How to Get Your Home Decluttered and Ready to List

Guiding Sellers Through the Task of Decluttering Their Home

Guiding sellers through the task of purging or hiding away their stuff may make you feel uncomfortable, but agents have to be honest with their clients, says Regina Lark, an organizing and productivity specialist based in Los Angeles who coaches real estate agents. “You can’t sugarcoat things,” Lark says. “If someone’s house is a complete mess, you don’t tell the person that decluttering their home is going to be a piece of cake, because it won’t be.”

The first step is to establish realistic expectations with your client, and motivate them by pointing out the payoff of decluttering their house before they put it on the market. (In other words, less clutter will help the person fetch a bigger offer.) After that, it’s time to go from room to room with your client to help them decide what they’re going to do with all of their belongings.

“The more clutter a person has, the less life satisfaction they have and the more emotional distress they have. A lot of us have been sold this notion that ‘more is better,’ but it’s just not true.” — Joseph Ferrari

Julie Morgenstern, productivity consultant and author of SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, recommends this tactic: “I often tell people to label every single item with a Post-it note, and they should have four colors of Post-it notes: One color is for belongings the sellers are taking to their new home; the second is for things they’re going to sell; the third is for things they’re going to donate; and the fourth is for things they’re going to throw out.”

Your best approach? “Be ruthless,” says Gretchen Rubin, author of Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness. “You don’t want your client to schlep stuff to their new house that they won’t need, won’t use, or don’t love.”

This is particularly important for home sellers who are downsizing—and we’re not just talking about baby boomers. “Downsizing isn’t just for empty nesters anymore. Many millennials, in search of a minimalist lifestyle, are downsizing to smaller homes, often because they want reduce their carbon footprint and conserve energy,” says Sheri Koones, author of Downsize: Living Large in a Small House.

When working with sellers who are downsizing, you’ll want to have your clients compare the floor plan of their new home to that of their current home. This’ll help them focus on the areas where they need to reduce. If they’re moving to a home with a smaller kitchen, for instance, it’s time to get rid of that fondue maker they haven’t used in years.

Depending on how many belongings your clients decide to keep, you may need to recommend they rent a storage unit for the short term. “I often encourage clients to rent one while they’re selling their house,” says Chris Dossman, an agent with Century 21 Scheetz in Indianapolis.

In extreme cases, you may have to call in professional help. “I worked with a home seller recently, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much stuff,” Dossman says. “Even their bathroom closets were overflowing with bottles of lotion and toiletries.” Her solution? “I had my client hire a professional organizer to come in and help her declutter the whole house,” she says.

Personal organizers typically charge between $55 and $100 per hour, according to HomeAdvisor, a website that connects homeowners with service pros. To find a professional in your area, Ferrari recommends searching for a certified organizer using the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.

(An excerpt from Realtor Magazine by Daniel Bortz)