Home stagers' top tricks and tips

Ilyce R. Glink
·Yahoo! Homes Contributor

We’ve all seen those beautiful pictures of homes for sale: The living room is clean and bright, the bedrooms are soft and serene and the kitchen is warm and inviting. It looks like the kind of place you’d want to settle in for a cozy night.

Well, no wonder. Many of these homes have been carefully "staged" to wow potential buyers and make them see the home’s space, functionality and beauty.

But these makeovers aren’t just utilized by those looking to sell. Home staging can be the perfect way open up some space in your house, clean up your stuff and create a cohesive look. As a bonus, most home stagers can turn a room around in a short time with little money.

Take some tips from the professional home stagers and make over your home.

Declutter your home

The fastest and easiest way to make your home look instantly more appealing to you, your guests or potential buyers is to remove the clutter that naturally accumulates, particularly along any horizontal surface.

“Decluttering is the no-brainer,” said Lyric Turner, owner of Red House Staging in the Washington, D.C., area. “We all live with probably way too much stuff -- more stuff than we need -- and we don’t keep it organized.”

Be prepared to part with some stuff or find new places for it, and get friendly with the idea of storage for seasonal items, such as bins dedicated to the purpose.

“Take all the accessories, artwork, lamps, knickknacks, vases, pottery -- take those and put them on a grouping in the middle of the room in one of two piles -- keep or give up,” said Barbara Schwarz, a professional stager and instructor for more than 40 years.

Keep only what you really love and can visualize having a permanent place in that room or in another room. If there’s no place for it, ditch it.

Get rid of some books if you’ve got overstuffed bookshelves. If you’ve got a massive collection of photo frames or figurines, Schwarz even recommends putting some away at a time and rotating them seasonally.

Balance colors

Everyone selling a home knows a neutral wall is a good wall, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice color. Neutral no longer means just white or beige.

Instead opt for movable colors, which are colors incorporated through your accessories like lampshades, couch pillows or rugs, Schwarz said. You can make a high-impact statement with just one loud pop of color in a toned-down room.

Repurpose what you already own

Maybe you’ve had a living room chair in the same spot since you moved into your home 10 years ago, but it could look even better in your home office. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You will make your living room look a little bigger and your office look a little friendlier.

Create cohesion

Keep one common element in each room so it feels cohesive. The theme doesn’t have to be easily identifiable; it could be a color, a type of wood tone or an era.

“It should feel very intentional and very considered,” Turner said. “We don’t want matchy-matchy, because there’s no personality in that and that ultimately won’t be as fulfilling to you as combining different pieces that work together really well.”

Pick a focal point

You want to create cohesion in the room, so stagers recommend picking a focal point. Design around a fireplace, seating area or a view if you have one, Schwarz says.

She recommends finding the focal point by standing in the doorway of a room and looking at it to start developing a plan. Take pictures from all over the room – the door and one in each corner – to see the room from all angles.

Make it disappear

Living in a house that you’re trying to sell is exhausting: Everything has to look perfect all the time. The problem is, no one really lives like that.

“The thing is we’re human, we get messy and get busy,” Turner said. “A big thing is having the ability to quickly get stuff out of sight.”

Baskets that can be tucked away are good for the things that you normally leave out. Have a spot designated for appliances or gadgets you often use but don’t want to see all the time.

Ilyce Glink is an award-winning, nationally syndicated real estate columnist, blogger and radio talk show host. She is also the managing editor of the Equifax Finance Blog. Follow her on Twitter @Glink.