Preparing to list your home for sale can be a busy, exciting and sometimes stressful time. And it involves a great deal of organization! For those of us who have sold a home, we know that the process leading up to the listing date takes time, energy and money. The longer a person has lived in a home, the more memories, character, and belongings the home collects. It’s what makes each home a special place, and when it’s time to move, it can be particularly challenging to weed through what stays and what goes, especially if the homeowner is downsizing to a smaller home. For those of us who have parents still living in their family home, we may be familiar with this scenario. Or, perhaps they are getting to that point. They may be asking themselves questions like "do we need all of this space? Do we want to keep paying these taxes? Do we want to get closer to family/friends/better weather?"
In either case, when preparing to list a long-lived-in home, the as an owner you should begin the preparation process as far in advance as possible. Here’s why: you never know when the right opportunity for your next home may become available. In addition, you never know when life circumstances may change and you don’t have the time, money, or energy to prepare. And, from an enjoyment standpoint, don’t you want to maximize your enjoyment of your current home now, before you leave it?
With all of that said, here are 10 tips to prepare for listing your home as it relates to (1) organizing your home to make it desirable for the buyer (hint: a more desirable home can sometimes yield a higher purchase price), and (2) making a smooth transition from your current home to your new home.
1. Consult with a real estate agent in advance
Rather than wait until you’re weeks away from selling, get to know real estate agents in your market. Meet them, interview them and see which agent is the right fit. As a Realtor myself (I’m also a home organizer!), I love the opportunity to meet prospective clients and learn about their current home and future goals. Having more time allows me to research the market, and also get to know the homeowners as individuals. What you’ll find when you interview real estate agents, is that each agent has a different personality and value add. You’ll quickly learn what the right fit is for you. Once you’ve identified that agent, develop a relationship and a plan for when you may list the home. They will typically give you a sense of what your home is worth and can also give you some tips as to what buyers in your area are looking for.
2. Create a project plan with deadlines
While this may sound very structured, a project plan will help you stay true to your goals to sell/move/buy. And it will also avoid the cramming and stress to make a listing date. To begin the project plan, start by working with your real estate agent to identify the ideal listing date. Once you’ve got that, then populate all of the action items required to get your home market ready. To-dos on your project plan will include home improvements, decluttering, packing, staging and cleaning. Be sure to set realistic dates for yourself to limit shifting the schedule and unnecessary stress to yourself.
3. List and perform necessary and cosmetic home improvements
Take stock of your home, making a list of the areas in your home that need replacement due to their lack of critical functionality. Critical functionality means: it’s critical to live a safe and operational home. For example, if there’s a leak in the roof — fix it. If the hot water heater is on the fritz, fix or replace it. By doing this advance, you also allow time to get on your choice contractor’s schedules as opposed to rushing and going with whatever handyman is available. For cosmetic improvements, your real estate agent can be very helpful in identifying areas in your home that need simple cosmetic improvements to appeal to the current buyer’s market. This can be incredibly helpful for those who have lived in their home for a decade or more. For instance, in today’s market, floral wall paper is no longer the style, and simple lighter shades of grey paint are aesthetically popular. Or, the carpet with the cat scratches should be pulled up and replaced with new carpet or exposing a beautiful hardwood floor.
4. Consider hiring a home organizer
While I may be biased, as a home organizer, I think home organizers are extremely valuable in the staging/moving process. Here’s why: they have the ability to unemotionally help a homeowner see the space and the facts. This can be particularly helpful for older family members who are preparing to list their home. Having neutral and non-related party help provide “the facts” can avoid any family conflicts in an already stressful time. I completely get it — your home or your parent’s home is a source of a great deal of pride. It’s a place where memories were made, and money and sweat were likely poured into it over the years there. With that said, it’s often hard to get through thinking about how to change it for someone else (in this case a future buyer). And on top of that, it’s hard to think about what precious belongings you would need to part with in order to clean out and move. The home organizer can help you identify what areas of your home need organization, help develop an achievable plan, and help execute the plan with the ultimate goal of getting your home listed and you ready to move to your next destination.
5. Start the distribution process
If there are things you own which you plan to pass forward to family and friends, begin distributing them. Contact your family and friends with a list of the intended items and provide them with the opportunity to accept or decline. Include a deadline when your offer expires. This will help to ensure they get to their next stop. And if they decline to take what you’ve offered, find a new owner — another friend or family, or donation. Whatever you do, do not keep them in your possession, otherwise it will make the moving process harder when the time comes!
6. Source estimates for movers
Start to get a sense as to what moving will cost you, and what services you’ll want or need for your move. By understanding cost, you can decide whether bringing all of your furniture to your next home is worth spending. And may give you some incentive to pare down what you have. By identifying your choice mover in advance, when the time comes to move, you’ll be ahead of the game so you can quickly get them schedules — mover’s do book up!
7. Rent a dumpster
Believe me on this one, it’s worth the time and money! Whether you’ve lived in your home for only a few years, or for decades, stuff accumulates. And if you’re moving to a smaller home, you’ll need to downsize your belongings. Typically, dumpsters have a week contract, with option to extend for an additional daily charge. So, with that in mind, prepare in advance of its arrival. Spend the week or two prior to the dumpster arriving, tagging things that you’d like to dispose of, and if possible, corral them in one spot. This way when the dumpster arrives, you’re focused on hauling out rather than making decisions.
8. Designate a storage space or get a storage unit
As you declutter and prepare to stage and list, identify one or two spots in your home where you can store boxes and large items temporarily. You’ll want a spot that is not in a common area, and out of the way. If you don’t have one, or have too much to store, rent a temporary storage unit at a local self-storage facility. The storage units are fairly inexpensive, typically temperature-controlled and available for month-to-month rental.
9. Pack as you go and invest in sturdy boxes
In the year leading up to your planned move (if you’ve got line of sight to your listing), start to pack boxes. For instance, as each season passes, pack your holiday items or seasonal clothing in boxes. Invest in heavy duty cardboard boxes, rather than grocery store boxes, or even use plastic bins. Don’t forget plenty of bubble wrap and heavy-duty packing tape. Plastic bins are particularly helpful if the items are going to be moving from one storage spot (like an attic or basement) to another because they are much better at holding out moisture.
10. Stage your Home
If your home organizer can help you with this part as well — have them do it! Staging is vital factor in a successful home sale. In fact, in March 2019, the National Association of Realtors reported that 83% of buyers’ agents said that staging a home made it easier for buyers to visualize the property as a future home*. The key with staging is making your home desirable to the market and their current tastes, so this may involve not only clearing off counters, personal photos and other memorabilia, but may include bringing in some rented furniture, bedding or decor to appeal to the current market trends.
Interested in learning more about how to prepare your home transition? Michelle Kenney is both the owner of The Lighter Home, which offers home organization, home staging and home moving services, and a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Boston Northwest. She offers complimentary consultation for both home organization and home buying/selling transition.
*Source: National Association of Realtors Research Group, “2019 Profile of Home Staging”, March 2019.