9 Easy Room Makeovers That Wow Buyers

View before and after photos of readers' room transformations to get ideas for your listings.

May 1, 2009

A home has only one chance to make a first impression on potential buyers, and a poorly designed room can be a quick turnoff. REALTOR® magazine asked readers to send in stories of how they took action against their listings’ trouble spots. Borrow some ideas for sprucing up your own listings. You can also view more room transformations at the Styled, Staged & Sold blog.

Less-Than-Desirable Living Room

Name: Cheryl Oliveri-Daly

Company: Camden Real Estate Company, Camden, Maine

Problem: "The furniture was misplaced in the area, there was a cluttered bookcase, insufficient lighting, plants were too scattered, and the window seat, built-in bookcases, and the view were not being highlighted."

Solution: "I re-arranged the furniture, bringing in furniture and lamps from other rooms in the house—such as a coffee table, stacked suitcases, and baskets. I re-hung the artwork; grouped plants in one area; and de-cluttered the bookcase, arranging items in groups, such as by same color accessories, fewer books, random baskets, etc. I also added colorful decorative pillows to highlight the window seat and to make the couch 'pop,' with an added a touch of red to bring the room together."

Cost: $50—the only purchase for this room was a few decorative pillows

Result: The number of Web hits on the listing and showings increased after it was staged and an offer quickly came but ultimately fell through. The price of the home is $329,000.

A Bathroom With Too Much Design

Name: Julie Kern

Company: F.C. Tucker, Carmel, Ind.

Problem: "It was dated and there was too much personality."

Solution: "I replaced the striped blue walls with warm, sandy-tone walls that highlighted the white trim and fixtures. I then changed out the busy toile shower curtain to a textured, clean white curtain. With the addition of calming spa accessories, the bathroom now serves as a clean, modern bath retreat and all for a very low-budget makeover."

Cost: Less than $200 for the paint, shower curtain, vanity accessories, and towel.

Result: The property updates put the home in a better competitive position against the other listings in the condo development. The condo is listed at $99,900.

Bringing Warmth to an Empty Bedroom

Name: Stephanie Myers of Whisenhunt Stevens Properties, Bellaire, Tex., and Karen Brown of Trendsetter Realty


Problem: "It was empty, so potential buyers were being fooled by how they perceived the size of the space. In this particular room, the space seemed small."

Solution: "As tricks of the trade, stagers sometimes use air mattresses to complete a master bedroom look. We also added inexpensive side tables and lamps, a side chair and simple jute boxes from Ikea. We also added inexpensive draperies from Wal-Mart and attached them with nails and hooks—no drapery hardware was needed. We already had the bedding and furnishings from previous staging. This look showed potential home buyers how much space this room really had."

Cost: Almost $200, including approximately $60 in an air mattress, $80 in bedside tables and lamps, and the rest in inventory.

Result: After the rehab, this property originally was going to be listed at $220,000. After the staging, it was listed at $244,900, and the house sold in two weeks with a sales price of $243,000.

A Ruffled Master Bedroom

Name: Marilyn Gibson

Company: The Best Seller GMAC, St. Peters, Mo.

Problem: "This master bedroom's main problems were the strong colors, the floral pattern of the ruffled curtains and bedskirt, and the unnecessary furniture and TV."

Solution: "I simply removed the busy curtains to show off the room's bay window. I also removed the wall pictures because they were too small. Overall, these small changes drastically improved the room and made it much more current."

Cost: $0

Result: The property was listed for $164,900 for four months with no offers in its "unstaged" condition. Once it was staged and again listed for the same price, the property had an accepted contract within nine days. It closed in a total of 24 days from listing to closing date. 

Orange Alert in the Family Room

Name: John Badalamenti

Company: Prudential Fox & Roach, REALTORS®, Wayne, Pa.

Problem: "The room was painted in an Adobe, orange color motif, which many buyers found too loud for their tastes. It was hurting the sale of the home."

Solution: "The seller originally gave me resistance about changing the color, but after reading the feedback I was sending him from buyers, he finally realized the room needed to be re-painted. I suggested an off-white, neutral color. The paint job made a world of difference. Up until that point, I was having nightmares about this room!"

Cost: The cost in supplies and paint was under $200. The seller did the painting.

Result: The work was completed the first week of October 2008 and the property went under contract on Dec. 30, 2008, selling for $335,000 on Feb. 2, 2009.

A Clutterfest Comes Clean in the Living Room

Name: Celeste Boglioli

Company: Prudential Holmes & Kennedy Real Estate, Somers, N.Y.

Problem: "About 30 years of collecting 'stuff' finally caught up with the home owners in this room. There was too much furniture, the built-ins were filled to the max and camouflaged. There was not a blank space on the walls, and the beautiful hardwood flooring was not even visible."

Solution: "I removed excess furniture pieces, rearranged furniture to optimize space, removed clutter from the built-ins and arranged themes (such as a music theme with the guitar behind the piano), while still leaving a good amount of space. I removed wall hangings and pictures, and I removed the area rug to expose the gorgeous hardwood floors, which also gave the room a more spacious feel. "

Cost: Free—Boglioli did all the work herself and used furniture and accessories the owner already had in other areas of the home.

Result: An accepted offer was received on the home within a week after the staging for 90 percent of the list price.

Worn-In Living Room

Name: Valerie M. Blake, associate broker

Company: Prudential Carruthers REALTORS®, Washington, D.C. 

Problem: "The couple's two-year-old daughter and large Labrador had taken over the space. What was meant to be a place for adults to entertain and relax had turned into a play room filled with toys. Poor lighting and clutter compounded the problem. The sofa was oversized and worn. The wall art was out of scale and the room lacked style."

Solution: "First, I moved the child's items to her room and had the owners remove and store the leather sofa and gold carpet. I rearranged the remaining furniture and art, using a smaller love seat, a rug, and a club chair to establish a cozy conversational grouping and highlight the oak floors. Borrowing furniture from other rooms in the house, I added end tables, lamps, and a writing table and chair to direct the eye toward the beautiful bay window. Finally, I enlisted the aid of my favorite staging company to provide a coffee table and plants, which brought attention to the room's high ceilings, crown molding, and period chandelier."

Cost: About $350; the costs mostly stemmed from using small items from the staging company and getting the house professionally cleaned.

Result: The house received three offers in two weeks and sold on March 24, 2009, for $583,000.

A Not-So-Great Room

Name: Jim Hinton and Mike Scott

Company: Cutler Real Estate, Akron, Ohio

Problem: "The carpet was old, worn, and stained. The walls were stained by cigarette smoke. The light fixtures were very dated, with a dingy brass finish. There was no drama in the room—it was empty, uninviting, and cold. What's worse is that it was the first room that buyers saw when walking in the house, giving them little desire to continue with the showing."

Solution: "We removed the carpet to expose the hardwood floor, which was in pretty good condition. The walls were repainted in a neutral light sand tone, but we used a darker tan color on the largest wall to highlight the cathedral ceiling and architectural beams. We added furniture, anchored by a black rug, to create a warm, homey feel in the living room area. Two tall, thin portraits were placed on the focal wall, adding a variety of colors that played off the other accessories. We defined the dining room space with the table and chairs and spray-painted the fixtures black. Finally, we added a mirror to reflect the sunlight from the large windows."

Cost: $480 for labor and materials

Result: Six showings in eight days, with two offers. The home sold in February 2009.

Old-Fashioned Kitchen

Name: Tim Franks

Company: Coldwell Banker, Pinnacle Properties, Florence, Ala.

Problem: "The kitchen was very outdated with wood paneling, old countertops, and worn, vinyl flooring."

Solution: "I added new cabinet door fronts and hardware, painted, and installed new tan laminated countertops. I also added stainless steel appliances and new vinyl tile flooring to give the kitchen a more modern look."

Cost: $4,000, with nearly half of the expense going toward to new appliances.

Result: Renovations were just recently completed, but buyer traffic to the listing had dramatically increased, Franks reports.


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