• Clear the clutter. Box up collections, knickknacks, photos and family mementos. Remove unneeded furniture to make rooms feel more spacious. Clear unnecessary items from kitchen countertops.
• Clean the home from top to bottom -- including light fixtures, windows and closets. The bathrooms should be sparkling and spotless.
• Let there be light. Pull up shades and open curtains.
• Play quiet, soothing music during showings.
• Paint the walls earth-tone neutrals such as tans, browns and greens. Add color and interest with artwork, area rugs and accessories, but don't overdo it.
• Create a lifestyle. For example, add luxurious bedding and arrange spa products and fluffy towels in the master suite.
• Eliminate, don't mask, odors. The home should smell fresh and clean when a buyer walks in. Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of trash cans and keep an open box of it in the refrigerator.
• Make a good first impression. Prune landscape bushes, remove dead plants, paint the front door and window trim, buy new house numbers and a welcome mat.
• View every room from a buyer's perspective. "Define the spaces as clearly as possible so the buyer can envision living there," said stager Kristin Register.
If you wish to hire a professional home stager:
• Get referrals from friends or your real estate agent.
• Visit open houses in your neighborhood to see if they've been staged and if you like the stager's work.
• To find a certified stager, go to www.StagedHomes.com, which holds home staging workshops around the country and lists certified stagers by state.
• Interview two stagers to find out if you're comfortable with their experience, personality and style. A stager will typically come to your home free of charge, describe their fees and services and give you a written proposal for your home.