A woman in her 50s was highly motivated to make an out-of-state move for a new job. But before her house could go up for sale, she had to cull through her huge collection of belongings. The task was enormous, but she managed to do it in a week of focused work.
"I gave her a step-by-step action plan and she followed it meticulously," recalls Kristin Bertilson, the professional organizer hired by the woman to oversee her project.
Bertilson, who's affiliated with the National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net), advises hurried home sellers to pre-pack their largest and heaviest belongings first.
"Start by removing non-essential furniture, placing the extra pieces in storage so your house won't look crowded. Then pack away the contents from your bookshelves, leaving just a few books behind," she says.
After that, she recommends you head for the kitchen.
"Pack away all the kitchen items you use only intermittently, like your crock pot and popcorn maker," Bertilson says.
During the culling process, you'll want to save for last any items that are hard to let go for sentimental reasons.
"You don't necessarily make final decisions on your mementos before you move. Instead, you can neatly pack these items and go through them after you've reached the next house," Bertilson says.
Mark Nash, a long-time real estate broker and author of "1001 Tips for Buying & Selling a Home," says many sellers now have less lead time than in the past, making a methodical prep plan all the more important.
Are you a homeowner who wants to move as soon as possible? If so, these pointers could help:
-- Target those projects with the most impact.
"An experienced agent can help you identify tasks that will make a real difference to a sale versus those not worth doing," says Dorcas Helfant, a former president of the National Association of Realtors (www.realtor.org).
For instance, your listing agent might dissuade you from hiring a landscape architect to redesign your backyard. But the same agent could convince you of the value of resurfacing your kitchen cabinets.
-- Look to outside assistance if your time is limited.
Do you often work overtime or have other duties that require time outside of your job?
Sellers in this sort of situation need extra help from their listing agent, Nash says.
Nash estimates that at least 40 percent of listing agents will assist their clients in finding contractors for pre-sale repairs and cosmetic improvements. Many will also oversee the contractors' work while it's underway.
"Interview proactive agents whose references say they're super-organized and have a database of good contractors," he says.
-- Set your priorities thoughtfully.
As Nash says, it's crucial for any time-strapped home seller to set priorities.
"Walk through your property with the agent, listing all the steps that could make a worthwhile difference for your sale. Then classify them into "A-," "B-" and "C-level" tasks. Start with the "A" items. Move on to the "B's" and "C's" only if time allows," he says.
-- Address your top-priority projects first.
"If you can afford it, hire people for your grunt work. Find people to wash your windows inside and out and to prune your shrubs. Also, consider hiring professional painters," Nash says.
When it comes to interior painting, Nash urges you to avoid such daring colors as magenta, salmon and mustard. Granted, bold colors are commonly recommended by designers on popular TV home improvement shows. But sellers risk alienating potential buyers when they choose controversial colors.
He recommends that sellers select a single neutral color, like an off-white or light gray. and then use it throughout the home.
"Bold colors make the buyer's eyes stop, start and stop again. But when you use a calm neutral, your home appears larger and more unified," Nash says.
-- Take on "B" and "C" tasks if time permits.
One "B-level" item on most sellers' task lists involves window treatments.
"If you have the kind of heavy drapes your grandmother had in her house, take them down. The current generation of buyers likes a light, bright living environment. That's why you're often better off with no window coverings than those old-style drapes," Nash says.
Additional items on your "B" list should include the installation of new kitchen countertops, assuming yours are nicked or damaged. Also, consider sanding and polishing worn hardwood floors.
"C" items typically involve improvements to a house that are outside its main living area, such as attics and garage spaces. They also include repairs to cracked or stained driveways and walkways.
"When time and money are limited ... you've got to put your resources where you'll get the best return," Nash says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)