Should you stage your closets when selling your NYC apartment?

By Jennifer White Karp  |
July 13, 2020 - 3:30PM

Listing photos don't typically include closets, however, this three-bedroom condo in Central Harlem, 380 Lenox Ave., #3H/4H, has a walk-in that appears staged to sell.

Brown Harris Stevens/StreetEasy

They may not get top billing, but closets in New York City apartments are a prized amenity. After kitchens and bathrooms, one of the big things buyers look for is storage space: Is there enough of it and is it functional and organized?

But when it comes to staging apartments to sell, closets are something of an afterthought. You don't always find photos of closets among listing images, and that may be because they’re messy or crammed full after a seller has Marie Kondo-ized their apartment. If that’s you, professional organizers say you are conveying the wrong message.

“People will be opening your closets, especially the main closets in all bedrooms and hallways. You do not want buyers to feel like the place is too cramped or doesn't have enough storage space,” says Kadi Dulude, owner of Wizard of Homes.

The goal is to “lighten the load,” says Janine Sarna-Jones, founder of Organize Me, and make the closet feel organized and well-maintained. “We try to convey that if you live in this apartment, you can feel organized and not overwhelmed by your stuff,” she says.

Keep in mind that staging closets as part of the selling process is different from organizing them.

“Staging closets or any part of your apartment for selling is more about what that buyer perceives," as opposed to organizing them for your own use, Sarna-Jones says.

Brick Underground spoke to organizers to get their best advice for staging closets when you’re selling. You may be surprised to learn you need to think of the closet almost like a little room. Read on for their tips.

Staging the bedroom closet

Tackling the bedroom closet will involve emptying it out and starting over—which may be a terrifying concept for some, but the payoff is huge.

“Plan your outfits and only keep the things that go well with each other for different outfits,” Dulude says. She recommends packing away your shoes, unless you have an attractive shoe collection and a well-planned shelving system. Put away all seasonal clothes—if it's summer then absolutely all winter clothes should be put away.

“You want the buyer to open up or walk into your closet and want to sit down and have a glass of wine looking at it. Think of the master closet as the most important closet to stage,” she says.

A key tip from Sarna-Jones: “Edit hanging items so it looks like there is plenty of room to hang things and make sure that anything on the floor is taken out of the closet or put up high on a shelf,” she says.

Try thinking like an art director. “Color coding hanging clothes is also a good way to make the closet appear organized and airy, Sarna-Jones says. Make them all face the same way, too.

Displaying few pairs of designer shoes can even add to the perceived value of your apartment, says organizer Lisa Zaslow, founder of Gotham Organizers.

A smaller investment that you can take with you is a great set of matching hangers.

She gets pretty militant about organizing the closet.Group similar types of hanging clothes together—pants, jackets, tops, dresses—arrange them by hanging length, sleeve length and color, show off your nicest shoes and accessories and fold sweaters perfectly. Line up shoes like soldiers. Leave space on shelves to showcase attractive accessories like purses and hats,” she says.

And be sure to check out what’s been pushed to the dark corners or top shelves. Zaslow was recently clearing out a client's clothes closet and noticed something on a high shelf— a huge slow cooker.

The seller “had no memory of putting it there. If a buyer had seen it, it would make them question if the kitchen had enough storage space—and it might make them question the frame of mind of the seller,” she says.

Treat the closet as if where a room

One trick that professional organizer Barbara Reich of Resourceful Consultants likes to employ is to wallpaper a visible wall inside the closet and add a light fixture.

“By treating the closet like a room, you increase its value,” she says.

She recalls staging an apartment with a laundry closet that had used very expensive, custom wallpaper that was "won in a divorce."

“It was the most fabulous area in the apartment,” she says.

Don’t forget utility and coat closets

Reich suggests organizing coats by length and color and using the space under short coats for shelves to store shoes or accessories. 

Clean up your utility closet by using white bins to group cleaning products by type (e.g., laundry, floor cleaning, and bathroom cleaning products).

“In this closet, monochrome is key,” she says.

Clean your closets too

Marty Basher, home organization expert with Modular Closets, says in addition to removing at least 50 percent of what’s in your closet, you also need to clean them well, including vacuuming in the corners (yes, some buyers will look, he says).

Sometimes the closet will look dingy no matter how much you clean, especially for pantries, Basher says.

“Paint the inside a couple of coats of a simple white. It will make the inside look brighter, cleaner and as if it has doubled in size,” he says.

Give your linen closet a spa feel

Bashar suggest taking a tip from spas when approaching your linen closet. Pull out what you won’t need until you move and pack it away. Edit your sheets and towels—put away anything that’s tired—and coordinate by colors, he says.

Here’s his tip if you struggle with folding fitted sheets. “The neatest way to store them is to put the fitted and flat sheets, as well as extra pillowcases, inside one of the pillowcases, keeping the same design and style all together in a tidy package,” Bashar says.

Use white baskets to store extra soaps and shampoo to keep them organized and show how functional the space is and use a lavender sachet to keep the closet smelling fresh.

Taming a child’s closet

To get your child’s closet under control, start by paying attention to the things they really play with and pack or donate “absolutely everything else,” Dulude says. “Believe it or not, they'll absolutely survive without a room full of toys.”

It’s not uncommon for a parent to commandeer a child’s closet when they run out of space. Sarna-Jones ran into this scenario when helping a young couple with a child stage their apartment for sale. The couple had run out of room in the small, walk-in closet in their bedroom, and the husband’s clothes were also hanging in their child’s bedroom closet.

“There is nothing more jarring that seeing adult clothes in a child's bedroom,” she says. Editing the clothes in the master bedroom and moving the husband's hanging clothes out of the child's room did the trick.

“In the end, the closet in the master felt airy and organized and the child's closet did not look like it was necessary for overflow,” Sarna-Jones says.



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.