Room for Improvement

Selling this spring? 5 budget-friendly staging tips that make a difference

  • Take photos of your apartment so you can see what it would look like through a prospective buyer's eyes
  • Declutter your apartment, ditch your overhead lights, and use neutral colors to make your space look larger
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
March 8, 2024 - 1:00PM
When staging, keep you space light, airy, and most of all, neat.

When staging, keep your space light, airy, and most of all, neat.


Spring is here, and both apartment brokers and sellers are turning to staging to help thaw out New York City’s chilled real estate market.

Professional staging can cost thousands of dollars, but there are a handful of ways to make an apartment more appealing on a budget. Given last year’s slowdown in sales, it’s more important than ever to stage your apartment if you want to attract a potential buyer, says Mat Gundell, a real estate salesperson with Compass.

“The market definitely has been a lot more challenging, so staging can really optimize listings to go into contract faster,” Gundell says.

There are some early signs that sales may be picking up. New contract signings for condos increased 1.1 percent and rose for co-ops by 9.6 percent in Manhattan last month, compared to a year before, according to a February report from real estate firm Douglas Elliman.

If you’re looking to sell your apartment, ditching overhead lighting, decluttering your space, sticking to neutral colors, and focusing on the rooms a buyer sees first are all ways to help “optimize” your listing. Read on for five ways to spruce up your place this spring.

A view of a living room staged by Compass salesperson Mat Gundell.

A view of a living room staged by Compass salesperson Mat Gundell.


Photo: Mt Gundell/Compass

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Spring cleaning takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to staging. But if you’re a Marie Kondo fan, you’ll probably feel right at home tidying up.

“Everything needs to look neat and tidy,” says Monica Breese, a broker with Compass and founder of design and staging firm The Designed Domicilio. “You want to make the space appear as big as possible, so decluttering is a big thing we do.”

You can repaint your doors to remove handprints or grime, put away your winter blankets and pillows, or use new, light pillow covers to give your living room a refreshed look, Breese says.

If you’re struggling to see your own clutter, the founder of Urban Staging Amanda Wiss recommends walking around your apartment and taking photos of each room to help you adopt the perspective of a potential buyer. Staging is also the perfect excuse to invite a friend over who hasn’t seen your apartment so they can help point out spaces that could be tidied up.

Overhead lighting is out

The tell-all glare of overhead lighting typically doesn’t help your home look its best, Gundell says. 

“It's all about lamps, soft lights, LED lights, to really set a mood,” Gundell says. “You want to make sure that lighting looks good, because when you look in the mirror in the bathroom, and you're touring, and envisioning yourself in the space, lighting is key.”

That’s not to say you don’t want light in your apartment. If you have a gorgeous view, ditch your curtains to let as much light in as possible, says Ann Cutbill Lenane, a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman. Or if the view is terrible, use sheer curtains to allow light in without emphasizing the outdoors. 

Keep it neutral, mostly

Keeping a neutral palette helps prospective buyers imagine themselves living in your apartment, so consider stowing away some of your tchotchkes. Remember: it’s not personal.

“You want to give the space the appearance that it's organized and neat and somebody else can visualize themselves in there,” Breese says. “Depersonalizing is part of that.”

You can add one exciting centerpiece to make your space feel more interesting, Gundell says. But it helps to avoid dark colors and patterns to keep your apartment feeling light and airy, Cutbill Lenane says.

“You need to use light colors, solid linens, light colored and solid rugs, and no patterns on chairs or furniture,” she says.

A living room before (top left) and after (top right) staging by Urban Staging. Wiss' firm also staged a dining area (bottom left) with additional paintings, flowers, and furniture (bottom right).

A living room before (top left) and after (top right) staging by Urban Staging. Wiss' firm also staged a dining area (bottom left) with additional paintings, flowers, and furniture (bottom right).


Photos: Urban Staging

Focus on the entryway

A prospective buyer starts judging your home from the moment they walk through your door, so make sure that moment is special. 

“It really has to have a certain wow factor when you first walk in the door—that’s what I always say,” says Deanna Kory, a broker at the Corcoran Group.

Kory recommends trying to draw a viewer's eye to the farthest corner of the room so it looks larger. You should also make sure that your entryway is clean, decluttered, light, and try to make it feel as big as possible, Wiss adds.

“Focus on curb appeal,” Wiss says. “People make an impression, a judgment call, on whether they like a home within literally crossing the threshold. Within a few seconds people judge whether they would like to live there.”

Stage before you list

If you’re considering staging, it’s better to go all in right away, Wiss says.

“Put your best foot forward from the beginning, because you don’t want a place that lingers on the market,” Wiss says. “Don’t put it on for a few months and see if you get any interest and then stage, because people are going to wonder why it didn’t sell.” 

If your apartment hasn’t been renovated in a while, you’ll likely find it more difficult to sell, Kory says. That’s where staging can make a huge difference.

“It’s not going to be for the faint of heart—you have to be willing to go through the process,” Kory says. “The proof will be in the pudding when I put this on the market in about two to three weeks.”

Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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