Whether you are eager to move into a newer home, downsizing now that the kids are on their own, pursuing job opportunities in a new town, or excited to flex the increased purchasing power you have thanks to low interest rates, your goal whenever you slap a For Sale sign on your house is to sell it quickly. (Rely on Lendgo to match you with competitive mortgage lenders offering you your lowest rate.)

In a recent survey, 16% of respondents said that COVID-19 has caused them to want to move, and 15% said they are choosing to move sooner than originally planned. Today's rock-bottom low mortgage rates, spending more time at home, and working from home are some of the factors driving people to move due to the coronavirus pandemic, wrote real estate analysts Redfin.

Smart Staging Steps

Real estate experts agree that one of the smartest ways to make your home stand out is through staging. Brad McCallum, a real estate agent at Remax First, said, "Staging helps the home sell faster, and it generally helps it sell for a higher price."

Some real estate agents contract with home stylists to ensure that the house makes a strong market debut through efficient repairs, lighting upgrades, furniture placement, houseplants, and deep cleaning. Naturally this service adds to the listing fee. But if you're spending more time at home now than ever, why not tackle the jobs yourself? Whether you stage your home yourself or hire a local stylist, these are the basic steps to making your house shine while low rates are spiking homebuying demand.

1. Declutter and Depersonalize

Strive for the minimalist interior design of a model home or even a well-appointed hotel suite. You want to encourage potential buyers to imagine themselves living there.

It's natural that as we live years in our homes, we cover the surfaces and buy more furniture in order to have more surfaces to cover. Consider taking out a short-term lease on a storage locker for your excess furniture, knickknacks, wall photos, and the like. Offloading just one category of items can start an encouraging domino effect that declutter "therapists" extoll. With the souvenirs and photos and books all cleared from a surface, the cabinet has no purpose and can be removed. The cabinet's absence leaves that extra chair looking out of place, so remove it too. And so on.

When buyers walk into a home and see a lot of personal effects, they can feel like they are invading someone's personal space. That is not the feeling you want to give, warned McCallum. "The line you draw is to make it feel like a home but not someone else's."

Tweet by Sintilla about decluttering while at home during pandemic.

2. Replace outlet and light switch covers

Yellowed, aged plastic electric covers might spark a potential buyer's worry about what else in the house is old. That is too big a risk when new covers are plentiful and cheap. Take off the old covers before you paint the walls, then put new ones on.

A totally empty home isn't actually better for selling, per McCallum, because buyers like a reference point. The size of your sofa, for example, helps them imagine their sofa in the same room.

3. Paint

Malcolm Lawson, a real estate agent in Maryland, offers repainting as a prime example of the deferred maintenance you should tackle before listing your home. Every household maintenance task you leave undone, however minor or relatively inexpensive, is another item that potential buyers add to their mental list as they tour the home.

Home Prices Up 8% as Supply Fell 22% to a New All-Time Low in July 2020

The national median home price rose 8.2% year over year to an all-time high of $323,800 in July, as low rates drove a spike in early homebuyer demand.

Source: Redfin

4. Lighten Up

It goes without saying that you should choose a light, neutral color for the new paint. Lightening up is the approach to take all over the house, advises Lawson, from lamps to window coverings to carpets, rugs, and upholstery. Staged homes are bright homes for a reason. Dimness can be cozy to longtime residents of a home but unsettling to potential buyers. Before every showing, draw back the curtains and open the blinds to flood the rooms with the natural light so appealing to homebuyers. Turn a lamp on in every room too, because lamps look best when lit. For more of his solid advice, watch Lawson's video "How to Get Your Home Ready to Sell" on YouTube.

5. Curb Appeal

From landscaping and repaving to power-washing the siding, repainting, and replacing chipped shingles, the repairs and improvements you make to the home's exterior not only increase its value but raise its appeal when buyers first set eyes on it from the curb. When buyers like what they see, they are more likely to assume they would like what they don't see, such as the wiring, plumbing, and subflooring. Conversely, if a buyer's first impression is an overgrown yard, handball marks on the garage door, and peeling door paint, fears arise as to what else needs work.

6. Don't Show a Bedroom as an Office

The number of bedrooms affects the value of your home, so show the number the buyers expect to see. Show a bedroom as a bedroom, not a home office. This is the advice of Lauren Lindsey, a Redfin concierge who assists agents in preparing homes to sell (link). "Stage all bedrooms as bedrooms," she said. "If you're staging one bedroom as an office, you've just lost a bedroom because your buyers aren't going to come in and see it as a bedroom."

Can't your agent just explain that it was originally a bedroom? Sure, but as with curb appeal, you are trying to manage first impressions here. Besides, you probably don't want strangers walking into your home office anyway, peering at your Post-it notes and files.

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7. Finally, Take Great Photos

Chances are your home will make its first impression on buyers in photographs, not in person. This is especially true during the coronavirus pandemic, when open houses are on the decline and virtual tours by photo and video are increasing.

Surging homebuyer demand has prompted some sellers to host open houses during the pandemic, Redfin agents said here, but these in-person showings have become rare. Just 6% of homes held open houses during their first week on the market in July, down from 16% the year before.

Optimize the effects of your home staging efforts by capturing it in professional (or professional-looking) photographs. Pay attention to when light is best inside and out. Wait for a blue sky. Take dozens of shots, and review them on a big monitor, not your phone's screen, to choose the best.