When you’re looking for a new home, there are a lot of factors to consider other than just appearance. However, sellers (and realtors) know that the home buying process also depends on emotional decisions, and the way a home looks can have a huge impact on whether or not potential homebuyers can visualize themselves in it. That’s why smart sellers make sure their homes are perfectly arranged.
Good staging brings out the home’s best features—but it can also mask potential problems. This does not necessarily mean that sellers are cheating. They are just trying to make sure that you don’t focus on any flaws at home. These flaws can be pretty minor and may not be a deal breaker, but it’s good to know exactly what you’re getting into before signing on the dotted line. Here are some common at-home staging tricks that you should be aware of.
Realistically, most homes will have curtains. But you may need to peek behind them. “One of the things I see home sellers doing is hanging curtains in a way that tries to hide wall issues behind them,” says Jason Gelius, a realtor at Community Choice Realty in Detroit, Michigan. Hanging to the right, Gelius says he directs his eyes to that area and what those curtains might hide.
You may be wondering what could be hiding behind a curtain. “For example, if the curtain rod is just below the ceiling, it might be a staging trick designed to make the windows appear larger or make the walls appear taller,” says Candice Williams, a realtor at Caldwell Banker in Houston, TX. Pull on those curtains to see the size of the window and if there’s anything hiding behind the curtain, like a broken window, wall damage, or a bad paint job.
A rug can break up a large room and add warmth to a space. But it can also perform another function when the house is on the market. “Perhaps the most obvious and common staging ‘trick’ is getting a rug to cover stained or damaged floors,” says Bill Golden, real estate broker, and co-broker at Keeler Williams Realty Intown Atlanta. He says that doesn’t necessarily mean sellers are intentionally trying to cover something up — but he recommends looking under carpets in the area to be on the safe side.
Williams agrees that you should lift the rug, especially if it’s in an unexpected or random place on the floor. “I’ve seen rugs used to cover missing floors like tile, patchwork floors, or even a hole in the floor,” she says.
Furniture size and placement
You don’t usually buy furniture at home, but it’s still worth paying attention to. In particular, you look at the location and size of the furniture in each room. For example, notice oddly placed furniture. “I was showing a house where they moved two sofa chairs in an inconsequential place, and it turns out they were covering a tear in the rug underneath,” says Gilius.
Additionally, Golden says it’s common to use undersized furniture in a very small room, which makes the room appear larger. Marie Bromberg, a licensed real estate salesperson with Compass in New York City, tells us, “Recently, I organized one of my menus, and the furniture placement was bananas, but it actually hid that the living room was small on the small side, which is the only feature home sellers complained about. “. As a result of the placement, no visitors noticed or indicated that the living room was small.
Here is another example of the importance of choosing the size and placement of furniture. “A bedroom furnished with only a bed — a wall-to-wall bed — may seem comfortable, but you should check to make sure that the closet doors can be opened without knocking on the bed, and that there is enough space for storage,” advises broker Gerard C. Splendor of Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York.
Note the extra bedrooms that are organized as home offices, too. While this may show you a comfortable WFH setup, it may distract you from noticing if the space is large enough to fit a double bed or a bed if you’re hoping to use it as another bedroom or nursery.
That’s why Williams recommends paying close attention to furniture size and asking yourself important questions. In the living room, is that a love chair or a sofa? In the bedroom, is this a queen-size bed or a king-size bed? Will the dining area only accommodate two to four people, or will it accommodate six or more people? She also recommends taking measurements to get a true picture of the space.
Mirrors and lighting fixtures
Even seemingly simple decor items can distract from the big picture. “Mirrors are another tool used to trick the mind and make a room appear larger than it is,” says Williams. This is a relatively harmless starting trick, but you really have to pay attention to the size of the rooms. “Be aware of the exact placement of mirrors that can visually expand a space, but will darken and shrink a room when they’re not around,” says Splendor.
He also recommends checking for “excess lighting,”, especially during the day, and says this could be a hint that the room or rooms are not receiving enough sunlight. In fact, broker Confidence Stimpson of Coldwell Banker Warburg in New York City recommends turning off all lights so you can see how much natural light is in the home.
Tate Kelly, an associate real estate broker licensed with Compass in New York City, tells us some other tricks to learn. “The fixtures can hide very low ceilings by using less furniture than usual to make ceilings appear higher than they actually are,” he says. “They will also use ceiling light fixtures that are flush with the ceiling and don’t hang down, which can make the ceiling height appear higher than it really is.”
Artwork and wall décor
However, Kelly also advises checking out a few staging tricks that may lead to more unpleasant surprises. “Examples include artwork or some hanging decoration that covers up water damage to the walls,” he says. “Also look for plant pots, vases, decorative dishes, etc., that cover damage to stone worktops in the kitchen.”
It’s obviously important for the house to smell nice when it’s on the market, and Williams says it’s not uncommon to have air fresheners in the bathrooms or at the entrance to the house. “But when I smell it all over the house, it’s usually because the seller is trying to mask the smells in vain,” she says. Some of these foul odors can include pet odors, cigarette or cigar smoke, or mildew, but she says it’s a clear sign something is wrong when your air freshening efforts are too vigorous.
Painting your home tops the list of projects to tackle before selling your home. However, Williams cautions that it can also be used to cover up problems. “Water damage, mildew, and cracks in walls can all be hidden behind these layers of paint.”
Gelasius agrees and says he saw new paint applied in an attempt to hide cracks and other imperfections. “While many experts say new paint is great when selling a home, I see a red flag when the entire house appears to have been painted in a hurry,” he says.
Here’s something you might not think about: You need to hear what’s going on at home. Stimson recommends “If there’s music playing, or a white noise machine is on, ask that it be turned off.” This could be a ploy to cover up the noise from the street (or neighbors).
So, I noticed some tricks in staging – so what next?
As mentioned earlier, the majority of staging is relatively harmless and designed only to highlight the home’s best features. While things like living room size or ceiling height come down to personal preference, you may notice other hidden issues — such as uneven floors or cracks in the walls — that you want to address.
“Be open and honest with your agent about your concerns, and if problems are unacceptable, make it clear so you can finish the show,” says Williams. If the issues are acceptable but you are concerned about whether you can trust the seller, she recommends asking your agent if the seller has provided documentation that discloses known problems or defects. “If the seller discloses this, they are less likely to try to scam,” Williams says.
However, Gilius says he often comes across home sellers who haven’t disclosed a problem they were aware of. In those cases, he says, his clients have to decide whether they want to move forward — at a price that reflects what was found — or move on to another property.
For structural issues, such as water damage hidden by fresh paint, it is especially important to rely not only on your eyes but also on a forensic home inspection. “Many inspectors have tools to detect moisture behind walls, so potential buyers can be alerted to potential problems,” Bromberg says.
That’s why Golden says the best thing a buyer can do is take some time during the due diligence period to ensure there are no potential problems. “Once the due diligence period is over, it can become difficult to resolve any issues that arise, because the purpose of the due diligence period is for the buyer to carry out any inspections they deem necessary to detect any issues,” he explains. “The assumption is that after that, the property is considered sold as is.”