Before Debra Attman would put her sister's house on the market, she insisted that hundreds of items from three giant walk-in closets be purged. Otherwise, she feared the property would seem too crowded to appeal to buyers.
"My sister's house was meticulous, but there was vastly too much volume. The place was bursting," recalls Attman, a 20-year real estate agent affiliated with the Council of Residential Specialists (https://crs.com/).
Attman's sister initially resisted her coaxing. Because of that, the pre-selling involved a lot of yelling between the two siblings.
Besides her accumulated apparel, Attman's sister's closets included a large number of items left behind by her three grown children, all of whom had moved out years before.
It took three agonizing months for the woman to cull through the collections and prepare her property for market. But in the end, her place -- located on a verdant, full-acre lot in a coveted neighborhood -- sold well.
For many longtime homeowners, an excess volume of clothing is a major barrier to a successful home sale.
"Many women -- but also lots of men and teenagers -- own way too much clothing. And because clothing has an emotional element -- we remember where we wore it -- it's tough to give away," Attman says.
In an attempt to make the process of purging excess clothing as smooth as possible, she advises her home-selling clients to adhere to what she calls "the two-year rule." Any item of clothing or shoes not worn in two years should be let go.
Attman also recommends that rather than simply throwing out excess clothing, many people find it easier to let go of it if they do so purposefully.
She tells the true story of the 16-year-old son of one of her clients who spent his summer vacation selling clothing and other excess household items on eBay, thereby helping ease his parents' quest to sell the family home.
"He made enough money for a down payment on a car. Selling your stuff on the Internet or through consignment stores is a good plan for home sellers with the time and inclination to do so," Attman says.
Here are a few other pointers for sellers:
-- Consider obtaining a storage unit on a temporary basis.
Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home," says many sellers have items on display that could hurt a sale unless they're removed. For example, he cites sports trophies, fancy kitchen gadgets and family photos.
What can you do with such precious objects while your house is on the market? One idea is to pack them in uniform-sized boxes -- stacking them neatly in your garage. But Davis says it's still better to stash them in a rented storage unit until your place is sold.
"Some homebuyers are really enthused about converting a garage into a home business office or decorating the space for an extra rec room. If your garage is full of boxes, prospects could miss this potential," Davis says.
For sellers, there are also other advantages to off-site storage.
"By renting a storage unit, you'll be less tempted to start retrieving items from your boxes. It's a lot harder to go back and pull out that cappuccino maker if you have to drive over to your storage unit to retrieve it," he says.
-- Invest in the services of a high-quality cleaning service.
To hear Davis tell it, few home sellers are willing to engage in the kind of in-depth cleaning needed to sell their property. Yet buyers are extremely resistant to purchasing any property that's less than pristine.
Given that cleaning is so critical, he says that hiring a service to do an in-depth job is well worth the $100 to $200 you'll likely need to spend. And you're unlikely to need to repeat the process for another two to three months.
"While your house is in the showing stage, you will, of course, still need to mow your lawn, wash your dishes and make your beds. But for a while you won't have to hire anyone to scrub away the mold embedded in your bathroom tile," Davis says.
Because not all cleaning companies are created equal, he strongly recommends that you ask for referrals from neighbors and friends and diligently check references.
-- Hold a family meeting to address upkeep issues.
After a home has lingered on the market for more than a couple of days, it's easy for the family living there to lose focus.
"People in the house start leaving unwashed clothes in the laundry room. Bills and papers stack up in the home office. And the teenagers start depositing sports equipment and shoes all over the place," Davis says.
To avoid these outcomes, he strongly encourages sellers to establish a collective plan of action and to do so from the beginning of their listing.
"I recommend a family meeting during which you lay down some rules to keep everybody on track. That way you can establish norms for the household," Davis says.
"The reality is that keeping your house in show-ready condition is an exceedingly stressful part of selling. The only good way to cope with all that stress is to stay laser-focused on the big picture and your priority for a successful sale," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)