In my parents’ house, the living room was just for show. White carpet, plush sofa, overstuffed pillows fluffed and karate-chopped to reveal the perfect indentation. It was beautiful—and it was off-limits. That was, however, a different era. These days, home buyers are looking for a living room where they can relax and entertain, not a showroom. At an open house, you want yours to exude comfort. Here’s everything you need to make strangers feel comfy in it—comfy enough to want to buy your home:
Rearrange the furniture. If you have to squeeze past your sofa to get to the kitchen, either you have too much furniture or your furniture is too big for the room. It’s time get rid of it! (Some of it, anyway.) Pick the clunkiest and least attractive pieces and either donate them or throw them away. (How do you know whether a sofa is salvageable?This will tell you.) If you can’t bear to part with, say, that cracked-leather club chair, move large pieces into storage. Remember, you’re moving anyway. The sole purpose of your house at this point is to attract a buyer.
Cover stains. If your sofa and chairs are stained and there’s no time to rent a steamer, try a slipcover. Stick with a crisp, natural linen color scheme for a pristine look.
Use secret storage. Find an ottoman, decorative boxes, a coffee table that does double duty as storage. Sure, you’re thinking I’m asking you to buy a lot of furniture while also advocating that you eliminate your own, but the goal is to stage your home for sale. Besides, this will be useful if you have a last-minute showing and need to clear the deck in a hurry.
Buy glass-top tables. Make rooms feel lighter and brighter by replacing those wooden side tables with a couple of glass-top tables. Glass allows the eye to see past hard surfaces, and the more floor space you can see, the bigger the room will appear. Sound too ambitious? Again, sometimes you have to spend money to make money.
Declutter! Surfaces free of junk convey a sense of space, so remove those magazines, remote controls, and other detritus. A decorative vase is all that’s necessary on a tabletop.
Three-color limit. Ideally, your furniture is all neutral hues, with throws and pillows to add pops of color. If you can match your pillows, your art, and any vases, all the better. If you can’t, eliminate as many items as possible in the room to make it look bigger. Less is best so buyers can picture their own furniture in the room, rather than be distracted by your beer bottle collection.
Paint. Dark walls make rooms look and feel smaller. Try painting walls a neutral cream color to open up the space and make the room feel more spacious than it is.
Light strategically. Amplify the best features of the room and downplay the negatives. If your living room has architectural alcoves, built-ins, or large walls for art, place a light fixture there to draw the eye. You can buy inexpensive ones at Ikea that don’t have to be permanent fixtures. Use low-voltage table lamps to define a separate seating area, if you have the space. Also, if you’ve invested in dimmers, show your agent how to use them (they can be complicated!), then ask the agent to show off different settings as the buyers tour the house.
Replace dated light fixtures. Unless your home features period fixtures of a definitive architecture style (think Frank Lloyd Wright), you might consider replacing them. Big-box retailers sell lighting multipacks to replace overhead chandeliers, pendants, sconces, lamps—all in one fell swoop. You may be thinking this is going too far for an open house, but it’s a worthy investment (and tax-deductible).
Open the blinds. Did we mention light is essential? If your view is less than stellar, install sheer panels to hide it and maintain privacy, while still allowing light in. If you’ve got a view, flaunt it.
Discover the power of mirrors. Place mirrors opposite windows to draw in more natural light, and behind table or floor lamps so light bounces and fills the room.
Add plants. Indoor plants oxygenate the air, but certain types such as aloe and peace lilies also rid your home of toxins. Place a few on stands in the corners of your living room.
Remove personal photos. Do we really need to tell you this?
Remove wallpaper. Yes, it takes a lot of time—and that’s precisely why you should do it. Buyers don’t want to bother doing it, either.
Light a fire/cool it off. If it’s winter or fall, light the fireplace. In the summer, stage it with birch logs and some unlit candles, but turn on the air conditioning. You want to provide a cozy environment that is seasonally appropriate.
Electronics. Make sure all TVs and stereos are turned off. There is no need for ambient sound—or the Sunday game.
Vacuum/sweep/dust. Yes, you know it should be clean, but how clean? The carpet should show fresh vacuum lines, wood flooring should shine, and all surfaces should be free of dust.