9 tips to help you save on home staging (© Inti St. Clair/Getty Images)

© Inti St. Clair/Getty Images

In the past few months, we've talked about some ways to save money if you're a homebuyer, homeowner or renter. Sellers, now it's your turn. This installment of Real Estate on the Cheap will address the importance of staging your home — and how to save while doing it.

We'll also head to the Southwest for some bargain-hunting tips from a real-estate agent in Santa Fe, N.M. (Bing Cube: Check out photos of Santa Fe)

Repeat after me: It's not your home
When you list your house for sale, it goes from being your home to being a product.

"Any time you are marketing a product, you want to dress it up pretty," says Brandon Green, a Washington, D.C., real-estate agent. "But people don't see their homes as products."

If you were selling your car, you would toss out the fast-food wrappers, wash it, wax it and vacuum it, he says. And you'd get a lot more buyer interest — and money — than if you didn't take those steps.

The same is true when you are selling your home. You want to present it as a beautiful, desirable product. And you want it to stand out from all the other homes on the market.

"With short sales, bank-owned properties and the traditional sellers — all of these entities are in fierce competition to get the house sold," says Barb Schwarz, founder and chairwoman of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals. "We are now seeing even some short sales and bank-owned properties being staged."

How to save on staging
You may assume that you'll save if you stage your home yourself. That's not always the case, Green says. "Almost everybody who stages on their own comes to me at the end of the process exhausted, saying they completely underestimated the time it took to stage," he says. "You're literally furnishing an entire house, and that takes time."

What's your home worth?

He says it can take 40 hours just to stage a one-bedroom apartment: gathering ideas, finding furnishings, putting it all together and then taking it all back out. "Depending on what your salary is, is that full workweek dedicated to staging worth it?" he says.

That brings us to our first tips to save on staging:

1. Consider hiring a professional. Do a little math and make a few calls to see what it would cost to hire someone to handle the staging for you. Professional stagers have an arsenal of furnishings at the ready and can hammer out a neutral, professional design much quicker than you can. If you're determined to do the work yourself, see about getting a consultation from a professional stager.

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"Even if the homeowner chooses to do the work themselves, they'll get an objective opinion about what needs to be done," says Jill M. Banks, who runs Happily Better After Room Design & Home Staging in southern New Jersey and says most consultations cost about $200.

2. You don't need to stage the whole house. Whether you hire a pro or decide to go the DIY route, you don't need to stage every single room, Green says. Stage the main living areas — living room, dining room, kitchen — and at least one bedroom, preferably the master, he says. You should also stage any room that has a confusing purpose to show how it can be used. So if there's an awkwardly sized bedroom, stage it to show that it will fit a bed and dresser comfortably, for instance.

"But you can leave several rooms empty, and you can leave the basement empty, as well," Green says. "That can be a big saver."

If you decide to go it alone
Homeowners can do many things to stage their home at little or no cost. The most important thing to keep in mind is that buyers must be able to envision themselves living in your home.

"No one will buy your home until they can mentally move into it," Schwarz says.

3. Clean, get rid of clutter and depersonalize. Staging is about making your home look nice, but remember that buyers have other senses and that a bad smell can be a deal-breaker. Nothing smells better than clean.

"Check that all rooms are spotlessly clean, have washed windows, smell good and have been aired before showings," says Lauri Ward, president of Use What You Have Interiors, which focuses on using a client's belongings to redecorate or stage the home.

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"By packing up your clutter, you create more space for the buyers to mentally move into," Schwarz says. And, she adds, "If you keep out all your collections and family photos, the buyers will spend their time looking at them and not your house."

Don't forget that buyers will be looking in your closets, too.

"You want the buyer to have the perception that, 'Oh, there's so much storage in here,'" Green says. "If it's chock-full of stuff, it automatically gives the perception that there's not enough storage."

You don't have to empty the closets and other storage areas, but Green advises paring them down to about 20% of what you normally store there.

It's nothing personal
When it comes to furnishings, Green warns that you may not want to use only what you have.

"Most people have a design aesthetic that matches them as a person," he says. "Usually, the stuff you have isn't fantastic for staging. Staging is going to need a fairly neutral design." He advises DIY stagers to be selective when finding furniture. "Take the time to hunt for pieces that really are effective with the concept," he says.

Home affordability calculator

But that doesn't mean you have to spend a lot. "I had a client once who staged off of Craigslist," Green says. "It took her forever, but she pieced together a fantastic staging concept by buying used furniture."

4. Be resourceful when hunting for furnishings. If you have friends and family with updated or neutral furniture, see if you can borrow a few pieces to stage your home. If you need to stage a room as a bedroom but you don't have a bed, get an inflatable air mattress that rises off the floor to regular bed height. Once you get the linens on, it will look just like a regular bed, and you can use it for guests in your new home.

Here are a few other quick tips from the experts:

5. Show off hardwood floors. "If you have hardwood floors in good shape that are covered by wall-to-wall carpeting, remove the carpet and clean the floor," Banks says. "Hardwood floors are a big selling point these days."

6. Remove heavy window treatments. Banks say buyers are looking for homes with lots of natural light and that lighter, less formal window panels give any room a lighter, airier feel.

7. Freshen the walls. "Paint is always the least expensive way to make a major change to a home," says Jessica Dolan, a home organizer and stager. Green says cleaning the wall may be enough to make it look freshly painted.

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8. Remember the rule of three. Green says the golden rule is three items per surface, whether it's a wall, tabletop or mantel. "Quantity is usually when people get a little too crazy," he says.

The rule of three applies to small rooms, as well, while larger rooms may get six pieces — four chairs, a table and a lamp in a dining room, for example.

9. Do your research. If you're not sure what a staged home should look like, spend a half-day going to open houses to see what works and what doesn't. Take notes.