How To (and Not to) Stage a Condo For Sale

Andrew and I have been looking for a permanent home again. More on that later (but if you are thinking of selling yours and live in the South End, Newton, Arlington or Winchester HIT ME UP).  What I have learned from going to open houses and looking at listings is this- people have really bad taste. I sound like a bitch, I know, but my GOD the things I see shock me!  But nothing really shocks me quite like seeing a $529,000, 925 square foot condo for sale with listing images like this… clearly, it’s being rented by some college kids, but if you are a realtor you clean this crap up! It’s why you get paid your percentage! Can you even believe they had the balls to not only post these but also call this ” a gorgeous unit”?!?!

P.S. For those who don’t live in Boston, yes, this is what half a million buys you.

Things to do to stage your house for photos and open houses:

– CLEAN UP! Get rid of knick knacks, magazines, mail, toys, anything little that clutters tabletops and bookcases.

– Limit the number of family photos displayed.  If you have a gallery wall up, that’s fine, you can leave it be.  But if you have 27 framed pictures on counters and dressers and the like put them away.  It is harder for people to picture themselves in your home if there are images of you everywhere.

-Fresh flowers do wonders for a space. Keep them clean and simple. A bunch of tulips here and there is enough- no overdone centerpieces.

– Burn candles or spray a fragrance- nothing turns me off like a musty smelling room.

– If you have already moved out, make sure everything is spotless, take out all nails/ picture hangers and patch holes and paint.  You want to give off the image of a fresh start, not like you grabbed to stuff and got the hell outta dodge.

If your house has been on the market with no bites for a while consider these ideas which might be a good investment:

– Repaint any rooms that have a polarizing color in them (bright red, blue, pink, black, whatever).  It’s amazing how many people see a room color they don’t like and it makes the whole space seem “not right”. Pick a very neutral color like Benjamin Moore’s Manchester Tan or Edgecomb Grey.

– Throw down some cheap and neutral sisal rugs in place of worn or busy patterned rugs that people may not like. The solid serene color will make the space seem bigger and calmer.

– Neutralize kid spaces for those who may not have kids or have kids of another gender or age.

– Curb appeal is everything- make sure you have mowed the lawn, pruned the hedges, cleaned the gutters, patched any paint and swept stairs/patios/etc.


  1. I am dying laughing. I cannot believe that anyone (official realtor or not) would post these photos with a listing. Who wants to rent that place – much less buy it for $500k – after seeing it in that state!? On the up side, it was a nice nostalgic ride down memory lane back to my days of frat house parties. :)

  2. I always put the “blame” on the homeowners, but you’re right about it being the job of the real estate agent. You’d think they’d want to make their percentage faster by making sure the place was clean. My biggest pet peeve is when they take bathroom pictures with the seat up. Yuck!

  3. You know what probably happened with these photos? The landlord and realtor gained unlawful entry to the unit while the renters were away, and snapped as many photos as they could. Otherwise, I love your tips.

  4. I don’t have a place for sale but I do live in Arlington and I highly recommend it. I love this town! Good luck with the hunt.

  5. Oh, and we’ll be putting our Newton condo on the market in the fall. I’ll keep you posted, if you haven’t found a place by then!

  6. Hi Erin
    What a horror! We’re selling right now and have spent a lot of time to make the place look attractive.
    By the way our two bedroom apartment 5 minutes from Sydney CBD (Australia) is on the market for AU$660,000, and although it is well equipped it’s not brand new by any means (our dollar is worth more than the US$ at $1.03), so our real estate is very expensive – and very hard for young people to get into the market.
    By the way, I enjoy reading your blog.

  7. eeek no kidding. real estate people is an odd career, middleman. i mean no offense, but yea.
    ya same applies for SF, if not way more expensive for your footage. also to rent is circus with all the web 2.0 booming and not bursting anytime soon.
    the rent market for a ‘1 junior bedroom’ (nice words for small ass studio) currently goes between $1900-2400. true story

  8. Are these real photos?

    Wondering if you’ve looked at Cambridge? My $2400 real estate taxes would be $6000 in the South End. Cambridgeport is only two stops to Charles Street and very convenient the Pike to buzz in to the South End, South Boston and the airport.

  9. I’m a realtor and I’m always shocked at the state of places that are for sale. I once had a listing that had tenants. For the photos, I had to clean off their bathroom counters (gross) and hid their condoms (double gross). Seriously. Another time, I was touring a house with clients and the owner had a picture of himself displayed where he was shirtless in an all leather outfit. You can imagine what kind of leather outfit it was…not the kind for public consumption. It’s a funny career.

  10. These photos are unbelievable. I completely agree with you. I real estate stalk all the time (at least a few times a day) and I am always blown away that the majority of people have truly bad taste. In the insular design blog world, with talent and creativity abounding, it is easy to lose sight of the masses. But geez louise – I am reminded daily that people need help with their spaces. If I had a dime for every $500k+ McMansion with a primary purple accent wall and Kirkland furniture, I would be a rich rich lady. Hard to believe that $500K gets you 925 sq ft!!! Always enjoy reading your blog!

    mrs. V

  11. Keep eyes peeled for 24 Evergreen St, JP– we have a great realtor and our pics will be immaculate despite the 5 animals, baby, and au pair that live with us!

  12. The amazing thing is that the market is pretty hot right now, and that pigsty of a condo will sell pretty fast- without any staging at all!!

  13. You have to look at these kind of listings as an opportunity! Most people cannot see beyond the filth (for good reason). Our South End place went to us for way below market because it looked about like these photos (slightly less mess but with furniture actually blocking doors). Best bad-staging story I’ve ever heard is when my husband went to look at a rental (a pricey one at that), and the current tenant had his entire collection of 50+ sex toys out, and an entire closet full of related accoutrement. My husband’s reaction? “Some of those larger ones have to be just for show, right?” Also love this article about the home-selling power of a closet full of Louboutins: A good as an excuse as I can hope for!

  14. I have been looking for a sublet in Boston and it is the same exact issue! Sometimes the rooms look like a bomb went off in the pictures, and sometimes I can smell the place before I actually walk in the door. If people expect to get results, they need to step their game up.

  15. Are those photo’s a joke? Shocking. I felt the same way when looking for my house. Lot’s of bad taste in this world

  16. seriously… this is just too much. if it weren’t already may, i’d think you were playing an april fool’s day prank on all of us loyal followers!!! you know what must’ve made this really bad (beyond the fact that you probably needed to shower 3 or 4 times just to feel clean after leaving the place)? you live in boston and the peeps actually have a yankees sticker on the fridge.

  17. LOL!! Love this post! It is so true, going to some peoples homes makes me gag, and they are trying to sell the place! We were asked one time to “under no circumstances open the fridge” guess their power had been turned off because the place was in forclosure. Needless to say we DIDNT buy the place, but you can imagine how the rest of the house looked….

  18. I met the realtor I ended up using and remaining good friends with at an open house where she pointed out all the changes she asked the clients to make before she would list it. Some painting and rug cleaning as well as new curtains. Sometime she would show me a house and she would be the one removing it from the list before I was. Although the house I finally ended up picking was love at first site and all the dust and cat hair didn’t stop me then. Still clean is always better. It seems like a no brainer even for a non-realtor.

  19. these rooms are hilarious and appalling all at the same time! good tips – will need them soon when we decide to put this condo on the market!

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