Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Hoping To Trade Up to a Bigger House? Here Are Tips

There’s an intriguing housing trend emerging for young families out of the pandemic period.

Real estate analysts say that due to stay-at-home orders, many who own small starter homes now yearn to sell and upsize. Living together so intensely has convinced many of the deficits of their current property and the need for more private square footage, especially for dedicated home offices and children’s homework space.

At Seattle-based Zillow (zillow.com), which tracks real estate markets nationwide, senior economist Skylar Olsen reports a recent surge in online searching behavior among those seeking more spacious housing.

Meanwhile, the experience of working from home in recent weeks has convinced many adults -- and their employers -- of the viability of teleworking remotely on an indefinite basis. That opens up the possibility of leaving dense and expensive metro areas in favor of outlying communities, where large homes are less expensive.

The good news for families now wishing to trade up from a modest house is that there’s strong pent-up demand for entry-level property and a shortage of supply in this segment of the housing market.

One very recent hint of a bounce-back in home sales comes from the Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org), which just noted a 12% weekly uptick in mortgage applications to purchase property.

Joel Kan, a vice president at the Washington, D.C.-based association, said the new statistics represent a very tentative “sign of the start of an upturn in the pandemic-delayed spring homebuying season, as coronavirus lockdown restrictions slowly ease in various markets.”

Of course, the first step for homeowners wishing to upsize involves making their current property show-worthy. Even if they plan to market the place primarily to online visitors, it’s essential that the home be stripped of clutter and excess furniture.

Nancy Meck, a professional organizer who’s helped hundreds of home sellers clear through excess belongings in preparation for a move, says the current shelter-in-place period can be an ideal time for families to declutter.

“But for every member of the family, you have to set realistic expectations and work to each person’s strengths. All the family members have to stay in their own lanes and not stress each other out,” says Meck, who offers extensive advice on her website: meckorganizing.com.

Here are a few other pointers for families hoping to sell and upsize later this year or in early 2021:

-- Lighten your project in creative ways.

Stephanie Calahan, an Illinois-based productivity consultant, recommends preparing a comprehensive written plan that spells out a systematic approach. Or you could start with a single part of one room, using a flashlight to define how large an area you’ll tackle at a given time.

“In the midst of a big decluttering effort, the flashlight allows you to focus mentally on just a single area,” she says.

Once your units of work have been defined, Calahan suggests you allocate a fixed amount of time to declutter each area and then, with the help of a kitchen timer, see if you can “beat the clock.”

-- Tackle the clothes that stuff your closets.

One of the most time-consuming tasks involved in decluttering involves what organizers call “editing your wardrobe.” Because this in an elaborate process, Meck suggests you start by pondering your wardrobe priorities before plunging into the work. Then break down the job into one-hour segments.

On her website, Meck suggests a 10-step plan for slimming down crowded clothes closets. She stresses the importance of thinking realistically about your wardrobe needs for perhaps a one-year period.

“Think about the activities you do in your current life -- not your fantasy life when you ‘take up’ gardening, register for a half-marathon or start going to concerts again,” she says.

Granted, many homebound families who are now spending many daytime hours in comfortable, exercise-style clothes need to retain some less informal attire for use after the pandemic lifts. But Meck cautions against keeping too much volume.

-- Infuse music into your work.

Obviously, taste in music varies widely. But no matter your preference, the use of music during an organizational project can help enliven your spirit and increase the intensity of your work. Consider the kind of energizing music used, for example, in dance or cycling classes.

-- Consider an online session with a professional organizer.

Even motivated families can find it challenging to mobilize for a home sale without the assistance of a professional in the field. These days, professional organizers are offering online consultations for homebound owners planning to make a move.

One way to identify an experienced professional organizer is through referrals from family, friends or co-workers. Another way is through the website of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (napo.net).

“Even if you plan to do all the work yourself, a pro in the organizational field can help give you a jump start,” Meck says.

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