Staging specialist Leah Fahey of New Vision Staging and Design decorates the living area inside a D.C. condo for sale. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Is it better to put a home up for sale when it is vacant or to leave the furniture in the home? I may need to move to a different location for my job and am wondering how to approach this. Your help is highly appreciated. Thank you.

Most real estate agents will tell you it’s harder to sell a vacant home than one that’s furnished, even if the furnishings are a bit dated. There are several reasons for this.

First, it’s hard for buyers to visualize empty space. When you have a couch, two chairs, a table and several houseplants in a living room, for example, buyers can mentally swap out their own furniture for yours and have a sense of size, space and what the room will comfortably hold. They can sit down on your coach and envision themselves sitting on their own couch, enjoying a calm Sunday morning.

But in an empty house, buyers wander around trying to assess just how big the space is. Even if you give buyers an architectural plan or floor plan, it’s still hard for them to visualize just how much of their possessions will fit.

Next, when a house is vacant, buyers naturally assume that the sellers have moved on with their lives. They’re clearly no longer living in the property, so the assumption is that the house is slowly (or even quickly) falling into disrepair with no one there to make sure mechanical systems are working and the property is being maintained correctly.

Vacant homes send the message that the seller is willing to deal on price and terms, and if you get an offer, it may reflect a price that is below what the property would fetch if it had been furnished.

This brings us to staging. When sellers have moved out of the property, they will often hire a professional home stager to make the home look like someone is living there, even if you’re not. They might use your furniture or they might rent some very modern-looking furnishings to give the home a different look and feel. Their suggestions may include everything from repainting your walls to changing out doorknobs, fixtures and fans.

How much of their advice you take is up to you (and your budget), but it will give you the freedom to move without worrying about selling a vacant property.

Now, if your home has furniture that is so dated or period-specific that few buyers would like today, your furnishings could detract from a sale. In that case, staging the home would be better; and if you refuse to stage the home, having an empty home may be better than having the home with the furnishings that are currently there.

A good real estate broker can give you advice as to whether your furniture is suited for the home. We recently came across a home that is quite beautiful, but the furnishings in the home make that home feel like you’re in a museum from the 1700s. Every picture focused on the furniture and its look and feel from 300 years ago. The sellers reduced the price of the home by 15 percent and wondered why buyers weren’t interested.

We think this particular home would have been more salable if it had been vacant, given the decor. But it could have generated a lot more interest had it been better staged and photographed.

Can you stage your own home? Absolutely. Start by visiting open houses in your neighborhood to see what your competition looks like. Next, look to Pinterest and HGTV for some ideas on making over the look of your home. Finally, Ilyce has published a couple of staging videos on her YouTube channel ( that you may want to view. Search for “Staging Your Home for Sale” and “Staging Your Bedroom and Bathrooms.”

Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar+ebook series called “The Intentional Investor: How to Be Wildly Successful in Real Estate,” as well as the author of many books on real estate. She also hosts the “Real Estate Minute” on her YouTube channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them at