Last year, a couple in their 30s -- a professional puppeteer married to a graduate student -- moved to a two-bedroom city condo. The purchase by the income-tight couple was largely thanks to the couple’s parents, who doted on their 2-year-old grandson.
The young family had planned to stay in the condo for years. But that was before COVID-19 and the birth of their second child. Suddenly, the condo felt extremely crowded.
“Quarantine taught us we really need a whole lot more space. For months we’ve been smashed together and dreaming of a house with a big kitchen and a yard where we could raise puppies,” the husband says.
Again with a promise of help from their parents, the couple recently began laying plans to sell their city condo in favor of a suburban property with at least 2,500 square feet of living space. Their first step involved calling a trusted real estate broker for advice.
“The broker told us there has literally never been a better time in history to sell residential property because right now there’s a pitiful shortage of available homes. But she also told us that to get top dollar, we’d have to hurry to prep our condo for market while sellers still rule,” the husband says.
Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com, the home listing service, doesn’t know the family in this true story. But she understands their urge to sell promptly, given the dramatic rise in property prices. Indeed, median list prices for homes are now 18.7% higher than last year, marking 35 consecutive weeks of double-digit price growth.
“For sellers, getting in early optimizes odds of a quick sale at a good price before there’s too much competition,” Hale says.
Still, the family in this example has plenty of work to do to ready their 90-year-old condo for market. Their floors need refinishing, and their kitchen cabinets need repainting. But a still more laborious task awaits the family: decluttering their place, which is crammed with children’s toys, baby items, books, kitchen gear and other possessions.
Virginia Barkley, a professional organizer and author of “Clutter Busting for Busy Women,” recommends that would-be sellers call in reinforcements to help make their property show-worthy.
“It makes a huge difference to get outside help with such a big undertaking,” she says.
Barkley, who previously worked in the deadline-oriented field of film and television production, says the key to a successful home-streamlining project is to plan ahead and maintain a positive attitude.
“You have to set a drop-dead deadline for yourself. And every single day you have to remind yourself of your vision for the future,” she says.
Here are a few tips for sellers:
-- Face the reality that decluttering is essential.
Eric Tyson, co-author of “House Selling for Dummies,” says would-be sellers who fail to downsize their possessions are at risk for substantial penalties.
“Even now, buyers are tremendously resistant to any place loaded with too much stuff because they can’t picture themselves living there,” Tyson says.
Many people are still living in their home while it’s on the market. Still, Tyson says it’s critically important that they pack away excess belongings until the property is sold.
If you need more motivation, Tyson recommends you call in a moving company for an estimate on the cost of hauling all your unsorted belongings to your new location.
“The cost to transport all your stuff should be enough to motivate you through the purging process,” he says.
-- Don’t attempt to declutter more than one room at a time.
Martha Webb, an expert on home staging, says you’ll go crazy if try to battle clutter on several fronts simultaneously. Instead, she counsels you to take on just one space at a time, starting with your master bedroom and clearing out closets in this room first.
“Having ample storage, including large closets, is a huge issue for contemporary buyers. ... Once you’ve cleared out enough, you should be able to see the back wall of your closets,” says Webb, the author of “Dress Your House for Success.”
-- Dedicate special attention to your kitchen.
Webb says most home shoppers won’t routinely look inside the furniture that stores your clothes. But many will open your kitchen cabinets.
“The last thing you want is for buyers to see a kitchen so crammed with items that they’ll think it lacks sufficient space for their own dishes and food,” she says.
After you’ve removed all the superfluous items from your kitchen storage areas, clean out the cabinets and replace only those pieces you absolutely need for everyday use.
-- Show respect when clearing children’s bedrooms.
Young children feel an understandable sense of alarm at the notion that many of their toys will be packed up and put away until your move is complete.
How can you calm your children’s fears? Webb suggests you transform the process into a game.
“Tell the children they can choose a few special toys and books to keep in their rooms until the move occurs. Mention that they can use these items -- along with the ones you’re putting in boxes -- for a ‘toy party' in the new house,” she says.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)