The living room has always been a high-traffic area of the home, but during the pandemic, this room has really come into the spotlight. Much of the past year’s working, schooling, and relaxing has happened in the living room, and all the wear and tear makes this area a prime place for an upgrade.
If you plan on selling your home soon and want to spruce up your place, it might be beneficial to focus on the living room. According to a study from the National Association of Realtors®, this is the most commonly staged room in the home. If only one room in the home is picked for the star treatment, the living room is staged 93% of the time, compared with the kitchen (84%), the master bedroom (78%), and the dining room (72%).
But home sellers-to-be don’t have to hire a stager to make the living room shine. In fact, there are many projects you can accomplish at home with your own two hands. We reached out to real estate and interior design experts for ideas for living room upgrades with wide appeal, keeping a range of budgets and time constraints in mind.
If you have 5 minutes
Whether you’re living in your home or not when you sell it, chances are it’s not as clean as it should be (or you think it is). This goes double for the living room, where mud is tracked in, pet fur is shed, and movie night leaves food debris.
All of our experts agree, taking five minutes to use a wet rag to swipe cobwebs and unsightly dirt from baseboards, fan blades, and window panes is the one quick fix every seller should do before a potential buyer walks in.
“It may not seem like a lot, but it will make the space look and feel much more polished,” says Geraldine Anello, the founder of New York City’s Handy Women, a virtual community of would-be home renovators.
A few carefully selected plants can also make a world of difference when selling your home, experts say. In addition to releasing oxygen and freshening the air, indoor plants have been shown to reduce stress levels and boost moods—something both home sellers and buyers could use.
“Don’t underestimate the power of greenery,” says Meredith Ehn, a real estate agent with Falk Ruvin Gallagher Real Estate in Milwaukee. “A plant can transform a stale room and add interest to the decor.”
Freshly cut flowers or larger “snake” plants make enormous visual impressions, and don’t require a lot of upkeep.
If you have 30 minutes
If you have magazines, books, or papers in your living room, even in neatly stacked piles, you have a problem, experts say. Agents warn against having a lot of knickknacks, family photos, or other personal items on tabletops and clogging up shelves.
Buyers will want to picture themselves living in the home you’re selling, so the more neutral the setting is, the better. And even if you’re not selling your home, clutter in the home has been proven to cause distractions and affect your ability to focus.
“A living room filled with these kinds of items also makes the space appear smaller,” points out Jeff Shipwash, CEO of Shipwash Properties in Kingston, TN. He recommends grabbing boxes and doing a clean sweep of surfaces and shelves to eliminate all personal items and excess clutter.
After decluttering, experts advise drawing the buyer’s eye to the livability of the space, either with an item that grounds the room, like an area rug, or one large, classic, elegant conversation starter.
“A correctly sized rug can make a world of difference,” says Andra DelMonico, an interior design expert at Next Luxury, a men’s lifestyle website. “It should be large enough to ground the furniture and tie everything together to create a cohesive space. If your rug is too small, it makes the room look smaller and feel disjointed. You can also replace a generic overhead light with a stylish chandelier.”
Cost: $100-plus depending on the size and material of the rug; $100-plus for a well-made chandelier
If you have 1 hour
Decluttering and dusting does a lot, but experts say if you have a full hour, pull out all the stops and do a true deep clean. Tackle lampshades, blinds, window sills, and corners with a dry duster or microfiber cloth, and then mop the floor and polish wood and glass surfaces.
But for the biggest impact, Anello recommends using an upholstery or carpet cleaner to make dingy couches, chairs, and rugs look new again.
“This can make an enormous difference,” Anello says. “I’m always shocked by how much better upholstered furniture, rugs, and curtains look after a deep clean.”
Cost: Rent an upholstery or carpet cleaner machine from Bissell or Rug Doctor for about $30 for 24 hours, plus the cost of the cleaning solution. Buy a carpet cleaner for about $150, plus the cost of cleaning solution.
“Curtains, drapes, or blinds can make a room look so much fresher,” says Julie Aragon, a property investor and a mortgage consultant at Lending Tree in Los Angeles. “Another dramatic and not too time-intensive way to modernize and transform a room is with a gallery wall of simple framed art pieces. There are so many guides on YouTube to follow to ensure the installation is evenly spaced.”
Cost: $100-plus for window treatments; $5-plus for frames; $5-plus for generic art prints
If you have 3 hours
Christa Hyland, a licensed real estate salesperson at Howard Hanna in Saratoga Springs, NY, recommends using an afternoon to rearrange your living room and—if you’re up for the challenge— to make some aesthetic upgrades.
“You want the living room to be open and inviting,” she says. “Make sure your furniture is arranged around a table for conversation. A nice floor lamp adds great visual warmth, too, and mirrors are no-brainers for adding a sense of light and size to any room.”
If you have a fireplace, she also recommends looking at ways to modernize and brighten it, from adding a stylish new mantel to a quick DIY tiling project.
“I actually retiled my own fireplace recently, and it changed the entire look of the room,” she says.
Cost: $50-plus for lamps; $50-plus for decorative mirrors; $500 to $700 to install a fireplace mantel; $5-plus/square foot for fireplace tiles
If you have a weekend
In a weekend, you can tackle many of the projects above, or take on a larger project.
One out-of-the-box idea is having wooden beams installed in your ceiling.
“It’s easy to do even yourself, and adds a lot of architectural interest to the ceiling,” says Derek Christian, owner of Handyman Connection in Blue Ash, OH. “It can appear both elegant or rustic, depending on the finish.”
Cost: $100 to $250 per beam, plus $200 to $300 per beam for installation
If offloading your home quickly and for top dollar is a priority, Hyland recommends hiring a professional stager.
“It’s not cheap initially, but the results are immediate,” she says. “I’ve had vacant homes sitting on the market for months staged, and then had offers come in over the asking price. A lot of buyers can’t visually picture themselves in a space without furniture.”
Hyland recommends reaching out to your agent, who can either handle the staging if your furniture is still there or hire a stager to rent furniture.
Cost: $200 to $5,000, depending on what’s in the space and what is needed