Since the pandemic started, countless homeowners have set aside a space in their property for a home office.
A Los Angeles couple -- a social worker married to a data management doctor -- put such a high priority on having a spacious home office that they converted their sizable master bedroom for this purpose, equipping it with desks, bookshelves, file cabinets and computer monitors. They also transformed a large closet in their living room into an additional space for private video calls.
As seniors, the pair are now building a custom home in Hawaii, where they intend to retire. That move will mean selling their L.A. property to streamline their lifestyles and finances. That’s why they’re now talking to real estate pros about how best to stage their home for sale.
Stacy Berman, who’s sold homes since 2002, doesn’t know the couple in this true story. But she says the owners would absolutely have to return the master bedroom to its original use to maximize their sale.
“Having a designated home office is appealing to buyers. But so is having a large master bedroom with its own private bathroom,” Berman says.
Granted, it’s important to buyers to have sufficient space for a dedicated home office. Still, most purchasers realize that a secondary bedroom can easily serve this purpose.
“Very few people have three or more kids anymore. So they’re happy to use a smaller bedroom as a home office,” Berman says.
Yet no matter the size of a dedicated home office, it must be staged as a clean and uncluttered space that can serve as a calm and efficient sanctuary, whether used for work, hobbies or online shopping.
“You want it to look like a well-organized executive office,” Berman says.
Here are a few pointers for home sellers:
-- Set aside ample time to declutter your home office.
“It’s very time-consuming to go through everything in a home office, so you must make it a priority,” says Laura Leist, author of “Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home and Life.”
Despite our increasingly paperless society, Leist, who owns a professional organizing firm, says many sellers still face tremendous problems dealing with the stacks of paper, books and magazines that crowd their home offices.
“People don’t know how to make decisions about paper -- what to keep and what to toss out or put through the shredder,” says Leist, a former president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (napo.net).
Why bother to do a major purge of your home office before putting your place up for sale? Because, as professional organizers note, the untidy look of a typical home office makes a place unappealing to potential buyers.
“People can’t picture themselves living in your house if it’s filled with clutter in any room, let alone the home office,” says Susan Pinsky, a veteran organizer and author of books on the topic.
-- Get serious about sifting through papers.
Many who work from home are troubled with containers brimming with unsorted papers. These include business reports, computer printouts, junk mail, utility bills, credit card statements and clippings from magazines and newspapers.
As it happens, few of the papers people keep prove valuable to them, says Pierrette Ashcroft, who leads a productivity consulting firm called Smart Productivity Solutions.
“More than 80% of the papers people save are never referred to again,” she says.
What’s more, a room chosen to serve as a home office is often not the only area where papers mount up.
“Home offices creep outward. Any horizontal spaces are at risk for clutter. For example, I often see papers stacked up on kitchen counters, a dining room table or a couch in the living room,” Ashcroft says.
As those involved in the purging process soon realize, it can take much more brainpower to sift through papers than other kinds of clutter.
“With papers, it’s one micro decision at a time. ... That’s because the papers might contain valuable items like the deed to your house or your passport,” he says.
One way to make decision-making go faster is to give yourself guidelines on what to save and what to toss.
For instance, small business owners might choose to keep all their receipts for tax-deductible expenses, like office equipment and supplies, but throw out those for clothing and food purchases.
-- Digitize many papers rather than filing them.
Many who work from home struggle to stay organized. But Ashcroft says filing all but the most important papers is usually a waste of time and energy.
She advises those trying to declutter a home office to scan many documents into a computer rather than trying to store them in filing cabinets.
“I’m practically paper-free in my own home office. I use a rapid scanner and can scan up to 200 papers in two minutes,” Ashcroft says.
-- Think through your book collections.
Many professionals, including those who don’t work from home, keep more reference books than they ever use, according to Ashcroft.
“People have an emotional attachment to books,” she says, noting that bulging bookshelves are often found throughout a home, not only in the home office.
Ashcroft advises sellers to remember that many books can now be quickly and easily downloaded onto an e-reader such as the Kindle.
(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at email@example.com.)