Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Seller Prep: Why It's Smart to Highlight Your Home Office

For 30 years, Kate Lister has been a big advocate for telecommuting. For just as long, she’s worked from a spacious home office overlooking the Pacific Ocean near San Diego. She even embellished her workspace with a hot tub.

“It’s a great gig working from home. Because you spare yourself commuting and office politics, it’s a wonderful way to save your sanity and comfort,” says Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics (globalworkplaceanalytics.com), a think tank that tracks telework trends.

It’s no secret that COVID-19 has dramatically increased the population of telecommuters. Lister predicts that even after the pandemic clears and children are back in school, many employees will continue to work from home, if only part-time.

“Finally, bosses realize people working from home can be trusted and productive. In fact, our research shows teleworkers give back to their companies at least half the extra time they would have spent commuting,” she says.

The quest for a property with ample and attractive space for at least one home office is a major force driving the current housing market and pushing up prices, according to Danielle Hale, the chief economist at Realtor.com, the home listing company.

These days, home offices are so important to buyers that owners wishing to sell should do all they can to emphasize the desirability of their telework space.

What features do buyers most covet in a home office? Lister says many hanker for a private room with a door they can close, sparing them intrusions that could impair their concentration while working.

“The open-floor plan concept is good in theory. But it’s hard to work in an area with no separation from the rest of the household,” she says.

If the home you’re selling offers a room with a view suitable for home office use, it’s wise to stress this in your marketing materials.

“The reality is that people who telework spend more time in their home office than in their bedroom, so it makes sense to work in a space that feels open to the outside world,” Lister says.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Streamline your office operation.

Of course, many home sellers already use an extra room as a dedicated home office and wish to continue doing so until their place is sold. In that case, real estate specialists say it’s crucial the room be kept clean and clutter-free while the place is on the market.

“Nowadays, buyers want perfection in every part of the house. For the home office, that means no shelves bulging with books, no file cabinets, and certainly none of those clunky old desktop computers,” says Ashley Richardson, who sells homes through the Long & Foster realty company.

The problem is that many who work from their home on a regular basis tolerate a degree of chaos unacceptable to potential buyers. For instance, they accept a space with piles of papers, files and binders sitting on various surfaces around the office.

“Before your house goes on the market, you have to clean up the home office so buyers can envision themselves working comfortably there. This can take many hours of decluttering,” says Richardson, who’s affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).

Professional organizers, such as Susan Pinsky, author of “The Fast and Furious 5 Step Organizing Solution,” say many sellers who operate a home-based business find the chore of decluttering intimidating.

“They have to figure out how to keep the company running while the house is on the market, which is extremely hard,” she says.

Pinsky points to a paradox: At a time when vast quantities of information are instantly accessible online, many people still save more papers, magazines and books than they need. They also hang on to lots of obsolete technology.

-- Make paper culling to a high priority.

Many people who have home offices are plagued with boxes and bags filled with unsorted papers. These include business reports, computer printouts, junk mail, utility bills, credit card statements and clippings from magazines and newspapers.

Ironically, very few of the papers that people keep have value to their careers, says Pierrette Ashcroft, a productivity consultant who operates her own home-based firm.

“More than 80% of the papers people save are never referred to again,” she says.

The problem for home sellers is that any kind of clutter, including papers, makes a home look untidy. That can cause visitors to conclude that the house has more problems than meet the eye, says Mark Nash, a real estate analyst and author of “1001 Tips for Buying and Selling a Home.”

“Less is always more when it comes to selling your home,” Nash says.

-- Employ a scanner to store papers, rather than filing cabinets.

Many teleworkers struggle to stay organized with extensive filing systems. But Ashcroft says that filing all but the most important papers is usually a waste of time and energy.

She urges those trying to declutter a home office to scan many of their documents into their 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.

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