Pat Kennedy - Your Washington, DC Real Estate Connection


Staging: Can You Over-Neutralize?

The sellers have two children.  My buyers have two children.

The sellers enjoyed living near the shops and restaurants in Cleveland Park.  My buyers want to enjoy the shops and restaurants in Cleveland Park.

The sellers want to move.  My buyers want to move.

OK, what's wrong here?

Yesterday I showed a house in Cleveland Park that should have been pretty near perfect for some buyers who definitely pass the fun test.  You know they type - smart, funny, not overly picky, able to articulate exactly what works and does not for each place we see. The house was a preferred location, and it had all of the necessary bedrooms and baths.  The price was smack dab in the middle of their price range. Oh, and it's a pretty house, too.

And their feedback on this one?

"I'm not feeling it!"  That would be the husband.

"I feel like I'm caught up in a Pottery Barn catalog!"  The wife.

The house was, in fact, furnished in early 21st Century Pottery Barn - the same furniture that a lot of local stagers prefer to use.  The entire house was spotless, impeccable - oh, and it was hard to believe that real people actually lived there, especially with two little ones.

My buyers couldn't imagine themselves in this house - a house deliberately neutralized to the extent that it seems like anyone could imagine themselves living there!

For other reasons, mostly the small yard, this house won't work.  If it did have the necessary outdoor space, I'm sure they would be able to look beyond the spotless property condition, just as they could look beyond a house that was cluttered with toys and smelled like a combination of Labradoodle and diaper pail.

But this has me re-thinking my approach to staging.  If this had been my listing, I would consider myself blessed to have such neatniks as clients.  But maybe what this house needs is a little bit of funk.  Not a lot.  Just ashes in the fireplace, or a chewed up dog toy under the coffee table.  Perhaps pet hair on the upholstery.

In the meantime, I am way too chicken to be the first agent on the block to advise clients to live normally in one of my listings!

Comment balloon 29 commentsPatricia Kennedy • September 19 2009 11:36AM


Hi Pat... I have been in listings just like that and my buyers had exactly the same reaction.  Good staging is more than just neutralizing, it is presenting the property in a way that prospective buyers can visualize themselves living there... it seems like in this case that the preparations went too far and prospective buyers couldn't visualize anybody but a catalog model living there!

Posted by Steve Shatsky about 11 years ago

Over neutralized or not... sometimes it is just a feeling that buyers get the moment they walk in the door.  I know I do.  You walk in and you feel at home... or not.

Bernice Dubon in Calgary Alberta


Posted by Bernice Dubon, Calgary Alberta Realtor (RE/MAX First 403-607-9117) about 11 years ago

Staging is so important in setting the mood of a property. Sellers and agents would be wise to consider this when preparing a property for sale. Enjoyed your blog.





Posted by Team Honeycutt (Allen Tate) about 11 years ago

Patricia - Staging should say to a buyer, "You could live here comfortably," not "This is a museum, do not touch."  I think staging is great, but not all stagers are great.

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru ( about 11 years ago

I know exactly what you're talking about - sometimes it just feels too sterile.  There's no spunk, warmth or that welcome feeling. Most of my folks know when they walk in the door - if this is the 'one'.  We do stage but it has to have a warm welcoming attitude!

Posted by Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, CRS, Broker, Instructor, 602-380-4886 (HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000) about 11 years ago

Hi Pat,

I am rethinking this sterile, hgtv series early mid-retentive staging that so many of us wish for.

You definitely have something there. Maybe these people could not see their children in this ordered environment. I like the idea of leaving a few, decent items out. It humanizes the space. Selected items would not be clutter. Good call!

Posted by Bill Saunders, Realtor®, (Meyers Realty) about 11 years ago


Lots of new construction houses by me are staged this way. Hard to conceive living in them because they look like a floor model area of furniture.

Posted by Tom Braatz Waukesha County Real Estate 262-377-1459, Waukesha County Realtor Real Estate agent. SOLD! (Coldwell Banker) about 11 years ago

Pat - like others I have seen it happen multiple times. But fortunately despite that some buyers are still able to look beyond the trappings of the current owners and see what they could do with the home...which they should do. Making a decision on how the home is decorated could mean missing out on a great property.

Guess it can work against you if the buyers fall in love with the home and its decor, only to be disappointed when they walk in and see it vacant...and the appeal is not there. Seen that, too.


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude (eXp Realty of California, Inc.) about 11 years ago

Patricia- I hate going to model homes because I always look at how perfectly the place is decorated and then say to myself, my family would never keep this house like this. It is too fake, too unreal. The only people who live like this are the ones who are never home. We live and work at home. So we have to feel at home. Katerina

Posted by Katerina Gasset, Get It Done For Me Virtual Services (Get It Done For Me Virtual Services ) about 11 years ago


I am sure it is a fine line to walk. What seems to be normal and what is a mess. What seems too clean, almost unnatural.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 11 years ago

And if it was messy - would it be "I can't live in a house where people haven't taken care of it?" 

Posted by Susan Brown (Keller Williams NE, Kingwood Texas (Humble & Atascocita too)) about 11 years ago

Interestingly enough I was showing houses in Arlington yesterday.  Once house which might have been "perfect" was so full of stuff and dark the buyer's couldn't quite wrap their arms around it.  As we left we talked about how we would stage the home.  Two doors down was another property that was empty and it caught their attention.  The first agent isn't doing their seller any favors, especially after many months on the market, by not having them clean up and move their furniture into the right rooms.

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) about 11 years ago

Pat, I've heard the pottery barn comment and I usually agree with the buyer. They're not buying the furniture they're buying a home. The home usually comes empty. Personally I rather see it empty. What you see is what you get!

Posted by Mitchell J Hall, Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn (Compass) about 11 years ago

Hi Pat ~ I feel the same way about Pottery Barn /Crate & Barrel / West Elm that I do about granite and stainless - seen waaaay too much of it.  There have been several newspaper articles lately about a funkier, less streamlined, vintage type look becoming popular again - I hope so!  I would be back in style without changing a thing.


Posted by Elizabeth Bolton, Cambridge MA Realtor (RE/MAX Destiny Real Estate Cambridge, MA) about 11 years ago

Pat..It didn't have that this is HOME feeling..Sometimes that is what is's all about..isn't it..Thanks


Posted by Hannah Williams, Expertise NE Philadelphia & Bucks 215-953-8818 (Re/Max Eastern inc.) about 11 years ago

I understand--the house has to feel "comfortable" and not like a showroom.

Posted by Cynthia Tilghman, Realtor® Onslow County NC Home Specialist (Kingsbridge Realty, Inc) about 11 years ago

Hi Pat, tell that seller to throw some teddy bears around - maybe they need an impression like a cute pillow fight waiting to happen.  LOL

Posted by Virginia Hepp - Mesquite NV REALTOR, Mesquite NV Homes and Neighborhoods - Search MLS (Desert Gold Realty - Mesquite NV Homes For Sale) about 11 years ago

Hi Pat, I agree that a home Staged or not can be too neutral.  I was asked to consult on a neighbor's home (the week I myself was moving) and she had taken "neutral" to a new level.  Everything was white.  I suggested she add some color, which could be done inexpensively with some pillows, towels and other accessories and plants.  I often look at the Before and After pictures of Staged homes and see that if we're not careful all of the rooms soon begin to take on the same look.

     When Staging an occupied home, I don't strive for 100% perfection.  That would be unrealistic.  I tell my clients that our goal is to make sure we show off the home's space and liveability. If all of the toys cannot be hidden or stored, or if walls cannot be painted, then we do our best to make sure what we can do will show off the assets of the house.

     And, sometimes we have to admit that Buyers just don't "click" with the house.  Buying a house is not just about numbers and stats; it's all about emotions.

Posted by Kathy Streib, Home Stager - Palm Beach County,FL -561-914-6224 (Room Service Home Staging) about 11 years ago

Sometimes stark comes across as cold and that is a hard sell to some buyers.  I am not always a fan of staging because I think it can come across as contrived.  It has to be done so that it looks great but natural.

Posted by Dr. Stacey-Ann Baugh, A doctor who makes house calls. (Century 21 New Millennium) about 11 years ago

Patricia, interesting post. We tend to push clients to that neutrality and it is interesting to examine where the boundary is. A home needs to be warm and inviting and if the staging is cold and void of life....well good point. I find that when the homeowner lives a "stylish" lifestyle...well then it sells the house...would you agree? Great post!

Posted by Jeanean Gendron, Specializing in Selling Unique Properties (The Address Realty) about 11 years ago

I agree we need to prep the home but some do over do and it can be a turn off.

Posted by Terry & Bonnie Westbrook, Westbrook Realty - Grand Rapids Forest Hills MI Re (Westbrook Realty Broker-Owner) about 11 years ago

Pat I know just what you mean, I had a buyers who used those exact words recently.  Yes the property was just too perfect.

Posted by Jennifer Fivelsdal, Mid Hudson Valley real estate connection ( JFIVE Home Realty LLC | 845-758-6842|162 Deer Run Rd Red Hook NY 12571) about 11 years ago

You raise a good point, and I have had buyers with a similar reaction.  It is important to convey a "warm" feeling for most buyers... sometimes things are just to neat and orderly.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) about 11 years ago

Pat- you are too funny!  I think staging adds a lot of value to listings but I can certainly see how a home can be overly boring! I like the idea of adding a little pizzaz to homes for sale!

Posted by Tracy Santrock, Raleigh - Cary Realtor/Broker In Charge (Fonville Morisey/Santrock Realty Group, Inc. ) about 11 years ago

Pat:  I have seen bulider's models where they try to give it that "bit of funk."  I vividly remember seeing a cat dish in a pefectly staged laundry room.  Someone had swished some food onto the surrounding floor.  It stood out like a sore thumb.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Bristow, VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Gainesville, VA) about 11 years ago

That's too bad!  Good luck finding them the right one.  Sometime the buyers know exactly what they're looking for and they go with their gut.



Posted by Kathleen Cooper, Sposato Realty Group - Broker Owner (Kathleen Cooper, Sposato Realty Group) about 11 years ago


That's funny. Practically everything we do can backfire. Empty house - difficlt to visualize, staged, nice but not ours.

Posted by Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL, Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices (Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408) about 11 years ago

A muscian client asked the stager to only remove the clutter, not the soul from from his very artistic home.  I've never forgetten his request. 

Posted by Norma Toering Broker for Palos Verdes and Beach Cities, Palos Verdes Luxury Homes in L.A. (Charlemagne International Properties) about 11 years ago

21st century pottery barn?  Is that what this new style is called.  I've wondered.  Personally, I prefer empty houses to staged ones if possible.  With an empty house you can show it at any time and the buyer's can place their own furniture.

Posted by Barbara S. Duncan, GRI, e-PRO, Executive Broker, Searcy AR (RE/MAX Advantage) about 11 years ago