there is such a thing as too much de-personalizing…blandness does not inspire offers


Liz Jenkins


Usually when I go on a staging consult, it’s an occupied house which generally means that personal items have accumulated in the home such as family photos, toys, prescription bottles, calendars, religious or political items, etc.  These are the kinds of things I recommend removing as the main goal of staging is to get the buyer to visualize themselves in the home.  But lately, I’ve been running into an opposite problem.  Sellers who “get ready” for the Stager or misunderstood what their Realtor told them (or the Realtor didn’t really understand the concept of “depersonalization”), or in some cases, just never got to the accessorizing part of living in a home.  This is a two-fold issue so here you go . . .

De-personalizing means removing things clearly belonging to the seller that could impact the buyer in a potentially negative way.  Now we don’t know who is coming to look at the house so we need to take precautions:

  • remove family photos, diplomas, gold records, framed news articles, kids awards, kids names in wood letters on their walls, etc.  This is partially because you want the buyers to see themselves there, not you.  But it is also for personal safety. Do you really want people knowing who you are, where you work, where your kids go to school and how cute your kids are?
  • remove medical items such as prescription bottles, medical equipment, etc.  This is partially because you don’t want these items to go walking, but also because a savvy Realtor will use whatever they can to get their buyer a deal.  I know an agent who got their buyer a killer deal on a house because she could tell from the progression of medications that the owner had a serious illness.  Further research revealed that the sellers were on the brink, so they swooped in.
  • remove any religious or political items.  I don’t care how devout you are – you don’t know if the prospective buyer is a Buddhist, atheist or born again Christian; or Republican, Democrat or Communist- just don’t go there.  You are just asking for trouble.
  • put away all mail and paper that may have your name or other personal information.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ll look at a house and there are bills scattered everywhere (this is a whole ‘nother issue with organizing but also a whole ‘nother article).  In this day of identity theft, bad move.  This also goes for calendars or planners.  People looking at your house don’t need to know you are out of town next weekend, or that your kids play soccer at the local ball field on Tuesday nights.

So what’s left?  Lots of stuff, if you are like most people.  But when you are staging your house, you want to be sure that you do leave some personality, just not be “personal”.  This means accessories such as artwork, plants, books, pottery or other decorative pieces and more designed to bring out the great features of your home such as the fireplace, countertops, bathrooms, etc.  If you are bringing in a Stager (and you should), give us something to work with.  Selling your home is the time to pack up belongings that have personal meaning and set your home up like the product it is.  Think nice, neutral accessories that bring in the feeling of a model home or the merchandising feel of a Pottery Barn, West Elm or Restoration Hardware. 

I met with a nice couple last week and they had de-personalized so much that the place looked abandoned.  I hated to tell them this but my job is to give them the truth.  The truth was, the house was so boring and plain vanilla that there wasn’t much I could do.  Beige walls, beige floors, beige furniture, no art, no books.  I had nothing to work with.  What I did do was give them specific instructions on what they could do themselves (they were on a tight budget) to make the house stand out in the crowd.  We’ve been emailing ideas back and forth – I’m thrilled they are getting with the program!  I’m going to check on their progress next week – one of the few times I’ve asked clients to go shopping – usually I’m telling them to pack it up. 

Great places to acquire these types of things, if you don’t already have them include Big Lots, Target, Pier One, Old Time Pottery, Stein Mart, TJ Maxx/Home Goods, Bed, Bath & Beyond (be sure to check clearance and use a bunch of their 20% off coupons).  I also recommend rummage sales and thrift shops.  These are great places to get cheap accessories that look great – sometimes just a fresh coat of paint, or the judicious application of a Sharpie or wood stain pen can make something look new.  You don’t have to spend a lot – but use what you have wisely.  Highlighting the features of your house with accessories can make the difference between someone remembering your house or not.  The bland house with bland walls and bland stuff evokes a nothing house with no personality.  You are selling an image, a feeling of what it would be like to live in that home.  Blandness does not inspire an offer.