Apartment Staging Guide for Realtors: Elevate Your Listings and Attract Buyers

Virtual staging example of a condo apartment, living and dining area visible in the image.
Virtually staged apartment

While single-family homes dominate the housing market, apartments are swiftly gaining traction as a preferred choice for millions of Americans. With approximately 39 million apartment residents in the US, it's clear that the allure of this lifestyle resonates strongly, particularly among millennials who value flexibility and convenience. 

However, it's not just the younger generation driving this trend; even empty nesters and retirees are opting for apartments as they downsize once their children leave for college. 

For realtors navigating this shifting landscape, adapting to the unique demands of apartment staging is paramount. Unlike sprawling homes, apartments require a fresh, strategic approach to showcase their charm within limited space. Here are some of the topics we’ll cover in this article:

How to Stage an Apartment?

There are three main ways to stage an apartment, and each of them has its advantages depending on the specific context or requirements.

  1. Traditional Staging

Traditional or physical staging, typically conducted by professional stagers, is a prominent method in apartment staging. It involves the strategic arrangement of furniture and decor in an empty space to showcase the full potential of the apartment. This widely recognized approach has a track record of significantly impacting selling prices in the real estate market.

According to the NAR's 2023 Profile on Home Staging, the impact of staging is undeniable. Staged homes tend to fetch 1-5% higher selling prices compared to their non-staged counterparts.

However, it's worth noting that traditional staging may not suit every situation. It can be an investment of both time and money, which might not always align with everyone's goals and budget. Considering the expenses and logistical aspects, it's vital for realtors and sellers to evaluate their unique circumstances before choosing this approach.

  1. DIY Staging

In situations where sellers continue to reside in the apartment during the selling process, traditional staging may be impractical or outside the budget. In such cases, it becomes essential to work with the existing furnishings and make the most of what is available.

Retaining the homeowner's furniture can be a sensible choice, but it is crucial to declutter and remove personal belongings from the space. This creates a blank canvas that allows potential buyers to imagine themselves living in the apartment.

To create a welcoming ambiance, incorporate inviting elements such as fresh flowers, cozy textiles, and tasteful accessories. Thoughtfully chosen accessories, like artwork or statement pieces, can enhance the overall aesthetic and make the apartment feel inviting and homely.

  1. Virtual Staging

Virtual staging offers a practical solution for apartments with limited budgets that cannot accommodate traditional staging. By digitally inserting furniture and decor, the process is efficient, cost-effective, and yields impressive results.

One of the key advantages of virtual staging is its flexibility. It can seamlessly integrate with existing furniture pieces in the apartment or completely eliminate them, starting with a blank canvas. This versatility allows for endless possibilities in showcasing the apartment's potential.

Virtual staging is particularly beneficial for rental apartments. As most rental units are unfurnished, digitally adding furniture becomes an invaluable tool for potential renters. It enables them to visualize how to optimize the space and provides layout ideas. By utilizing virtual staging, you can effectively market the apartment and attract attention in a highly competitive rental market.

15 Apartment Staging Tips

When it comes to staging, the approach for an apartment can differ greatly from staging a house, as what may work effectively in a spacious environment might have the opposite effect in a smaller one. 

To help you navigate the unique challenges of apartment staging, here are some verified tips for creating an appealing and marketable apartment:

1. Cater to the Target Audience 

While it may seem obvious, the first step is to identify your target demographic, whether it consists of young professionals, families with small children, retirees, or a completely different group altogether.

Once you've defined your target audience, let that knowledge guide your staging decisions.  For example, if you’re dealing with young professionals, then consider staging a home office in the extra bedroom. Conversely, young families might appreciate seeing a children’s bedroom in that space. For retirees, a staged guest bedroom may make the most sense to accommodate visits from their children.

2. Be Mindful of Clutter

An image of a virtually staged apartment bedroom in a neutral color palette with an accent yellow armchair

Effective staging in a small space requires careful consideration to avoid overcrowding. Adding too many items can make the apartment appear cramped and cluttered. The goal is to create a sense of spaciousness, making it essential to be mindful of the items selected for staging.

Allow for "white space" in a room by leaving empty areas around and above furniture. Avoid overcrowding every inch of the space as the eye needs room to rest. 

In the case of an already occupied apartment, depersonalization is crucial. Removing personal items, such as photographs and unique decor, allows potential buyers or renters to envision themselves living in the space. By depersonalizing, you create a neutral and inviting environment that appeals to a wider range of individuals.

3. Choose Appropriately-Sized Furniture

Virtually staged living room of a small apartment in an urban style of interior design

In a small space, choosing furniture that is appropriately sized is crucial. Opt for pieces that complement the scale of the apartment, avoiding oversized furniture that can overpower the space. By selecting furniture with smaller proportions, you can create a harmonious and balanced aesthetic that maximizes the available square footage.

4. Opt for a Neutral Color Palette

Virtually staged bedroom in a neutral color palette
Neutral colors are timeless

Having bold or dark colors dominating your apartment can negatively impact its resale value. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, bold colors can quickly date your apartment, as trends change over time. What may be popular now could be out of fashion in a few years, potentially turning away prospective buyers. In contrast, neutral colors are timeless and can appeal to a broader audience.

Bold and dark colors can also make a space feel smaller than it actually is. In contrast, lighter neutrals have the ability to create an illusion of spaciousness. This becomes particularly important when dealing with apartments, as maximizing the sense of space is crucial to attract buyers.

One of the key advantages of neutral colors is their versatility. They can effortlessly complement any design style, allowing potential buyers to easily visualize their own furnishings and decor in the space. By opting for neutral colors, you provide buyers with a blank canvas, enabling them to envision their personal touch without any obstacles.

5. Elevate the Space with Colorful Accents

Now that we've established the importance of a neutral base, it's still beneficial to introduce pops of color through carefully selected accent pieces. Incorporating throw pillows, artwork, or other accessories can infuse vibrancy and visual interest into the space, which otherwise may appear dull. 

These strategic touches of color bring life to the apartment and make it more inviting. However, it's essential to use these colorful details sparingly and tastefully to avoid overwhelming the overall aesthetic and maintain a harmonious balance throughout the space.

6. Add Depth with Layered Textures and Patterns

Virtually staged primary bedroom in an apartment

When staging an apartment, it's crucial to create visual intrigue and depth. One effective way to achieve this is by carefully layering different textures and patterns throughout the space. Incorporate cozy throws, textured rugs, and patterned pillows to bring a sense of warmth and style. These elements not only add visual appeal but also create a welcoming and inviting atmosphere for potential buyers or renters.

7. Don't Overlook the Importance of Proper Lighting

Proper lighting is a crucial element that can make or break the impression of an apartment. If done right, buyers will be in awe of the space without even realizing why. However, if lighting is neglected, it can be challenging to recover from.

To ensure your clients have a positive impression, prioritize adequate natural light in the space whenever possible. Open the curtains and shades to let the beautiful natural light flood in. Avoid relying solely on overhead lighting, as it can create harsh and unflattering shadows. Instead, create a pleasant ambiance by incorporating table and floor lamps strategically throughout the apartment. This will allow you to set the mood and highlight specific areas.

In addition to considering the placement of lighting fixtures, don't forget to pay attention to the type of light used. Mindfully choose between warm and cool light options to create the desired atmosphere in each room. Warm light can add coziness, while cool light can create a more refreshing and contemporary feel.

8. Prioritize a Fresh and Clean Environment

No matter how many other tips you implement, they can all be rendered worthless if the apartment is not cleaned and maintained regularly. A dirty space can create an extremely negative first impression that could easily have been avoided. That's why it's crucial to keep the space clean and neat at all times.

However, we need to take it a step further and engage all the senses. Realtors have traditionally used homely smells like freshly brewed coffee or baked cookies to evoke an emotional connection with the property. 

However, recent studies suggest that strong and overwhelming scents can backfire by distracting buyers as they try to identify the smell rather than focusing on the property itself. Instead, opt for simpler scents that are easier to process and imply freshness and cleanliness, such as citrus, pine, or jasmine. 

9. Decorate with Flowers

Virtually staged living and dining area

A well-chosen floral arrangement can instantly breathe life into a room. However, it's essential to consider the practicality of maintaining fresh flowers, as it can be quite challenging. Instead, I recommend opting for a potted plant like an orchid as a centerpiece. You'll still achieve the desired impact, but with less effort required to keep it fresh. 

10. Highlight the Storage Options

Storage is vital for small apartments. Ample storage options can effectively minimize visual clutter and create a more spacious feel within the space.

Start by highlighting the existing built-in storage within the apartment. Showcase the closets, cabinets, and other storage areas to demonstrate their potential. 

Additionally, think about incorporating clever storage solutions during the staging process. By showcasing innovative and practical ways to maximize space, you can empower clients to envision how the small area can work for them. This not only benefits your clients but also increases the likelihood of a successful sale.

11. Designate Separate Areas

Virtually staged living and dining area in a modern style of interior design

If the size of the apartment allows it, consider dividing the space into separate areas to optimize functionality. This can be achieved by strategically arranging furniture and rugs to create distinct zones, such as separating the dining area from the living space.

Additionally, if your target audience consists of young professionals, it can be advantageous to incorporate a designated work area. This could be a dedicated corner or nook equipped with a desk, chair, and appropriate lighting, allowing for a focused and productive workspace within the apartment.

12. Make Any Necessary Repairs

In addition to the larger-scale aspects of staging, it's important to allocate some time and effort towards making small repairs and improvements within the apartment. These seemingly minor tasks can greatly enhance its overall appeal.

Consider replacing any burnt-out light bulbs to ensure that each room is well-lit and inviting. Take a moment to tighten any loose hinges on cabinet doors or fix any other minor hardware issues that may be present. These small maintenance tasks not only improve functionality but also demonstrate attention to detail to potential buyers or renters.

13. Don’t Neglect the Exterior

When staging an apartment, it's essential not to overlook the exterior. The first impression is crucial, and the exterior is the first thing potential buyers or renters will see.

Start by ensuring the entrance is neat and inviting. Give the front door a fresh coat of paint if needed and add welcoming elements like a doormat or potted plants. Take the time to tidy up any outdoor spaces, such as balconies or patios, by cleaning and arranging furniture to create an inviting outdoor living area.

14. Take High-Quality Photos of the Space

When showcasing an apartment, it's crucial to take high-quality photos that effectively showcase its best features. In today's digital world, potential buyers or renters often make their initial decision based on these images.

Invest in good photography equipment or hire a professional photographer to ensure clear, well-lit, and visually appealing shots. If those two options are above your budget, you can also take great photos using just your smartphone. 

Capture each room from multiple angles, highlighting key selling points and unique features. Take advantage of natural light, open blinds, and clean up any clutter before snapping the photos.

13. Elevate Your Marketing

Relying solely on photos may not be sufficient to make your property stand out in the competitive online market. According to NAR's 2023 Profile on Home Staging, homebuyers now seek more interactive methods, such as virtual tours, to explore and experience the space.

Not only does this novel approach offer considerable marketing advantages, but it also serves as a valuable screening tool. By providing potential buyers with additional information through virtual tours, you can attract and engage individuals who are genuinely interested in your property.

How Much Does Staging an Apartment Cost?

Based on a 2021 report from the Real Estate Staging Association, staging all the rooms in a vacant house typically ranges from $2,900 to $5,250. However, as apartments are generally smaller in size than houses, the cost should be closer to the lower end of the range.

Additionally, an article published in 2023 by Realtor.com provides a breakdown of staging costs. The average expense for most stagers includes a range of $300 to $600 for an initial design consultation, as well as $500 to $600 per month for each staged room. It's important to note that many professional home stagers require a minimum staging contract of three months, even if the property sells within a shorter time frame.

When it comes to virtual staging, the costs are noticeably lower since there is no requirement for in-person design consultations or fees associated with furniture rentals. For an apartment, virtual staging expenses typically range from $72 to $360, depending on the number of images you wish to have staged and the specific provider you choose.

FAQs on Staging an Apartment

How to stage a small apartment?

When staging a small apartment, one of the key strategies is to maximize the perception of space and create the illusion of a larger living area. Here are some techniques you can incorporate to achieve that effect:

Should I stage my apartment?

Recent data from the Real Estate Staging Association reveals that a staggering 75% of sellers experience a return on investment (ROI) ranging from 5% to 15% over the asking price when they opt for professional home staging. This compelling financial incentive certainly makes the case for staging your apartment.

However, there are several other factors to take into account before making a decision, including the inconvenience and time-consuming nature of the traditional staging process, such as coordinating with movers and dealing with the logistics.

Fortunately, digital staging offers a virtually painless alternative. With virtual staging, you can have your professionally staged photos delivered to you within a 24-hour time frame. This allows potential buyers to still envision the space in its most appealing state, without the hassle of physical staging.

Key Points on Apartment Staging

Considering the demographic shifts in the housing market, particularly with the largest consumer group, Millennials, predominantly opting for urban apartments, it becomes essential to prioritize the staging of these living spaces.

When it comes to apartments in urban environments, especially in densely populated areas, it's important to acknowledge that these spaces often come with a smaller square footage. This means that the typical staging approach used for larger homes may not have the same impact in these constrained settings.

Instead, the key focus of apartment staging is to employ specific techniques and strategies that create an illusion of spaciousness.

Another important factor to keep in mind is the cost associated with staging. Traditional staging can be both expensive and time-consuming. It involves renting furniture, coordinating with movers, and continuously monitoring the staging setup. 

In contrast, virtual staging offers a more affordable and efficient solution by digitally adding furniture to listing photos.

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