Are you obliged to sell your home due to an involuntary job transfer to a faraway state? If so, you might find yourself resisting your real estate agent's advice that you rid your place of excess belongings before it's shown to homebuyers.
Still, Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert, says it's critical that you take on this arduous challenge in order to improve your odds of a timely and successful sale.
"These days everyone spends so much time indoors on their computers or other electronic screens. Due to all those inside hours, we want open, spacious houses with lots of natural light -- not a place that seems crowded because it's filled with clutter," says Tyson, co-author of "House Selling for Dummies."
Most homeowners are still living in their home while it's on the market. Nevertheless, he says it's imperative you remove a large volume of belongings to make your property appealing.
What are some of the items that pile up in typical households?
Kristin Bertilson, the owner of a professional organizing company, says her clients -- including many involved in an involuntary home sale -- have closets filled with seemingly endless clothes and accessories. Also, numerous kitchen gadgets cram their countertops and toiletries crowd their bathrooms.
"Lots of people cling to many sentimental things -- including piles of greeting cards sent to them from loved ones and their children's artwork," Bertilson says.
For home sellers, Tyson says the best plan is to cull through all their accumulations before their property is shown for sale, packing away anything they can live without until they move.
Some unneeded items can be sold -- if not at a neighborhood sale, then perhaps on eBay. And discards contributed to charities -- such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill -- could yield a tax deduction.
To those who are unconvinced it's worth the time to purge themselves of excess belongings before they move, Tyson suggests they call a moving company for an estimate on the cost of hauling their extra belongings to the new location.
"It can be shockingly expensive to pay movers. Even if your company is helping to pay for the move, you're still going to get hit with a lot of extra costs," Tyson says.
Here are a few pointers for home sellers:
-- Equip yourself with all the gear you'll need for the job.
Martha Webb, a home-staging specialist and author of "Dress Your House for Success," says an effective de-cluttering program starts with the right equipment.
To stash away items you've decided to keep for your next home, she says you won't need fancy storage containers. Cardboard boxes are fine. But ideally you should use boxes of uniform size -- like the "bankers boxes" sold at office supply stores -- that can be stacked neatly.
After pre-packing the items that will go to your next property, Webb says you should place them out of sight, preferably in a temporary storage unit. Alternatively, if you aren't willing to pay the rental cost for a storage unit, place the boxes in your garage.
"Buyers will be more understanding if you have boxes stored neatly in your garage than if they're stashed in your living space. But they may still question whether there is enough storage space in your property," Webb says.
-- Tackle just one room at a time.
Webb says it can be nerve-racking to go back and forth from one room to another, trying to clear clutter from multiple fronts simultaneously. Rather, she advises you to take on just one room at a time -- starting with your master bedroom and clearing out closets first.
"Buyers who come to look at your house will definitely open every closet door in your bedrooms to look inside, just as they'll open every drawer and cabinet in your kitchen. So all these storage areas must be free of clutter," she says.
-- Use tact when clearing out your kids' bedrooms.
In many cases, young children feel anxious about the moving process -- and all the more so if the family is making an involuntary move. Their anxiety usually starts when their belongings must be packed. Because of this, Webb says they need reassurance that their most treasured possessions will still be available to them once the family has moved.
She says one way to help relieve children's fears is to involve them in choosing which of their items will go to the next home.
"Let the kids select their favorite toys and books and then give them markers to decorate at least one box that can stay in their room until the house is sold," Webb says.
-- Give priority attention to your kitchen.
In many homes, the kitchen now serves as the center of family life. For that reason, you'll want to impress buyers that your kitchen is large enough to meet their expectations.
"Lots of kitchen storage is a huge selling point for any property. The last thing you want is for buyers to think your kitchen is so crowded that there will be insufficient space for all your dishes and food," she says.
She recommends that sellers remove all superfluous items from both their kitchen countertops and their kitchen storage areas. Then thoroughly clean all the cabinets, replacing only those pieces you truly need for regular use. Everything else should go to storage or a charity.
-- Remove any controversial or questionable items.
Most families have possessions in their home that they resist removing -- especially if they're involved in a move they'd rather not make. But Webb says that as a home seller, you don't want anything visible that might distract attention from the positive attributes of your property.
For example, she urges you to remove any items that convey your political or religious opinions -- or even that reveal which sports teams you favor.
"Otherwise, in effect you're asking buyers to agree or disagree with your opinions. And I can almost guarantee that if they disagree, they'll reject your house," Webb says.
-- Look forward to the cathartic feeling that comes from purging.
Obviously, few people relish the demanding chore of sorting through years' worth of possessions. And this task can be especially unpleasant if you're being compelled to move involuntarily -- for example to accept a job transfer or lose your job altogether.
But Tyson says many who've gone through any household downsizing process discover -- often to their surprise -- that they feel less burdened with fewer possessions to manage.
"With less clutter, you live in a less stressful environment. And that can feel very refreshing," he says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)