As much as this topic is debated among industry professionals, too many people think that there should be a definitive answer to this. Frankly, there is not.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review just picked up an article on this subject which does a solid job of presenting all points of view:
There are some homes for sale which most definitely would benefit from professional staging. But at the same time, there are definitely homes which do not. It doesn't mean that the opposing side is right or wrong. It really depends on the specifics of the property, as well as the seller(s).
I address this quite a bit in my book, "8 Hours To Sell Your Home". The majority of homes for sale could use some degree of "staging" in preparation for potential buyers and realty agents to be walking around and evaluating for a major purchase. This does not mean that every home needs a pro to assist in that effort.
The real problem with this is that too many realty agents are set in their ways regarding professional staging. Those who prefer that are likely to recommend it even to sellers who do not need to spend on professional help. While those agents who do not preach for staging are likely to overlook it even on listings which could use a serious makeover.
For these reasons, I encourage sellers to take command of the situation and be realistic in assessing their home's appeal before even one potential buyer sets foot inside.
There are many aspects to "staging" your home, ranging from painting of rooms to renting fancy furniture and all points in between. What works in one home might not help in the "house next door" because there are several variables.
In other words, the reason you pay to bring in a professional staging expert should be because of something needed to help get your home sold, and NOT because the agent you choose happened to have sold a house three blocks away after hiring the same person. Again, the seller needs to be in control of this aspect, regardless of what the agent thinks.
Some of the "staging" tips I mention can be done, for little to minimal cost, without having to bother with hiring a pro stager. It could be little things, such as leaving a book (with a bookmark sticking out) out on a table about how to build or operate something. Something requiring a lot of expertise. You don't even have to really be reading the book. Just have it look as though you accidentally left it on the table, while your other books are neatly put away on the roomy bookshelves.
To make it even more simple, 'just happen' to leave out a N.Y. Times Book Review section of the local newspaper on the table, or something similar and upscale. Think about it. If you are entering someone's home and see one portion of a newspaper on the table, seeing the Book Review section will increase your impression of the owner (or resident) than if you saw an ad for the local dollar store instead.
Same theory with any food or beverages you have "showing" in your kitchen. A fine wine bottle looks a whole lot better to a visitor than a can of 'off-brand' cola on the same counter.
Another theory is that some sellers are better off to spend a few hundred dollars on rented upscale furniture for a couple of weeks (for showings) than to spend that amount on a person to tell you that you need 'better' furniture and then not be able to afford any.
To me, these are just a couple of examples of "staging" your home. The more professional and upscale image that sellers present of themselves, the better the home looks because of who is living in it.
If you are selling and your home is already empty or partially empty because of your move, you need to be ready to entice potential buyers. Your sales presentation should indicate that, for example, "the living room can hold a 3-section sofa" and so forth.
You need to keep in mind that the idea is to allow for potential buyers (and realty agents) to see how more expensive and upscale contents will look inside the home, instead of plastic furniture and paper plates.
Whatever decision you make as a seller, make that decision with an eye toward having everything about your home look its best to the potential buyer. Paint the picture with THEM in it, regardless of your "real" furniture, what you are reading, and what you have for dinner.