When I first walk into a home I'm going to sell, I can usually tell in a few seconds what needs to be changed in order to stage it. However, many sellers don't have the budget to stage it the way I recommend, and some just don't want to change anything, because they think their personal taste in decor is just fine (they're usually wrong.)
Once in a while I walk into a home and wish I had brought some kerosine, but often I can suggest a few simple and cheap methods to stage a home for showings. Here are my top 10 cheapest staging methods:
1. Move and rearrange furniture. Most people make all the their furniture point at the TV, which is often not the best way to show a room. Moving furniture around in a house is a simple way to make things feel more open and usuable to a buyer.
2. Clean. You'll get more for a cheap house, and you'll sell faster. Scrub the inside, power wash the outside. Especially if you have Hawaii's infamous red dirt on your house, you have to power wash that off. Clean the bathrooms really well. Hire a professionaly cleaner if you're not going to do a great job.
3. Freshen the air. A lot of homes stink, literally. Especially in Hawaii, where people use a lot of Kim Chee and weird Asian spices (like my mom does.) Like the post below, you should use candles or Fabreeze. If it's REALLY BAD, you can get an ozone machine to take the must out of the air. It makes the house smell sort of like bleach, which is better than smelling like pets or Kim Chee.
4. Paint. This should be on the top of your list, even though it's #4 on mine. Paint is cheap and it can make any room or house look better. Read my post about painting non-neutral colors and freshen up your house. In Hawaii the colors that won't get easily dirty are best, because there is so much red dirt (see above!)
5. Flowers/plants. Go to the grocery store, not a florist, because flowers are way cheaper at Safeway than some little grocery store. They don't have to be perfect, just look lively. Get a lot of nice green plants. If you want, you can buy fake ones at Costco for about $100 each, and even take those with you to your new home. It doesn't matter if your home is in Mililani, Kailua, Town, Aiea, or Hawaii Kai, plants will completely change the way your home feels. You should definitely get some plants and flowers in your home. Water. Get your grass looking nice and green. Get your trees blooming with flowers. Mow the grass and get your landscaping looking good.
6. Turn on the AC. Don't make us sweat while we look so that we want to leave as fast as we can.
7. Bake cookies, serve food. My wife and I visited a house a while ago where the owner was baking some cookies. It's been about 3 months, but she still remembers that house. Cookies won't sell your house, they will help the buyer remember. The smell of something is great for reinforcing the other senses.
8. Remove or change the window coverings. I see a lot of weird old curtains here in Oahu. Homes with big dark curtains, homes with little cheap plastic blinds, homes with ugly 70's style curtains. I see it all. It's better to have nothing than something ugly. Get rid of the old ugly stuff.
9. Play music. Put one a nice Hawaiian CD and it will leave your buyers with a pleasant mood. If they hear music they're less likely to hear any other outside noise, like traffic and airplanes.
10. Garage Sale. Get rid of all your junk. The more you get rid of, probably the better. I'm not sure why but Japanese people (like my family) tend to keep way too much stuff. There are a lot of these types of people in Hawaii (the type that keep stuff, not Japananese, though there are many of us too) so please have a garage sale before you list your home for sale. It will make my job easier.