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7 Easy expert design hacks to get your house buyer-ready

That first moment when you decide to officially put your house on the market is thrilling: We’re finally doing it! We’re going to take the leap and move into a new home! But as soon as you contact a realtor, you’re quickly brought back down to earth: Getting your house ready to show seems like more work than you ever imagined.

This was the emotional roller coaster I went through when my husband and I decided to sell our first house to move into a larger family home three years ago. We were ready to ditch the crumbling condo in the city’s medical center (that the realtor, of course, called “charming”) and get into a cute suburban house with a big backyard so our first son could finally have his own room.

If only it were that easy.

Our chipper realtor came over to “check out our place,” which is realtor-speak for “turn your world upside down by presenting you with a long list of upgrades and design changes you need to make before you even think about putting this dump on the market.” I’m sure she meant well since she was only doing her job — but the task of completely overworking our humble home just to make it show-ready was overwhelming.

More: Worst home renovations when selling your home

It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. And that somebody is probably going to be you or your significant other if you realistically want to put your house on the market with any chance of selling. I have some not-so-good news, followed by some good news, but I’ll start with the bad news first: In many cities, houses are in demand, making it look like a seller’s market. But not so fast. Diana Olick of CNBC Business News warns that homebuyers are still finicky, and housing sales aren’t necessarily booming. Sixty percent of homes in the U.S. are selling below value and only roughly 14 percent are selling at market value, based on RealtyTrac estimates.

Here’s what this means in layman’s terms: The odds of selling a house in the U.S. are good, and thank God for that, but there’s still plenty of fierce competition. If you want any hope of selling quickly without dropping your listing price below market value, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Use these professional interior design tips to get your home show-ready, and you just might start a bidding war:

1. Add mirrors


Image: Kelley Proximire

Sometimes, staging a home for a showing requires a total remodel, and other times, it’s all about the trick of the eye. David Brian Sanders, the interior designer behind the new furniture and accessories line David Brian Sanders The Collection, says that adding more mirrors to a home is one of the quickest ways to make it appear more open and inviting. “If you don’t have mirrors, then you should always add at least one or two as they will make the space appear larger and open it up,” he explains. Kelley Proximire of Kelley Interior Design qualifies, “Pay attention to what image will appear in the mirror, i.e., preferably not across from a television set.”

2. Clean up clutter

Don’t make the big mistake of being a lazy seller — the real estate equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot. Neglecting to tidy up that residual clutter on your countertops could penalize you with a few extra months on the market. If you’re pressed for time and don’t have it in you to do a complete Hoarders home makeover, Amy Bell, professional interior decorator and owner of Red Chair Home Interiors, recommends one stealthy decluttering tip: “Remove all of the papers and fridge magnets from your refrigerator. You will be surprised at how this simple change can help declutter your kitchen!”

3. Clean up the yard

While technically an exterior design hack, interior designers insist that the quality of your home’s exterior can make or break how a prospective buyer views the interior of your home. Bottom line: Your front yard makes a lasting first impression the moment a buyer pulls into your driveway. Realtors call it “curb appeal” for a reason. While you may not need a total landscape overhaul, you can’t neglect your front yard if you want to sell your house, says Sanders. At the very least, he recommends, “Make sure the yard is shaped and trimmed, the gutters are cleaned and you don’t have weeds growing in between the cracks in your driveway!”

More: How to deal with pesky neighbors that are hurting your home sale

4. Light it up

Not every staging tip is labor intensive. Many times, all it takes is the right trick of the trade to make a space look warmer and more inviting. According to Bell, it can be as easy as the flick of a switch. “Open all of the blinds, and turn on all of the lights and lamps. This is a ‘no-brainer,’ but light can often be the difference between a house that feels cheerful and a house that feels cold and uninviting,” says Bell.

5. Minimize furniture


Image: Kelley Proximire

The best way to sabotage a showing is to present potential buyers with crowded rooms packed full of furniture. Not only do overloaded rooms make it difficult to move through a home, but too much furniture actually makes rooms appear smaller. Sell, give away or place any unneeded furniture in storage and take Proximire’s advice, “Make sure the scale of the furnishings corresponds with the size of the room. The idea is to make rooms look as big as possible.” Bell continues, “Remove table leaves and extra chairs from your dining room. Unless your dining room is exceptionally large and cavernous, remove extra chairs and make the table shorter to help the room appear more spacious.”

6. Paint a room

Buyers can tell if the walls of your home have seen better days as soon as they walk in the door. Compared to a home with a fresh coat of paint, an unpainted house is likely to slide down a few notches on a buyer’s list — since it means more work when they move in. Sanders advises, “When in doubt about trying to paint a room, and you just can’t pick the right color, go with Benjamin Moore Decorators White. This is the classic and safe way to brighten up any room, and this allows the new owner to paint whatever color palette they would like in their new environment.”

More: Jonathan Scott: Updates to make when your house is for sale

7. Put on the finishing touches

This last step is so subtle that it’s easy to overlook, but if you want your home to sell fast, burn this into your brain forever. To make your home stand out above other similar models on the block, it comes down to the extra work you put into the staging process. Bell says, “Even something as simple as clippings from your own backyard bushes, artfully arranged in vases, can help complete the room.” Proximire recommends concentrating on staging main spaces that prospective buyers are most likely to see, like living, dining and family rooms, as well as the master bedroom and bath. And whatever you do, she says, don’t forget: “New towels in the baths are a must.”

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