An oversized, visually challenging living room is made open and fully functioning through proper furniture placement and a neutral color scheme. (Photo: Design Recipes/TNS).

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 amount of potential buyers.

Want some insider tips? 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 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 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 repairs may trigger a potential buyer to believe that your home is in poor condition.

4. Purge! The first aspect relating to preparing a property for sale relates to the 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. A seller may need their real estate agents help with this one. The goal of this step is to simply decide who your target buyer is, as in some cases this may influence the staging process.

6. De-personalize. 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 repainting or replacing carpeting 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 used as a home office, must 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 most amount of potential buyers. Earlier in the selling season is best.

10. Hire a professional stager. When it comes to what is for most Americans their single biggest asset you are going to want to trust the staging of your home to a professional. One can begin by researching local staging companies, some may specialize in a specific style or geographic area. Additionally, The Real Estate Stagers Association (RESA) is a great place to start when looking to hire a professional stager or staging company. Concerned about cost? Most professional stagers are able to work within various budgets.

By Cathy Hobbs, Tribune News Service. Cathy, based in New York City, is an Emmy Award-winning television host and a nationally known interior design and home staging expert with offices in New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. Contact her at info@cathyhobbs.com or visit her website at cathyhobbs.com.