How to Make a Rental Listing Stand Out: Advice from Staging Expert Debra Gould

By Shami Barooshian
How to Make a Rental Listing Stand Out: Advice from Staging Expert Debra Gould

Home staging expert Debra Gould shares simple, inexpensive tips to help landlords attract new tenants to their rental property. Find out how things like great lighting and some homey touches make for an eye-catching listing.

Debra Gould
From our expert

Home-staging expert Debra Gould is president of Voice of Possibility Group Inc., which operates Six Elements Home Staging and the Staging Diva Home Staging Business Training Program. An entrepreneur and author of several guides, Debra has staged millions of dollars' worth of real estate and trained over 10,000 home stagers worldwide. Visit for additional tips or to find a home stager in your area.

For real estate agents and home sellers, furniture staging experts are a lucrative secret weapon. Whether it's an artfully arranged throw blanket or a complete interior overhaul, thoughtful furnishings help potential home buyers imagine a space not just as a house, but as a home.

Surprisingly, staging isn't something most small property owners think about when listing a space for rent. According to home staging expert Debra Gould, stealing a few tips from the home seller's playbook can help landlords increase property demand, rent it faster and even garner a higher price.

“Most empty places, whether you're walking through them or looking at photographs, have this sort of sad, forgotten feeling," Gould says. “If you can find a way to furnish it, even if it's just for showing to prospective tenants, it's going to help you showcase the property in a much better way."

The good news is that staging a rental doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. Unlike interior decorating, Gould says, the goal isn't to “fill" a space; instead, it's to add just enough touches that prospective renters can imagine how they might make a place their own.

Here, Gould offers some pro tips for putting a rental property's best foot forward:

Give empty rooms a reference point

A 14-by-14-foot room may be nearly double the square footage of a 10-by-10-foot room, but when left empty, they'll look and feel identical—both in a photograph and real life. Why? People aren't able to gauge the relative size of a space without a fixed reference point, says Gould. This can be anything from a bed frame to a bookcase, depending on the space. “Even if you just put a chair in a room, right away that gives some scale and perspective," she says.

Help “strange" spaces sell themselves

If the rental space is unconventional—such as an attic or basement, or a house that's been subdivided into rental units—renters may have a hard time imagining how their personal furnishings will fit. In these cases, smart landlords will use furniture to help people see a space's true potential, says Gould. Have a big, open area instead of traditional kitchen, dining room and living room, for example? Adding a small table and chairs as well as a couch will help renters envision separate living spaces. “With a less-than-ideal floor plan, helping people understand how they're going to furnish the space will make your job so much easier," says Gould.

Think about the target audience

Perhaps the rental house is in a kid-friendly neighborhood, but the previous tenants were childless. Or the property is a small extra room in an area that's notorious for attracting freelancers and creatives. In these cases, “merchandizing" a room—or using furniture to give it a certain mood or feeling—can make a big difference. Says Gould: “It doesn't take much to suggest a kid's room: a twin bed, a little lamp, a nightstand, some cute bedding and presto!"

Create emotional appeal

Fruit_In-line_ShutterstockBoth in photographs and during tours, homey touches such as a bowl of fruit on the counter or a bud vase on a table go a long way towards warming up a space—especially in high-end properties. And there's nothing more depressing than a stripped-bare bathroom, says Gould. If nothing else, she advises, add a shower curtain, bath mat and fluffy towels before showing a property. “Little extras like that just give the sense that it's not a cold, vacant place," she says.

Don't break the bank

“Staging" a rental shouldn't be expensive, Gould says. Small property owners can rent furnishings online with a quick Google search or take a trip to the local consignment store to unearth a few treasures. Staging experts also do consultations, an in-between option that allows small property owners to tap pro advice without forking over a full staging fee. “Recently, a friend of mine had her place on the rental market for three months and was having no luck," says Gould. “I came over and made a few suggestions—such as adding a dining table and loveseat she already owned—and within a week she had her choice of five tenants."

Lighting and lens angles matter

Renters will see a space online before visiting in person, and first impressions count, says Gould. She suggests taking photos with a wide-angle lens (or the panoramic setting on an iPhone), which makes rooms look bigger. Lighting is also key: throw open the shades, turn on all the lights and consider bringing in extra lighting if you're still not satisfied with the results. She also advises experimenting with camera angles, first holding your lens high and then snapping pics at eye-level, to see what looks best. “Shoot more pictures than you need and take the time to find a room's best angles," says Gould. “It'll take you a few extra minutes to sort through them, but it's well worth it."

Shami Barooshian
About the Author:
Shami Barooshian
Shami is a freelance writer and editor who covers a wide range of topics from workplace culture to marketing strategy. Previously, Shami was editor of a small literary journal and is the author of prize-winning fiction.