When selling your house, you often have just one chance to make a good impression with buyers. Enter staging, the practice of exploiting your residence’s best features and minimizing its downsides. Stage your home the right way and it can translate into a faster sale. Here are five smart tips from the pros:

1. Forget all-beige

Once upon a time, painting everything tan or off-white was the way to go. The rationale was simple: Keeping all things neutral meant prospective buyers could see themselves living in your space. Today, the rules have changed -- slightly. Using vivid colours in selected locations, such as a room’s accent wall, can make a boring space seem exciting, says Hilary Farr, co-host of TV’s Love It or List It and owner of Toronto-based Hilary Farr Design. “If the palette is mostly neutral, strong colour on an accent wall to highlight an interesting or important area of the home can be a plus,” she says. Uneasy about painting a wall red or blue? Farr suggests using bold colours in things like your sofa, rug or draperies. Doing so allows you to “make a design statement that can give a neutral space character and inspire the buyer’s imagination,” she says.

2. Add personal pictures

The old rules made sellers banish all their family portraits to the closets. Now, professional stagers place photos strategically around the house. “You don’t litter the house with photos, but a couple of family photos is not bad,” says David Visentin, Love It or List It’s other co-host. “Sometimes people want a sense of family. They want the house to show like it’s been lived in, not like a museum.”

3. Streamline your space

Pack up all the clutter that has accumulated in your house over the years. “You are moving so you will have to do so anyway,” says Jillian Summers, owner and principal staging designer at Upstaging Homes in London, Ont. “This is a great time to get organized and donate things that you no longer want.” Remember that flow and function sells houses, so you’ll need to create the feeling that your home is bigger than it actually is, says Visentin, who is also a sales representative with Country Living Realty Limited in the Hockley Valley area northwest of Toronto. That means editing your furniture and ensuring you can move around each room with comfort. You know you’ve hit the mark if prospective buyers walk into your house commenting on its spacious and inviting atmosphere. They may also say things like, “I can really see how this could be set up. I can see myself here,” says Visentin. In a well-staged home, they’ll also note what type of furniture makes the space work.

4. Clean it up

Wash and vacuum the floor and ensure your home has a nice fresh scent, says Summers. “Don’t forget details such as wiping the walls, the switch plates and around the door knobs,” she adds. Do you have questionable odours in your home? Don’t try to mask them with air fresheners, notes Visentin. “It just creates a combination of smells,” he says. “If I notice that in a home, I think the sellers are covering [a larger problem].” You may need to repaint walls or steam-clean the carpet to truly deep-six any nasty smells.

5. Look outside

Depending on the season, that means raking the leaves, shovelling the snow, cutting the grass and mulching the garden beds. “First impressions matter and if you want a buyer to enter your home, it is vital that the outside looks inviting,” says Summers.

Whether the residential real estate market is scorching hot or ice-cold, smart sellers use every tool at their disposal to make their homes stand out from the crowd. Done well, home staging can make that difference.