When Farah Al-Harazi and her husband were selling their Toronto condo, they asked real estate agents they were considering if they should hire a “stager” to beautify their home in order to fetch top dollar – an increasingly popular practice, but one the agents agreed wasn’t necessary.

Farah, an accountant with an eye for design, kept their two-bedroom condo in such pristine condition that all the couple had to do for showings was stow items from their overflowing closets with family and neighbours and hide their baby’s toys to help prospective buyers envision the home as a more adult space.

The tweaks are typically the final steps in a stager’s process, which often includes refurnishing, redecorating and repainting the home to show off its best features and lure in buyers. Realtors say staging is becoming increasingly popular as more Canadians move towards browsing properties online, where a well-designed home can stand out in photos, entice buyers and earn sellers more.

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The Real Estate Staging Association has said that homes across North America spent 90 per cent less time on the market in 2016, selling within an average of 23 days in comparison to unstaged homes which took an average 184 days to sell.

Farah said keeping a home in designer condition, like she did, or staging a property yourself can save hundreds or thousands of dollars as realtors increasingly include staging costs in their commission and fees.

“We were able to negotiate a lower rate because I said: ‘you guys don’t have to do anything for staging, so we should be getting a discount’,” Farah recalled. “It worked out well.”

Marie Whittaker, who runs Couture Staging in the Greater Toronto Area, said if you can’t stomach the cost, which many stagers say averages around $2,000 but fluctuates depending on the size of the home, she suggests hiring a stager to do an assessment.

“They will put together a detailed action plan to help you stage it yourself and it goes into things that are small like put this vase on this coffee table, but also big things like what colour to paint your walls,” she said.

Stagers may not advertise the service, but they do offer it for a few hundred dollars, depending on the size of your space, she said.

For those who insist on doing it themselves, Whittaker said to declutter your home and remove personalized items that will distract buyers from picturing themselves living in your place.

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Give away or move around awkward or big pieces of furniture to make rooms look bigger or transform spaces used for storage into an office or another bedroom, said Meray Mansour, a realtor who owns a staging company.

She stressed self-stagers should “keep it simple” by making their place look lived in, but by someone who is neat and organized.

“I find sometimes when people do it themselves they bring in too many things,” she said. “It doesn’t need to look like an Ikea catalogue.”

If you need to bring in furniture, but don’t want to spend a lot, Mansour suggested rental companies that lend out sectionals or statement pieces for about $250 per month.

If you need to stow items, she said to shop around for a storage company that offers low rates for short-term rentals.

Whittaker suggested Second Closet, a Toronto-based business that will pick up, store and return items to you whenever you want for as little as $3 a month. She said it comes in handy if you want to store a few items or a bulk piece of furniture like a china cabinet, but don’t want to rent out an entire locker.

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If renting furniture and storage are out of the budget, Whittaker and Mansour suggested slathering a coat of paint on anything aging the home or looking worn, such as cupboards, backsplashes, tiles, bathtubs and trim around doorways and windows.

Paint helped do the trick for one of Mansour’s neighbours that initially listed her home with cellphone photos showing off red walls and old eighties furniture. The property sat on the market for weeks before the neighbour turned to Mansour, who painted the outside trim and the whole home in neutral tones, decluttered, removed the eighties furniture and repurposed some of the rooms.

The home sold within three days at asking price, Mansour said.

She estimated someone staging their own property could do a decent job with $2,000, but the key is to keep in mind how much you’re hoping to increase the value from staging before you open your wallet.

“Only spend according to what you think is going to come back to you from it.”