Clean Some More

Because the house was being sold unoccupied, we knew that viewers would feel free to browse through the kitchen cupboards, look in the fridge, the oven and inspect the showers and shower trays. So before anyone came we spent a whole day just scrubbing from top to bottom.

The Results of Staging Our Home

In total staging our home cost around £1500. A significant part of that cost was the sofa, which we now have in our house and use on a daily basis. I think it was £1500 well spent. The house had 2 viewings and 2 offers on the first day on sale – and we sold it to the first viewers. It is certainly significantly less than any reduction in price that we might have had to make had the house sat on the market for several months empty. The entire process took just 3 months – as we were having to pay mortgage and council tax on a house we were not living in, the speed of the sale was hugely beneficial.

Click here to see the after home staging Estate Agents full house tour with professional photographs.

This is the video tour.

Click here to see the original decor before home staging (previous estate agents details).