Just as dress rehearsals are a must for any show about to open, so is staging a home before putting it on the market. In the final performance, a seller can gain thousands of dollars back on a little investment of time and energy up front.

Over the years I’ve been called on by friends to help create a manageable plan for presenting their home in the best possible light. For some, the idea of paring down and sprucing up every nook and cranny is daunting, but trust me, the results are immediate and so high-impact you’ll be energized along the way. Give yourself a 30-60 day window to implement the plans below and you’ll guarantee a standing ovation from potential buyers which will translate to a fast sale and a higher selling price.

The main idea for staging a home to sell will always be removing all personal items that might distract buyers and create an environment that invites them to imagine their life in your space. Think about any home furnishing catalog — each photo provides a look that is clean, inviting, but devoid of any dominating personality elements. That’s the look you’re going for in your home. Here are my simple ways to achieve this clean fresh look. (Furniture shown available at Lillian August)

First Impressions Last Forever
The minute your property goes on the market, agents and prospective buyers will be driving by to check out your house. Your curb appeal, which starts with your lawn and ends at your front door, is your first chance to say “welcome to your new home”. Do so by sprucing up your front doorway with a new doormat and a fresh coat of paint. Add planters with seasonal flowers to give a “home sweet home” appeal that invites you to come and discover.

The Big Items
I can’t stress the importance of scale and color in any home design project, including staging. First, consider your walls — there’s a good chance it’s time for a fresh coat of paint. For color choices, opt for more neutral tones. Now is not the time to be daring. Stick with safe colors out of Mother Nature’s palette and unless you’ve painted a lot in the past, hire a professional to get the job done quickly and neatly. This may be your biggest investment in the staging process, but it’s worth it. Keep in mind, when potential buyers see colors they don’t like it registers as “work” for them. Your goal is to create a home that is in move-in condition.

Painting will likely require you to remove furniture from rooms and I say the more the better. Even if you’re not painting, chances are there are too many pieces of furniture in your rooms. It’s a common reason why rooms feel smaller than they are, especially rooms you might think are “cozy.” The solution is simple”_ edit, edit, edit! Staging is about maximizing the flow and creating a sense of openness to allow buyers to visualize their furniture, and their lives, in the house. Give them the space to do that by moving the excess out of the house. Consider having a tag sale or giving pieces away. If you can’t bear to part with certain items, rent a storage unit for the time being, or better yet, ask a neighbor or friend to house pieces temporarily in their home or garage. When in doubt, move it out!

To add to the sense of openness and flow, shed as much light on the rooms as possible. Swap out heavy drapery and window treatments for relatively inexpensive bamboo shades that offer a natural, style element without a lot of weight. Keep the shades raised to showcase garden views — and if the view is less than appealing, opt for the light sheer panel can provide a mask while still letting in light.

Removing the Evidence
To help buyers see themselves in your home it’s a must that all evidence of your personal life is removed. First, no children’s toys or stuffed animals should be visible (with the exception of one or two in his or her room.) Hide in consoles or storage baskets with lids, or pack them up in boxes for the attic — or better yet, send most of them on hiatus to grandmother’s house. Make it a game of “hide the toys” with your kids and reward them with a trip to the playground when the house is being shown.

Next, (you’re going to hate this one) eliminate or drastically simplify your personal collections. Though each of your 100 elephant figurines may provide you with great joy, they’ll mean distraction to potential buyers. One or two strategically placed pieces on a shelf or in a niche can add a nice touch, but too much is just that — TOO MUCH!

Even harder, though vital, is removing all personal photos throughout the house. It’s impossible to ask a potential buyer to see their family living in your home when they can literally picture you, your spouse, your kids and the in-laws all around. Make sure your refrigerator is free of photos, drawings, and personal items except for, perhaps, an interesting magnet with a personal note to visitors. “Welcome home!”

Finally, be sure to remove all pets and evidence of them prior to an open house or showing. No cats, no dog, no bird, no pet turtle or hamster. They all have to take a short vacation while your home is being shown. Pets are as personal as it gets, and you never know what will turn off a buyer. Don’t give them any reason to do so. Remove the dog crate or the bird cage, store away the dog bed or litter box, and hide the pet toys and other accouterments.

The Nitty-Gritty
Once the bigger projects and depersonalizing has been done, the next step in staging is creating pleasant, appealing organization. Potential buyers and their real estate agents will open every closet and inspect every corner of your home. To create the best presentation, here are a few essential tips.

Repair every squeaky hinge, sticky drawer and anything else that needs fixing no matter how small.

In closets, reduce the number of items and coordinate by color when possible — whether it’s in a bedroom, linen or front hall, a closet should never look stuffed. Send bulky coats to the attic, use wicker baskets to house unattractive or unmentionable items like laundry and extra shoes. Keep as much of the floor visible as possible. Less is more when it comes to showcase-ready closets. Joan Crawford was right — NO wire hangers!

Your bathrooms should be clean as in hospital-level sterile. A palette of white works to accomplish this feeling. Three white towels rolled neatly on a shelf, a new bar of white soap in a dish, a crisp white shower curtain (even installed on a rod to mask shower doors) and a clear glass container filled with fluffy white cotton balls — all these touches transform these small, overused rooms. Never, I mean never, should a plunger be present. It’s a tool that should be kept with other bathroom tools out of sight.

Even workspaces should feel inviting as well as functional. Get your garage as organized as possible with the help of shelving units and racks for hanging bikes and sports equipment. If you can, clear enough space for cars to fit in the garage easily — if you have to, borrow a friend’s car that’s smaller than your SUV and park it in the garage. Anything to help create the illusion of more space. The same ideas apply to your basement. Keep worktables and floors clean and neat, but don’t be afraid to add a few inviting touches even here — a cheery area rug in front of the laundry area with some clean, white shelving units can create interest for an otherwise unappealing area. Apply similar principles to a separate laundry room — a fun piece of art on the wall and a pretty bowl of new clothes pin on the counter suggest less work and more fun in the space.

The Finishing Touches
Now that the heavy lifting, cleaning, sorting and organizing is done, it’s time for the final touches that really “sell” your home. The goal here is to have each room feel lived in, but still generic — like a movie set for characters you don’t know. It’s a delicate balance, but also my favorite aspect of staging. Here are a few elements to give your rooms more style and less personality — the perfect combination for satisfying potential buyers.

To literally add life to your rooms, do just that — add life with houseplants like ivy, a Ficus tree or other leafy, decorative options. These will add instant interest and color, just stay away from grandmother-inspired choices like African violets, Wandering Jews or spider plants. Fresh flowers are a wonderful element but there’s no need for huge, elaborate arrangements — leave that for your next party. For staging with flowers, less is more. A single Gerber daisy in a vase on a windowsill or a small bunch of monochromatic roses in the powder room can do wonders to perk up space. Similarly, a glass bowl filled with fresh lemons and limes can add a punch of color, while a covered cake stand stacked with fresh white eggs covered with a cloche can add simple interest to your kitchen.

To have your home tell a story, the rooms need to feel as though something has just happened or is about to happen. Set an interesting table for two in the dining room complete with chargers, candlesticks, and glassware. Have a game of Scrabble or chess going on the coffee table in the den. In the bedroom, place an open book with a bookmark flat on a well-made bed and a small vase of accent flowers on the night table. Finish off this vignette with a new pair of terrycloth slippers nearby.

Finally, your home must always be ready for showing at a moment’s notice. Stick to your organization plan and keep things tidy so that when you get the call, all you have to do is fluff the pillows as you walk out the door.

And there you have it.