Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

De-cluttering Tips for a Successful Sale

Normally, house hunters view spring as an auspicious time to make a purchase. But this year, they’re less sunny than usual, due to rising home prices and higher mortgage rates. What’s more, there’s now a disconnect between the outlook of buyers and sellers.

While 76 percent of homeowners think now is a good time to buy, just 55 percent of renters concur, says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (realtor.org). He says house hunters are “dispirited by the stiff competition for the short number of listings they can afford.”

Sellers can brighten their own odds of a successful sale by pricing accurately and presenting their property in an appealing way -- especially by clearing out excessive furniture and other possessions.

“There’s a strong visual component to a clutter-free home,” says Tisha Morris, a life coach who helps owners better stage their properties.

Through her work, Morris relies on the principles of “feng shui,” the ancient Chinese belief that how you build your house and arrange your possessions affects your health and happiness. Among other principles, it calls for simplicity in living.

But Morris, author of “Clutter Intervention: How Your Stuff Is Keeping You Stuck,” says it can be tough for sellers to sift through years of accumulations in advance of a sale, especially if they have a great deal of memorabilia.

Though there’s no simple solution to the clutter problem facing many sellers, Morris advises clients to begin by sorting through the items that have the weakest emotional ties. For instance, you might clear through kitchen utensils prior to tackling your children’s storybooks.

But before moving, there’s usually no reason to rid yourself of all your most valued possessions.

“Don’t think you have to become a fire-and-brimstone de-clutterer. If necessary, rent a temporary storage unit to keep your collectibles while your house is on the market,” Morris says.

Here are a few other pointers for sellers:

-- First, get a sense of the big picture.

Homeowners who do a thorough inventory of their clutter problem before attempting to solve it tend to be more efficient, says Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”

“First get your arms around the issue,” he says.

He suggests you ask your listing agent to come over to offer guidance on the belongings that should be banished before your house is shown to visitors.

Prior to downsizing a few years ago, Nash did such an inventory. Among his surplus items: flower vases; gift boxes; back copies of Architectural Digest; old bed linens; a lifetime supply of coffee filters; shoes purchased on impulse; half-used gallons of paint; and surplus telephones. His kitchen was also crammed with extra things -- from odd coffee mugs to flan cups he hasn’t used since the 1980s.

-- Use an illustration of your new space.

As another beginning step, Nash recommends you plot the space in your new property before deciding on the volume of items you can move. This assumes, of course, that you’ve already selected your next habitat.

It’s not only downsizers who can benefit from an illustration showing their new space, Nash says. Anyone planning a move should become more focused once they know what will and won’t fit in their next home.

-- Sort systematically.

When preparing for a move, Nash advocates that you sort like items together.

“Collect all those pesky things you continue to buy because you can’t find the first, second or third one you bought or because at the store you can’t remember if you have any. After you discover the rampant duplication, it’s easy to edit,” he says.

Once you have the items in any given room categorized, use what Nash calls the “three-box system” to plough through them quickly. One box should be labeled “keep,” a second “give away or sell” and a third “I don’t know.”

To increase your momentum, immediately make arrangements to have your “give away or sell” items carted off. This allows you more room to cull through the possessions from the “I don’t know” box that will require more scrutiny.

“It’s the decision-making element of decluttering that gets people paralyzed. But making decisions is easier if you have fewer things to look at,” Nash says.

-- Free yourself of old clothes and technology.

When picking through piles of clothing, one rule of thumb is “If you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it,” says Nash, who also urges sellers to liberate themselves of many old gadgets.

“Obsolete technology is worth even less than people imagine. You probably can’t sell that old computer or printer. The sooner you donate or recycle them, the better off you’ll be. ‘Out of sight and out of mind’ is a great mantra when you’re moving,” he says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)