Staging Tips for Different Types of Homes

Toronto Life

Are you looking to sell your house or condo? If so, you've likely been pondering how to make the space look its best so you can get the price you feel it's worth. That's where staging comes in. "The reason to stage is to present your property under the best possible circumstances so that it sells in [the] shortest possible time and at the highest possible price," says Joan Stirling, Creative Director at Stirling Home Studio. "There is overwhelming evidence out there that staged properties will outperform unstaged properties every time at substantial multiples over the staging investment," states Stirling.

The Lotus 309 Kitchen
The Lotus 309 staged for Jamie Sarner by Joan and Brian Stirling

But it isn't only the seller who can benefit from the staging process. "I see staging as a process that really benefits three different groups of people," explains Luanne Kanerva, the Principal Designer and Owner of Katu Design. "[It benefits] the real estate agent, because it makes the home easier to show; it benefits the seller by helping them to sell faster and potentially for a better price; but it also benefits buyers [...] because it helps to highlight potentials of the home and bring out possibilities that they may not otherwise have seen. So they may consider a house that they may otherwise have passed on."

Katu Design Sudbury St
Staged by Katu Design

So, where do you start when it comes to staging? Whether you're selling a 5-bedroom house or a bachelor condo, there are some truths about staging that still apply regardless of the space you're working with. We'll begin by taking a look at some general staging techniques and then we'll get into the specifics of staging different types of homes such as houses and condos.

Keep it light

Both Stirling and Kanerva agree perhaps the most important things when it comes to staging and selling a home is the lighting. "Light and bright always sells first," advises Stirling. "Lighting, colour and texture are critical in creating the mood and ambiance that will resonate with today's buyer." "In particular, if you're working with a condo or an older home there is likely not going to be any overhead lighting and that means bringing lights in," adds Kanerva. In order for potential buyers to truly appreciate all the great qualities of your home they'll need to be able to actually see them—so light the place up!

The Lotus 309 Living Area
The Lotus 309 staged by Joan and Brian Stirling.
Notice that despite of daylight presence, the lights are turned on

Get a fresh look

The nice thing about working with a stager and/or a real estate agent is a fresh set of eyes. That's why when Kanerva enters a home for the first time she puts herself in the shoes of the buyer: "what's the first thing they're going to see? What are their impressions?" she asks. Is the place dark? Do the rooms seem small? Is it set up in an awkward or not ideally designed way? As someone who hasn't lived there for five to 10 years as the homeowners may have, Kanerva is able to ask these questions and then to ultimately answer the most important question: "what can [we] do to make this house appeal to the broadest range of buyers?" If you've lived in your home for a long period of time it may be hard to step back and see it from a buyer's perspective, so getting a fresh set of eyes in to take a look can be a big help.

Katu Design Pricefiled Rd
The girls' room at Pricefiled Rd. staged by Katu design.
This kid's room is full of toys, yet tidy and with a fresh look

Go natural

One of Kanerva's biggest rules when it comes to staging is to "make it natural. Make it look like somebody could live here." For example, some furniture and generic vases may make a space look visually nice, but will it allow the buyer to see a life in the space? Perhaps not. That's why Kanerva makes sure to add special touches like towels and soap in the washroom. Ensuring the home is clean and tidy and then adding little additions like these will help buyers to imagine their lives in this space in a positive way. "Staging is meant to make the home looks its best, while looking very natural," explains Kanerva. 

Katu Design Woodlawn Ave EStaged by Katu Design. Kanerva never forgets to add items such as towels or a soap to the bathroom to make it look inhabited

Make it flow

What goes into staging a home can vary greatly depending on whether the home is vacant or currently being lived in. If the home you're looking to sell is currently empty, a stager can come in with all the necessary furniture and decor and get to work. But if that isn't the case and some furniture needs to remain in the space, this can pose some unique but manageable obstacles. Although blending your own pieces with staging pieces can be tricky, Kanerva assures that anything can be accommodated. The goal in this case is to bring in pieces that will bring the level of the space up while also keeping it natural and ensuring everything flows together, she explains.

The Lotus 309 Living Area 2
The Lotus 309 staged by Joan and Brian Stirling. 
Don't go crazy with the colors - in this case less is more. Look how the bright red highlights the black and white-tuned space.

Highlight what you have

Every home will have its assets and its weaknesses. Although you can't make those less than ideal qualities disappear, you can pull the focus onto the great qualities of the home. For example, if there isn't a main floor bathroom, which is important to many buyers, Kanerva would make the upstairs bathroom look extra appealing and/or ensure the basement bathroom and access to it looks as nice as possible. So be sure to play up and draw attention to the things you love about your home so others can notice and love those assets as well.

Katu Design Collections of pictures
Staged by Katu Design.
Pick an empty wall and arrange a collection of pictures to one large cluster.

Condos and lofts

Stirling and her team do a lot of work with condos and lofts which she admits do have their own unique challenges and opportunities. "The biggest challenge we normally face is clearly defining the living areas," she explains. "The majority of the condos and lofts we have been involved with have open concept living spaces. When we stage a property that has a challenging floor plan our first priority is to clearly define these living spaces." Stirling finds that today's buyer has three basic requirements:

  1. They need a place to eat.
  2. They need a place to sleep.
  3. They need a place to relax and entertain themselves and perhaps do some work related tasks when they decide to stay at home.

"From 400-square-foot studios to 2,000-square-foot penthouses [...] the basics never change," asserts Stirling. "Our staged properties sell quickly because we do an outstanding job in clearly defining these three priorities," she adds.

The Lotus 309 Living Area 7
Sleeping area in a condo/bachelor flat staged by Joan and Brian Stirling.

"The primary motivation to purchase a condo or loft, after affordability, is lifestyle," explains Stirling. "When we stage a property we are all about clearly defining the lifestyle opportunities any given property has to offer." And this can be done by "[creating] as many lifestyle vignettes as possible to show prospective buyers just how exactly they can live in the space." Then it's just about "carefully selecting scale and colour appropriate furnishings," says Stirling.


"Condos have more challenges than houses," admits Kanerva. But houses do pose a couple of unique challenges: "houses have yards and curb appeal," explains Kanerva. And that means that "the front of the house is very, very important." So ask yourself, "what does it look like from the street and is a buyer going to drive by?"

Katu Design Invermay Ave
Invermay Ave. staged by Katu Design
The house front is important. The garage door is solid color and the lawn is mown.

A good example, Kanerva explains, is when it comes to the garage. If it's poorly painted, the same colour as the front door or more noticeable than the front door, then that's where the buyer's eye is going to go—and it likely isn't where you want it to. "The front door is where you want to attract attention," explains Kanerva. "You want your front door to be a good solid, strong colour. A different colour than anything else so that's what is attracting people's attention." And don't forget what they'll see as they get to that focal point. Make sure "the walk to the front of the house is clear; you can see how to get to the front door; you can see it's all nicely landscaped or very clean, the porch is painted, there's nice flowers, a welcome mat, [etc.]," adds Kanerva.

Katu Design Alcorn Ave backyard
Alcorn Ave. staged by Katu Design.
Don't forget to take care of the backyard, too.

Ultimately, explains Kanerva, the inside of your home could be absolutely stunning but if the front looks worn down and uninviting, buyers are going to drive by. "In a house you have to start at the curb," she advises.

Ready. Set. Stage.

It may seem like a lot of work and money to redecorate or redesign a home you have enjoyed living in as is in order to sell to someone else. But ultimately, Stirling advises, even though unstaged listings do sell in Toronto's hot market, "if you do not stage you are leaving significant money on the table." It seems pretty undeniable that staging your home can be a big benefit when you're looking to sell. So even though it may seem like a lot of work, ensuring your property looks its best when it goes on the market can make a big difference.

Katu Design Roblin Ave
Home at Roblin Ave. staged by Katu Design.


2 thoughts on “Staging Tips for Different Types of Homes

August 4, 2015 at 7:12 am
Elissa Martino says:

Great article! So interesting and I am not even a realtor ~ just watching tv shows about real estates but I had no idea there are certain rules. Thanks Jamie!

January 3, 2017 at 10:37 am

I would definitely have any property I wanted to sell staged. I’m sure it makes a tremendous difference.

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