Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin


In recent years, turbulence in real estate markets has caused many older homeowners to delay plans to sell. But as the housing recovery gets underway, all that could change in a major way.

Jan Yager, a sociologist and time-management consultant, predicts that within the next decade "tens of millions" of baby boomers will sell their current homes and move to different abodes more suitable for retirement.

No matter where they plan to move, boomers who've lived in the same home for many years will face the enormous task of sifting through accumulations and upgrading their property for market. And all who try to tackle this project need a strategic plan to manage their time, says Yager, author of "Work Less, Do More," a time- management book.

"Using your time wisely is pivotal to getting your house in order, whether you're working, retired or semi-retired," she says.

If possible, Yager encourages those who need to clear through a vast collection of belongings before selling to allow a full year for this project. But she's aware that most sellers don't have this much latitude and that they may need some help to expedite the process.

"It could be a good idea for you to hire a professional organizer," says Yager, who recommends that home sellers consider seeking a local referral through the National Association of Professional Organizers (

These few pointers could prove helpful, if you are a time-stretched home-seller:

-- Acknowledge your limitations on time.

"People are beyond busy now. If you're working, you're extremely busy at the office. If you're not working, you're busy looking for a job," says Lee Silber, author of "Time Management for the Creative Person."

"Everything happens so much faster than before, making it hard to keep up," Silber says.

When people seek to add on to their already busy schedules all the work associated with a housing move, many go into overload.

"I've ruled out moving myself, because I know it would take months to get the whole project completed," Silber says.

Silber recommends you make a list of discretionary activities that could be cut from your schedule until your home project is done. For example, you might cut back on TV.

Rita Emmett, a time-management specialist and author of books on procrastination, suggests you reduce the time you spend on what she dubs "recreational shopping."

"For Americans, the No. 1 family activity is going to the mall," she says.

Another way to liberate time is to prepare simple meals at home rather than heading to a fast food place, Emmett says. As she notes, the drive back and forth to a restaurant takes more time than people expect. Plus there's the time spent waiting to be served at the restaurant.

-- Set priorities carefully.

Like many time-management consultants, Silber discourages clients from taking an all-or-nothing approach. Rather, he urges them to concentrate on the tasks with the greatest possible impact.

To ensure that the most time and money are focused on key priorities, he says your first step should be to ask a trusted real estate agent to walk through your property and advise you on the steps most worth taking.

For instance, replacing a stained living room carpet could make a huge difference in the salability of your place. But fixing the stains on your concrete walkways may not.

"Remember, you get 90 percent of your bang from just 10 percent of your activities. So always focus on that top 10 percent first," Silber says.

-- Create a work plan that suits your personality.

Silber says too few people embark on a home project with an overall plan in mind, and this slows their progress. But he also stresses that there's no one-size-fits-all approach to planning.

As an alternative to a formal written plan, he suggests that non-traditionalists may wish to make a visual "blueprint" of their property, marking in tasks on a room-by-room basis and then doing the work in the sequence they prefer.

"To help stay on course, you might draw a picture of how you want each room to look and then tape it to the door of that room," he says.

-- Infuse fun into the home preparation process.

You'll gain more momentum in your quest to ready your home for market if you can make an otherwise boring project more interesting, Silber says.

He suggests you might want to throw a "pre-sale party" featuring pizza and beer. To stage such a party, and gain help with your project, simply send out invitations for an event to occur before your real estate agent lists your home for sale.

"Surprisingly many people -- especially organized people -- like to make their friends' homes look better. They really do want to help you out, so don't be shy about asking," he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at