Top 10 Stupid Staging Ideas

By Justin Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency

Not all home staging is created equally. Staging Darwinism is real and only the smart survive. Below we countdown the top 10 “stoopidest” home staging ideas.

#10. “Bake cookies right before your open house.”

Our sense of smell is very closely related to our sense of memory. True enough, for some people, the smell of freshly baked cookies may bring back fantastic memories of days past when their loving mother baked cookies every Saturday afternoon. However, I use to work at Mrs. Fields, and my boss was a real jerk. Whenever I smell freshly baked cookies … I get slightly nauseous and a bit angry. Your house should smell like nothing when it is being shown. Scented homes lead to one of two reactions:

  1. Buyers who are chemically sensitive get headaches, irritated eyes, or nausea and want to leave immediately.
  2. Buyers wonder what you are trying to cover up and immediately become suspicious that you are a shyster.

#9. “My house won’t sell unless it has plants in it.”

Live plants or flowers in a vacant house tend to become dead plants very fast. Unless you are dedicated to checking on these plants regularly, you need to skip them, because nothing stops a house from going pending like dead plants. Fake plants are just that, fake. When it comes down to it, staging is creepy. You are in a house that appears to be occupied and yet, it is not. Every time you add something fake, it is one more reminder that this is not real and thus adds to the creepy factor.

#8. “If they can’t see past that ‘__________’ then they don’t deserve to buy my house.”

The truth is, if they can see past “____________” then you did a poor job preparing your house for the market. If you find yourself saying this, think again.

#7. “I can just lightly stage this room and it will work.”

Light staging or, as I call it, “the placing of random objects in a room,” like a chair and a rug in a bedroom, does not help sell houses. It will actually slow the process down. Staging is only meant to do three things:

  1. Show the room’s purpose
  2. Show the room’s scale
  3. Add light to the room

Random objects in a room serve only to draw attention away from the house. Light staging is like hiring a clown to dance in front of a rack of dresses to help sell the dresses. Your buyers end up paying more attention to the clown than they do the dresses. Either stage the room completely, or don’t stage it at all.

#6. “I am paying for the staging, you should only stage with things I like.”

You are correct in that you are paying for the staging, but you are incorrect in that you think you are the customer. Really when it comes down to it you are now a retailer, trying to sell a product. You have hired a stager just as a department store would hire a visual merchandizer to display their items to sell to a customer. Your stager is concerned about what the potential buyer will like. You should be too.

#5. “The style of the staging should match the style of the house.”

Nobody has an entire household full of mid-century modern furniture. When staging a home we want the house to look obtainable. We want our clients to say, “Hey, I could do that!” By staging with an eclectic mix of furniture that does not necessarily “go” with the house, we prove to people that their mis-matched, rag-tag lot of furniture could look good in the house as well.

#4. “We should make everybody take off their shoes before they enter.”

Why in the world would you ask people to be uncomfortable in their new home, the first time they see it in order to protect floors that will no longer belong to you in a matter of weeks? Regardless of how or if you ask, thoughtful people with dirty shoes will remove then before coming through; thoughtless people will leave them on.

#3. “We should pull out the staging as soon as the house goes pending.”

Uh-oh! You pulled out your staging before the inspection period ended in order to save a few bucks on rental furniture. Now your sale has failed because the buyer didn’t like the condition of the water heater. I see that frowny face. Next time leave it in through the inspection period, better yet, through the financing contingency.

#2. “Staging can fix anything.”

I so wish this was true, but often, it is not. Sometimes things are so bad. They need to be fixed prior to, or in lieu of, staging. If your entire house is painted in rainbow tie-dye, no amount of staging can help you.

And the #1 “stoopidest” idea … “Staging is easy.”

It is amazing how many sellers I meet on a daily basis. Nearly every single day somebody calls me to explain to me why they don’t need staging services. They say they know exactly what their house needs in order to sell, and how they have a lot of experience doing what I do and they could just do it themselves. I always wonder to myself, “Then why are you calling me?” The truth of the matter is, home staging is not as easy as it looks.

I often compare it to women’s gymnastics. You know you are doing it right when it looks effortless. If you get a chance Google “Nadia Comaneci, perfect score” and watch the video. I don’t think she even broke a sweat. Good home staging looks like that.

What it all comes down to is that “staging is easy” is the No. 1 biggest myth we would love to perpetuate.

In the end, “stoopid” staging does nothing to help you and could actually hurt your sale. You need a competent staging professional if you want top dollar for your house.

headshot_JustinRiordanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin Riordan, LEED AP, is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency based in Portland, Ore. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for 12 years, bringing an esteemed skillset and diverse background to home staging. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared more than 2,100 homes for market.



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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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  1. Justin, Thank you for posting this. I have always frowned upon the cookie idea. True, we need to engage the senses but everyday pleasant aromas will do fine. what if some is watching their weight and cookies are a trigger??? If people simply focus on highlighting the homes purpose and features without smoke and mirrors, they will have more success.

  2. Justin, I’ve written many articles on stupid staging tricks over the years and I really appreciated your humorous take on this topic. Totally agree with your points and I’ll be sharing this article with my community of home stagers.

  3. Great Article! I’m glad someone had the courage to say it all.

    As a Design Consultant and Staging Specialist, I employ the Art of Diplomacy (per Dr. Ivan Misner, defined as; “Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way. You need to note that this saying is about collaboration, not manipulation”).

  4. Great article.

    One of my “favorite” misconceptions about merchandising a property for sale is…

    “My custom made, taste specific drapes will help sell the property because they were so expensive!”

  5. Good article. Forget the smells TOTALLY! Forget the drapes they hold dust, mold and other items. Keep the place open and bright! Clean and clean. Get rid of all the junk and little statues. Get rid of personal pictures. In other words MINIMALIST is the way to go. Not bare. But open and clean. As a buyer do YOU wish to walk into a heavily burdened home?

  6. I agree that cooking cookies doesn’t work, but I also think that if the seller has been a smoker that smell has to be removed by any means possible. I liked almost all of your ideas about staging. . I have been real estate for 48 years. Staging was always something I encourage home sellers to do!
    I found many of the tips you offered as new to me.

  7. Staging is another highly misunderstood tool that most sellers do not use properly but a good stager can be a seller and a Realtor’s best friend.

  8. Excellent article and way to tell it like it is! I just wish you had added cardboard furniture masquerading as real furniture to your list of stupid staging ideas. Great job!

  9. Couldn’t agree with this article more. As the owner of a company that rents staging furniture and accessories we see a lot of homeowners who try to stage themselves. Hire an experienced stager who is educated in the principles of staging for a polished and complete look every time.

  10. Susan Crema-Martin

    Great article, so many points for people to understand about our “job”.
    I would love to add virtual staging to the list as well.

  11. Thank you for sharing. Many sellers will see the stagers’ point of view.