After a dozen years propping up an aging 1920s city home solo, I threw in the towel. I had upgraded and bought new the heating and AC, roof  (after several expenses fixes for invading raccoons and squirrels) and siding, and fixed crumbling masonry, decking and plumbing issues. I had, with the help of one of my sons, removed bulging old plaster walls and replaced them with drywall, installed new floors, taken on bathroom and kitchen updates and designed and installed a custom back deck for my unusually small back yard.

Small city back deck, worn but clean and suggesting casual dining.

Small city back deck, suggesting a casual dining space. Grey steps were repainted, but neighbours fence could not be.

What I learned is that you can accomplish a lot on the cheap if you need to with the right expert guidance, tools and labour. I also learned that I never want to do it again.

Homes in Toronto are listed on Thursday, show in open houses on the weekend and receive offers on Tuesday. Within a week you are sold and done. The Toronto Star even ran a feature about my street that summer, noting that the number of buyers so outnumbered the homes for sale that many sold for extraordinary amounts over asking with aggressive bidding.

Bedroom alcove before staging.

Bedroom alcove before staging.

Keeping it simple and clean.

Keeping it simple and clean.

One of the first things your real estate agent will suggest, with serious intent, is that you hire a stager. You want to put your best foot forward as you only have one shot to impress a potential buyer and you are not always the best person to assess how your home reads. Sage advice, however I could not afford what my agent’s stager charged let alone take on all the work they suggested I do before they did their thing. With a very limited budget I adopted the adage that simple and clean would have to do. I edited and packed up everything not essential and stored the boxes neatly in the basement which was unfinished.

Bathroom after staging.

Bathroom after staging.

I spent two months selling extraneous furniture that would not be moving with me to lessen the load.

Bathroom before staging.

Bathroom before staging.

Then, detailed list and costing sheet in hand, I tackled the staging beginning with the front yard and porch (pictured before repainted front steps and power washed walkway) to set the tone for what would greet visitors inside.

Tidy, lush front plantings and simple welcoming front porch.

Tidy, lush front plantings and simple welcoming front porch.

Painting the entire house white presented a clean and bright backdrop, and it was cheaper to keep to one colour. For everything. Inexpensive slipcovers converted colourful furniture to neutral white. I left only natural wood that matched and black metal or minimal spot colour as accent. Upstairs I left my pale blue bedroom coordinated with painted old furniture. Because I’d basically backed out eye grabbing decor or colour, viewers could focus on the sizes of the rooms and, with new gauzy white curtains, light from the windows.

Making do and making neutral.

Making do and making neutral.

Aside from the hard work involved, I found staging quite rewarding.

Before staging the living area.

Before staging the living area.

There is a certain feeling of calm that comes over you when you walk through an extremely paired down a space.  I’ve been through many open houses since and realize that while my personal sale was done on a shoestring and given a bit of a budget would have been presented with more style, the key principal of staging a house is to highlights its best attributes and potential.

Matching woods are easy on the eye, indicate a grouping.

Matching wood is  easy on the eye and indicates a grouping.

People are not walking through your home to view photographs or judge your china pattern, it’s about quality of space and how it is used as much as sound infrastructure. I find it hard to believe that expensive staging actually sells a home if its a dog, and I don’t believe you need to have fully outfitted settings in each room if it is going to cost you an arm and a leg.

Kitchen before staging.

Kitchen before staging.

Permits for renovations done and inspection approval documents along with demonstrating how a space works are more important than copying settings too often seen in staged homes.

Kitchen after staging.

Kitchen after staging.

To be able to sink my teeth into designing a beautiful show home with personality yet universal appeal, now that would be wonderful fun.

Do you need help staging on a limited budget?