How to spot a fake: 8 tips to see past the property staging tricks of the trade

property styling, furniture stylist, property staging

Smart sellers make their home as appealing as they can to as many potential buyers as possible. One of the most effective ways to do that is property staging.

Staging a property is just like staging a performance: carefully selected props, lighting and a space that tells a story. Sellers (and their real estate agents) set the scene so that when buyers walk into the property, they can picture their own lives unfolding on this enticing stage.

Staging is big business—there’s an entire industry sub-sector that’s sprung up to do this work. The best property stylists don’t come cheap—understandable when you consider that an impeccably styled property is likely to sell faster and at a higher price.

I’m not suggesting it’s all smoke and mirrors, but let me just say that it’s one thing to detail a car before selling—it’s something else entirely to paint over the rust. As a buyer, you can’t afford to be distracted from the true state of a property by slick styling.

And it’s hard not to be swayed by great staging. After months of slogging through countless dud properties, when you finally find one that looks like the perfect space for the lifestyle you’re after, it takes real discipline to assess it with a cool eye.

Here are the most common staging techniques you need to know about:

Sometimes photos don’t tell the whole truth.

In the same way magazines airbrush models and celebrities, property photographers use fish eye lenses, staged lighting, clever framing and filtered colours to deliver, shall we say, an optimised view of the property. It’s the photographer’s job to capture the property in the best possible light and that is exactly what they do.

Those bright, airy rooms might not be quite so bright and airy.

When it comes to styling a property, the first priority is to declutter every room to make them look as big and light-filled as possible. This can go as far as stripping everything out of a room and replacing it with hired designer furniture and chic artwork that makes a room look more spacious.

Another common tactic is lighting. Lamps and feature lights help create warmth and ambience in rooms that would otherwise be cold and dark.

How much space is really in that storage area?

Sellers know you’ll be poking around their kitchen cupboards and wardrobes to check out the storage space. They’ll often remove the majority of their stuff so that the storage seems ample. A bathroom cupboard looks a whole lot bigger if there’s only a couple of artfully arranged items in it.

Don’t be played by the emotional touches

Soft music playing in the background, freshly cut flowers, arty coffee table books or lifestyle magazines ‘casually’ strewn about the place should all be warning bells reminding you that you are in a staged property. Sometimes the emotional props can so far as to include the aromas of freshly baked bread or freshly brewed coffee. Seriously.

You need to ratchet up your BS detector even more if you’re buying off the plan

Developers don’t hold back when it comes to selling you an idealised package. Renders and display suites will probably include high end furniture, swanky fittings and a stack of finishing touches designed to create the illusion of a lifestyle you mightn’t even be able to afford.


8 tips to see past the property staging


  1. Treat photos in the marketing campaign as an ‘artist’s impression’.
  2. Forget about the designer furniture and cool artwork on display and visualise your own belongings in the space instead.
  3. Take a tape measure and write down the dimensions of the rooms. Ask yourself, where will you put all your stuff?
  4. Pay close attention to the lighting—is it natural light that’s making those rooms look great or is every light in the property switched on to brighten things up?
  5. Disregard the flowers/music/art books/freshly brewed coffee. Close your eyes and picture your life, your stuff and your mess in this property. Screaming kids, slobbering pets and all.
  6. Is the garden/backyard right for you? A few new plants and some fresh bark chips can work wonders in an outdoor space but it won’t make up for a lack of privacy or a high maintenance garden that’s just not your thing.
  7. Know the four warning signs of a property that needs work: poor lighting, uneven floor levels, rising damp and structural movement. Unless you’ve got deep pockets, these are potential no go zones.
  8. Be clear about what’s important to you. Have a list of ‘must-have’ features that you can cross-check in the cold hard light of day.


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