In this Internet age, your first showing is long before the first potential buyers arrive at your doorstep: it’s actually the moment your listing appears on the MLS. The photos of your house, along with the pricing and listing description, determine whether or not your house is considered good enough for an in-person look, or placed on the “do-not-see” list.

This is why staging your house prior to the photos is so important! Your house needs to put its best (square) foot forward! Otherwise, buyers—who are much more in control today of what houses they see and which ones they don’t—will eliminate it just by looking at the photos online.

“That one looks dated”—gone off the list because there’s too much work to do. “Look at that wallpaper, yuck!”— wallpaper is too personal and doesn’t have universal appeal. “Who would paint rooms such dark colors?”—again, bright or dark paint colors can be a turnoff. “There’s only one photo! That must mean that the rest of the house looks awful!”—be sure there are enough photos to showcase your house properly and entice prospective buyers, not leave them wondering.

Consulting with a professional home stager prior to your ”first showing” can make a dramatic impact on how well your house shows in the photos. Stagers look at your house through a buyer’s eyes, as well as assessing how it will appear in photos. It’s important to follow the stager’s recommendations about furniture placement (compliment the architecture and maximize the space), accessorizing (bigger is better), paint colors (warm yet neutral, and NOT white), de-clutter (de-clutter, de-clutter—did I say de-clutter?), and decorate for the potential buyer (it’s not about you anymore!).

Stagers will also make recommendations about the best ways to update your house: new lighting, new handles on cabinets, replacing worn carpeting, painting older cabinets, replacing counters, framing bathroom mirrors, getting rid of wallpaper and borders.

Often, a house shows poorly (in pictures and in person) because of the furniture—the style doesn’t match that of the “target market”, the condition is worn or worse, or it’s just too large or overstuffed. Stagers have ideas for dealing with these issues as well, often suggesting slipcovers, or even rental furniture. Sometimes, borrowing from friends or family can be a great “temporary” solution.

Your house needs to stand out from all the competition (after all, it’s now a product on the market), and great photography can help with this. Ask your Realtor if they use a professional photographer, and look at photos of their other listings. Make sure the simple issues are addressed—no toilet seats up, no pets in the pictures, not blurry or poorly lit shots, no pictures of the photographer reflected in bathroom mirrors, etc. A moderate wide-angle lens really helps to showcase your rooms; a fish-eye lens is too exaggerated and can distort ceilings and doorways.

Buyers need to have an emotional connection with your house. There is a reason people say that they “fell in love” with a particular place. Staging addresses the emotional elements of presentation, as well as the rational ones. You are not only selling your floors, windows, counters and space—you are selling a lifestyle!

Photos can add to the emotional connection. Take an outside picture at sunset with the lights on inside the house, and the warm glow instantly says “home”. If you have wonderful views of mountains, lakes, trees, or a garden, make sure these are included. Detail shots also add to the emotional appeal—beautiful moldings, wonderful cabinetry, a fire in the fireplace, romantic bedding, candles and flowers. Use some unique angles for even more appeal, such as a lower angle (look at shelter magazines for examples) or a higher view (from a catwalk or stairway).

You’ve often heard that selling your house is all about “location, location, location.” (And lately, “price, price, price.”) But equally as important is “emotion, emotion, emotion.” Make sure your first showing allows a buyer to experience “love at first sight”!