A splash of color in the bathroom is a good way to inexpensively upgrade your home for the market without hiring a stager. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

I’ve seen all the statistics on staging properties. The consensus seems to be that staging is a great return on investment. Personally, I’ve not been excited by the results of the properties I’ve staged.  However, I wouldn’t argue against it. The vast majority of real estate professionals believe that staged homes sell faster and for a higher price.

The problem is staging is expensive, and a lot of people may not have the cash. It’s also additional work, and you have to worry about the furniture movers damaging the home before walk-through when they remove the furniture.

If you can’t afford the price of a professional home stager, I don’t recommend that you leave a home completely void. You need to try to make your home sparkle a little, especially for the photos.

Many people have their homes painted before they list them.  When they do this they take the prevailing advice of the industry experts, and they paint their homes one neutral color. I also agree with the concept of making your home a nice blank canvas on which a buyer can project their own vision. However, the home comes out looking very plain in the listing photos.

I like to utilize the bathrooms as a place to add color. I often paint the bathroom a different color to add variety in the listing photos. I still select a neutral, conservative color; I never get crazy with the paint. I also put up nice bright colored towels and a shower curtain. You can go wild with these colors. Use brighter colors, but make sure they complement the paint and tile. I also put in colored soap containers and, perhaps, a bowl of soaps or something else inviting. Don’t forget the toilet paper roll. Prospective buyers are going to use the bathroom while they’re out all day looking at properties.

This small splash of color will make a big impact in the photos, and it will cost you very little. I recommend buying new items for the bathroom. Soap scum on a shower curtain is a big turnoff, even if it’s a beautiful curtain. You can always take these items to your new home.

In the kitchen, always add cozy items: a big wood cutting board, a knife block, a nice paper towel holder with paper towels are all a good start. Use items that provide interest to the eye and make the home feel more livable. Stay away from plastic items. Get wooden bowls instead of metal or plastic. You can put fruit in them, or even polished rocks, or leave them empty. Cookie jars are always a good bet. If you put food in any of your display items, you need to make sure someone refreshes them every week or sooner.

Welcome mats and runner rugs provide color and an inviting touch. They also help reduce the need to clean the floors. Some buyers won’t remove their shoes even if you put up a sign.

You can pick up cheap paintings at pretty much any home improvement or home furnishing store. Paintings can add color and interest to a boring wall, but you don’t want to have to spackle and paint nail holes before the walk-through. Utilize the peel-off adhesive Velcro or hooks to hang paintings.

You can take your staging up a half a notch by targeting specific rooms rather than the entire home. A small bedroom might call for staging because a buyer might not think the room is big enough for bedroom furniture. Smart staging might help them see the room’s potential. Just make sure you do it right. It’s better that a buyer thinks a room is too small than to stage it and remove all doubt. A room that really is small may be best staged as an office or art studio.

A nook or bay window area might be staged as a little Parisian dining or reading area, for example.

This is good advice, even if you’re living in your home while your property is listed. It’s not possible to keep your home perfect all of the time, but make sure it’s perfect for the pictures. Buy new towels and shower curtains. Remove everything from your kitchen countertops, except for the items mentioned above. Get a storage unit and remove the clutter.

Make sure the home smells good. The air in vacant homes gets stale quickly.  People often go look at many homes in one day. A good fragrance may help them remember the home — a bad odor will, too. I like to go by my homes on occasion and open all the windows for a while. There’s nothing like fresh air. I also put in plug-in air fresheners.  Keep them on low.  You don’t want the fragrance to be overpowering.

Don’t think your home won’t stink just because it’s freshly painted and the carpet’s new. Stagnant air mixed with the industrial chemicals of carpet and paint is not pleasant.

Try to let in as much natural light as possible, especially for the photos. Don’t assume the photographer will properly prep the home. Keep the curtains and blinds open. This isn’t the best security advice, but it’s good sales advice. Turn on all the lights for the photographer. If you have a light with a hard-to-find switch, then just leave the light on all the time.

One of the benefits of staging is that buyers are distracted by the furniture and more likely to overlook flaws in the home. If you’re the buyer, make sure you keep your eyes on the prize. You’re buying the home, not the furniture.

If you’re going to attempt full staging and you’re not an interior designer, then get some professional help. You don’t want to stage a home for your taste. You have to stage your home for the masses.

Your mission when selling the home is to try to give prospective buyers good feelings. Most home-buying decisions are made on emotion. Make your home inviting.

Justin Pierce is a real estate investor and real estate agent who regularly writes about his experiences buying, renovating and selling houses in the Washington area.