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Home Staging 101: Sans Cat Litter, It Sells Faster

Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to

Staging is the real estate equivalent of butterfly gardens, except instead of arranging wildflowers and stones to attract pretty butterflies, sofas and end tables are artfully arranged so that the butterfly/buyer simply cannot resist picturing themselves living in the splendor of your four walls.

Staging is basically temporary interior design that helps potential buyers or renters focus on the best features of the apartment. Picture it like paying someone to present the life you probably wish you had to someone who also wishes for that same life. Like Facebook, but in real life. Also, it’s fun. Who doesn’t like to pretend they live in an IKEA showroom?

Letting the pros take over your house will not only make you want to set all your old crap on fire, but according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the average staging investment is between 1 and 3 percent of the home's asking price and generates a return of 8 to 10 percent.

Another survey by the NAR reveals that homes that sold in the first four weeks averaged 1 percent more than the list price; four to 12 weeks averaged 5 percent less; 13 to 24 weeks averaged 6.4 percent less than list price; and 24 weeks averaged more than 10 percent less than list price. So it's to your benefit to sell quickly. And if your penchant for a Renaissance Faire design theme makes the prospective buyer focus more on the person and less on the property, that can distract them from the business at hand: buying your house.

The issue of pets, too, should be carefully considered. If you're a pet owner, you'll want to make sure there's no cat litter smell or dog bowls left out during an open house. Of course buyers may have pets of their own, but everyone believes their pet is more well-behaved than anyone else's. Everyone knows when a cat sprays or pees on a carpet, it's a long-term problem, and pets of any sort imply the possibility of fleas.

On the other hand, some condos and high-rise buildings want you to know they're pet-friendly, particularly if it's a rarity in a given area. One of the best staging jobs we've ever seen was at 10 Rittenhouse, where the issue was solved by the careful placement of an extremely lifelike faux cat on a pillow by the window.

Staging your home well is like finding the perfect listings agent—if they get it moving, it will save you money in the long run. (Or, what is hopefully a short run.)

If you're worried about photos for a listing, there's always virtual staging, but generally speaking, you can tell. There's just something ... off. So best to go with the real thing. There are several staging companies in Philadelphia (no endorsement implied; this is just for your info):

· Sunflower Creations
· Voila Design Services
· Busy Bee Philly
· Hart & Associates Staging & Design