Staging is the art of preparing and styling a home for sale. Unlike decorating and interior design, the intent and purpose of home staging is to use "lifestyle" selling techniques in order to allow a potential buyer to be able to envision themselves in a home. Gone should be personal photographs and unique color schemes; instead the approach should be one of neutrality in order to ensure your property appeals to the largest number of potential buyers. Here are some staging secrets:

1. Research. One of the biggest mistakes home sellers make is underestimating their competition. Ask yourself "Who will buy this house?" From here, it is important to present your home in its best possible light. Remember that once a property is placed on the market, it is no longer your home, but a product on the market for sale that will be compared with other products.

2. Paint! If you do nothing else to your home to prepare it for sale, be sure to paint. From painting walls a neutral color to covering up marks and scuffs, a fresh coat of paint can go a long way.

3. Do minor repairs, from re-caulking a bathroom to repairing a broken railing or step. Even small defects or blemishes may trigger a potential buyer to believe that your home is in poor condition.

4. Purge! The first step to preparing a property for sale is removal of all excess, from extra furniture to clothing. Now is the time to make your home feel as spacious as possible.

5. Create a basic marketing plan. Sellers may need their real estate agent's help with this one. The goal of this step is to decide who your target buyer is, as this may influence the staging process.

6. Depersonalize. When a potential buyer walks into a property, it is important for them to feel that it could be their home. Everything from personal photos to religious references should be removed.

7. Neutralize. Even something as simple as having to repaint or replace carpet can be a deterrent for potential buyers. Taupes and grays are ideal colors to create a neutral, soothing color palette.

8. Return a room to its intended use. For example, a bedroom currently being used as a home office should be staged and styled as a bedroom.

9. Create a timeline. When you place your property on the market can be critical in capturing the largest amount of potential buyers. Earlier in the selling season is best.

10. Hire a professional stager. When it comes to selling your home, which is most Americans' single biggest asset, trust the staging to a professional. Begin by researching local staging companies; some may specialize in a specific style or geographic area. The Real Estate Staging Association is one place to start the search for a professional stager or staging company. Concerned about cost? Most professional stagers are able to work within various budgets.

Cathy Hobbs, based in New York City, is a TV host and interior design and home staging expert.