Staged homes sell faster and for more money than unstaged or empty homes. However, some homeowners need to list their home empty of people or furnishings. Sometimes these owners inherited the property and live elsewhere, or they had to move quickly for a new job, or just don't have the time or money to stage the house. But there are ways to make staging an empty house practical so that it looks better on the market and commands a higher price.

When you stage a vacant house, you have special challenges not faced by someone living in her home for sale.

Let's examine those challenges and how to address them.

Area rugs, wall art, plants and some decor accessories help,
but can do only so much to make an empty room look
like it is staged for sale. Photo: Design Recipes via TNS

When you lack furniture

This is probably the major hurdle. To remedy it, I know that some recommendations call for simple or soft staging -- that is, just putting down some larger area rugs and some limited groupings of small furniture. But I think this is counter-productive. It looks scant and cheap, hardly the lived-in, luxurious, comfortable appearance a home on the market needs.

Usually, the problem with furnishing a vacant house is the cost. One option is to stage at least the major rooms -- the largest bedroom and the living room. Kitchens and baths are easy because they usually don't call for actual furniture, just some props like towels, plants, and a few pretty decor items.

It's better to have a few pieces of important pieces of
furniture --like this table, chairs and 
etagere -- than a scattering of insignificant, smaller
pieces. Photo: Bria Hammel Interiors

Staging an empty living room will be the biggest, most expensive dilemma. A few scattered chairs and some end tables don't cut it. An upholstered couch and at least two chairs, a rug, and a coffee table are minimal requirements.

To keep an unoccupied home looking like it has enough furnishings to be convincing, each room needs certain basics. 

For example, a bedroom needs a bed that looks inviting, with a comforter and coordinated pillows. If there is enough room, there should be a side table or two, each with a lamp or plant or some books, plus a chair or bench. If the room is large, a dresser and mirror can be part of the staging. 

And a dining area needs a table and the appropriate number of chairs. If the table will comfortably seat six, it's best to stage it with six chairs. A centerpiece or table settings, some art or a mirror, and large plants will soften the room's look. If there is space, a buffet, armoire, sideboard, console table, or shelving unit is a smart addition to the mix. An impressive chandelier can make a powerful statement in a sparsely furnished dining room.   

An empty room is a prime target for a staged
home office. Photo: Elliot/Meyers Design
Renting furniture, as easy as it is, can be stressful because you'll never know how long you'll be paying a monthly fee. One thing is statistically true, though: Staged homes sell faster. So, you could come out ahead financially by saving costs of utilities, taxes, mortgage, and other upkeep costs when your home sells months sooner. 

Often a homeowner who is moving can leave enough furnishings temporarily behind to make the home look staged and welcoming. I've done this myself with local moves. But if the move is a long-distance one you'll have to schedule two different moving days, complicating logistics and costing more money. 

Matched pairs of chairs,  pillows, end tables, and lamps create 
 the impression of good design and value. Photo: Erin Comerford

A well-dressed bed carries the room, but a bedroom still
needs some signs of practical comfort
and decor, like a bench or chair, some art, and
a nightstand or two. Life on  Virginia Street

Another option is borrowing furniture from an understanding friend or relative. This approach might be combined with purchasing a few new pieces that you'll be using in your new home. Remember that the new furniture doesn't have to be "new," but can be second-hand finds good enough as is, or else spruced up with paint or slipcovers or simple repairs. Or you may choose to buy some inexpensive knockoffs that you can donate locally after the house sells.

Maintenance Issues

A vacant home still has to be maintained. Buyers will consciously or subconsciously be comparing your home to others they've visited. Don't be the property that looks abandoned. When buyers suspect that you don't take care of the home or were in a rush to leave, they are more likely to present low ball offers.

That thought alone should help you justify the cost or the trouble of doing routine cleaning. Remember that an empty house doesn't stay clean. People can track in dirt, leave cabinet doors open, sit on beds, use the towels, or leave the toilet seat up. Cobwebs form. Dust settles. Indoor air can smell stale, even when the home is being heated or cooled.  

Curb appeal counts more than ever before. A home needs to look occupied from the street. It needs to resemble the online photo, where people get their first impression of your home. And buyers need to be impressed as soon as they arrive at your property. An unkempt yard, a littered driveway, unswept front steps do not impress. It's going to be cost-effective in the long run to pay someone to check on the property's exterior.

Safety Issues

But perhaps the most important reason a home has to be maintained is that thieves target empty properties. They could be looking for cash, drugs, artwork, televisions, computers, copper pipes, small articles left behind, or even a place to sleep. Stickers or signs that announce a security system is in place will help.

Automated timers help a vacant house look occupied. Some lights should come on and off some at predictable times, and other lights at random hours, as though someone were actually living there. I also like programming a radio or sound system of some kind to come on for a few hours in the middle of the night, preferably with a talk show. A motion-activated exterior light is also a warning to troublemakers. 

But that's all pretty much old school now that there is a good selection of smart devices available to protect you from not only intruders, but fire, water, and gas leaks. Since you don't know how long your home will be on the market, it's handy that some of these security systems and cameras are available with no monthly fee or long-term commitment, and can be operated remotely. 

Interior lights go a long way to making a home appear
occupied, especially if they turn on and
off at various times. Photo: Mattamy Homes

Of course you will forward mail, or have a neighbor pick it up daily. Mail getting forwarded through the Postal Service isn't foolproof. Hand-delivered circulars and other advertising material don't get forwarded, and magazines get forwarded for just 2 months.

Many communities have programs that enlist local law enforcement to check on vacant properties. If this is the case where you live, notify police so they can do routine drive-bys. It's also smart to let a few neighbors know the house is vacant and to give them your contact information.

Even if your home gets a purchase offer the first days it's listed (it happens all the time to staged homes!) there is always a gap between that time and the actual closing date because of negotiations, inspections, appraisals, title search, and financing. It's not a good idea to de-stage until just before the actual closing.

An exterior that is well-maintained shows well
to buyers and lets trouble makers know that
the home is either lived in or visited frequently.

Get the look, get the book

I hope you found this advice helpful if you are selling a home that is empty. 

Maybe you bought the property to fix and flip, In that case, factoring in the cost of staging should be part of your business plan.

Whatever your situation, I encourage you to take steps to be competitive in your local real estate market and get the best price you can for the property. Being competitive means home staging! 

If staging is just impossible, and you must list a vacant property, make sure it's as clean as possible and that all major systems are functioning as they should. 

You can get helpful advice about low-stress staging on a shoestring from my home staging eBooks. Download today and see how you can make DIY home staging profitable.