How to Live in Your Home While Selling It
A major concern for many of our clients is how they can continue living in their home while it is listed on the market. We know it can be tough to navigate children, pets, and day-to-day living while keeping your home clean and show-ready all of the time! These sellers have already dedicated so much time, energy, and money to preparing their home for sale, deep cleaning, and staging their home, and they want to see a return on their investment. It can seem unimaginable to navigate daily life and keep your home in pristine condition. The fact is, once you put your home up for sale, you have to think differently about how you treat the home. While you may be living there, your priority should be presenting your home in the best way possible to potential buyers.
Everyone navigates this a little differently. We had a home seller who actually moved their entire family...husband, wife, multiple children, and multiple pets, to an apartment BEFORE listing their home. They were going to be apartment-dwellers for months anyway while their new home was being built, and the idea of adding a month or two to that timeframe was more appealing to them than trying to maintain a clean home amidst life’s chaos. This is certainly an option if it makes sense. Sellers may also choose to stay in a hotel so they don’t risk messing up all of the work they put in. Being able to cluster showings into a shorter period of time can be a huge advantage of holding an open house, but this is a situation that each seller should evaluate with their real estate professional.
For those who can’t vacate their for-sale home and stage it like a builder’s display, we have some great suggestions to make the process a little easier. First, we’ve compiled a quick checklist to remind you of key tasks to complete before each showing to provide the best possible first impression to the buyers.
Next, we’ve put together some tips to help you balance living in the home while being ready for showing your home. Some of this advice came from our own clients who have recently been down this road themselves.
Tip #1: Declutter and Pack or Store Items You Don’t Need
Before you list your home, it can be helpful to sort through all of your belongings and donate, pitch, or store as much as possible offsite. We highly recommend doing this before a home sale in order to help with staging, but it is also helpful to keep the clutter down for showings as well. We suggest keeping out only what you need to live for about 2-3 months until you move, and then pack the rest. If you are able to remove these items from the home that's even better, but we know that may be impractical for many sellers.
It can be helpful to pack up any seasonal items that are out of season. For example, if you are listing in May, pack up the fall and winter clothes, shoes, coats, sleds, holiday decorations etc. You won’t need them, so put them in storage. Help your kids pack up most of their toys and books and keep only a few things to hold them over until after the move. When they unpack in their new home, the toys and books will feel brand new and exciting again!
Do the same for your kitchen. Downsize as much as possible, keeping out only the essentials. With all of the in and out that can happen with showings, it’s likely you won’t cook as much while your home is on the market so you can pack up any non-essential dishes, glasses, utensils, pots, and pans. Downsizing what is stored in your kitchen cabinets and pantry can give buyers the impression that storage is plentiful; a definite plus! If you do this before you list, it also makes things easier when it comes time to move since much of the packing has already been done!
Dawna Currigan, one of our team’s former home sellers, admitted, “Prior to listing, I packed up and cleared out as much stuff as I could. We stored the stuff in a barn on our new property, and I haven’t touched it again in 4 years!” Dawna said when she does start going through those boxes, she plans to sell or donate most of what she stored, as she realized if she hasn’t needed it in 4 years, it probably wasn’t very important in the first place. Good for you, Dawna!
Tip #2: Clean, Clean, and Clean Some More
We know that cleaning isn’t most people’s favorite thing to do, but it can make an enormous impact when it comes to selling your home. It is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase your profit. If you followed tip #1, then there will be less in your home and you will be able to reach all of those nooks and crannies so that your house sparkles! If cleaning isn’t your strong suit, you can hire a professional to get the job done (we can recommend a trusted cleaner if you would like). Make sure you clean everything, including windows, baseboards, light switches, doors and doorframes, and air vents. You want every square inch of your home to look as new as possible to make the best impression on buyers.
If you have carpet and it isn’t new, we recommend having it professionally cleaned to remove dirt and odors. Consider having someone professionally clean your grout on tile floors.
After everything is fresh and clean and clutter is minimized, maintaining it on a daily basis is so much easier! While it is on the market, you can just spot clean where needed. Keeping a daily checklist of maintenance items can be helpful.
A tip from Lisa Suemnicht, one of our team’s recent home sellers, “Have a delegated schedule for cleaning tasks every morning and each person has designated tasks they are responsible for.”
Tip #3: Take Your Pets (and Their Stuff) With You
Whenever possible, taking pets with you during showings is the best plan. That includes their beds, food, water bowls, toys, litter boxes, and anything else they might use. While the majority of buyers are animal lovers, especially today’s millennial and Gen X buyers, some buyers are turned off by the idea of pets living in the home. If they see your pet’s belongings or especially your pet, they might immediately overlook your home’s amazing features.
A helpful tip is to keep a big laundry basket or plastic box in the garage to store all of the pet supplies. That way, when you are ready to leave for a showing, you can collect any items that have been taken out, return them to the container, and throw the entire container in your trunk. Easy peasy!
Jen Smith, who sold a home with our team, recommended finding a good friend or relative to love on your pets while your home is in this showing period. “It will keep the house cleaner, create less stress for the pet, and minimize the struggle of taking them with you for every showing, which could be for a whole day, if you have one showing after another on a busy weekend.”
Don’t forget to keep the yard clean as well. Buyers and agents will be walking all over your property for a showing, and it makes a bad impression when they step on landmines left by your dog.
Tip #4: Get Everyone Involved
Include everyone in the household in the home sale process. This gives everyone a sense of ownership and responsibility for the outcome. Create task lists for daily activities or preshowing cleanup and assign each person their own tasks.
Children can participate in the process by taking care of things like making their own beds in the morning and picking up toys and personal items before bedtime. You can even make it a game! Think about printing off a photo of their room that your professional photographer took for your home’s listing photos and challenge them to make their room perfectly match that photo every day. Think about what age-appropriate tasks you can give your children to be helpful in keeping the home clean and organized.
One of our past home sellers had her children “camp out” in their rooms during the showing period of their sale. They were allowed to sleep in sleeping bags on the floor for a few days so they wouldn’t have to make their beds in the morning. They just rolled up the sleeping bags and stuck them under the beds each morning for a super quick clean.
Another great tip is to give everyone a tote bag or box to keep their “to-go” items in and keep it by the garage door. When you are preparing to leave for a showing, they can make sure they have everything they need to keep themselves busy, hydrated and fed while away from home.
Tip #5: Don’t Feel Bad if You Order a Little Extra Take Out
Who isn't looking for an excuse to not have to cook every night? Having your home on the market is the perfect one! Don’t feel bad if you eat out more often during this time in order to keep messes down and make your life a little easier.
Buyers are not only attracted or detracted to your home by what they see, but also what they smell. After all of the decluttering and cleaning you have done, your home should have a very neutral, clean smell. Maintain that by avoiding cooking anything with a lingering smell, like fish, spicy foods, onions, broccoli, etc.
When you do eat at home, you may want to consider using paper plates and disposable utensils to ease the dishwashing burden. Remember to take out all the trash in the house before every showing.
Tip #6: Keep Personal Items to a Minimum
The ideal bathroom looks like it has never been used. You should remove all personal items to show off your freshly cleaned grout, tile, and fixtures. To make this easier, we suggest buying everyone a shower caddy or small plastic container to keep their personal items in. That way they can bring their items with them to shower and easily tuck them away in a closet or cabinet when not in use. This will keep your bathrooms free of clutter for showings.
Another suggestion we make is to purchase “staging towels”, preferably fluffy, white ones. These towels are just for show, so everyone else should use their own separate towel for bathing and then put it in the washing machine.
Heather Weber, Listing Manager for the Heartland Network-Mid MO, offered advice she picked up from one of her clients. “Put a roll of paper towels in each bathroom to be used, not only for wiping down the vanity and mirror, but also for drying hands after washing them. Then you don’t need to worry about keeping usable towels in the bathroom.”
Tip #7: Protect your Privacy
It is a good idea to pack up all prescription medications and take them with you when you leave. You should also think about any other small valuables you have in your home that could be easily stolen. Do you own any gold or other valuable jewelry? How about any credit cards that you leave in a drawer? Do you or your kids have money in a piggy bank or drawer? Blank checkbooks? Guns? Pack those up as well and either put them in safe keeping until after you move or take them with you when you are away from home.
Tip #8: Keep These Items Handy Just in Case
No matter how well you plan and prepare, unwelcome surprises are going to pop up while your home is on the market. Keep some spare emergency supplies, just in case.
We suggest turning on all lights in the house for every showing, so it is likely that bulbs will burn out. Make sure to keep some extras handy for easy replacement on the fly.
The same goes for batteries. More times than you would imagine, smoke detectors start chirping from low batteries while a home is on the market. That noise is really annoying and leads the buyer to wonder what other maintenance tasks have been ignored in the home. If you haven’t replaced all of those batteries in the last year, keep extra batteries on hand, just in case.
We highly recommend keeping a key to the home handy when you leave for a showing. Commonly, sellers encounter an unexpected locked door at the garage entry (oftentimes agents will lock this when they leave out of habit). Keep a key to that door, and also the front door (if they are separate), with you or hidden in the garage at all times to prevent issues.
Tip #9: Use These Items to Keep Everyone Healthy
Leave a bottle of hand sanitizer at your front door for buyers and agents to use upon entering. The Heartland Network-Mid MO provides shoe covers for all of our listings to minimize dirt coming into your home. Use disinfecting wipes after showings to wipe down high-touch areas, like door knobs and cabinet pulls.
Tip #10: Find a Favorite Hang Out
For some showings, you will only need to be away from home for an hour or two. Find a great place for everyone to enjoy, whether that’s relaxing at a coffee shop, the nearest public library, in the parking lot with free wifi while reading or working, or playing at the park so restless legs can run off some steam.
You can typically expect the first weekend on the market to be the busiest, especially if you have scheduled an open house. Some of our sellers choose to stay at a hotel for that weekend, take a short road trip, or use the opportunity to spend some time with family. Our team can handle things while you are away, and the house stays show-ready at all times!
These tips can be helpful in managing your time on the market and reduce the stress on you and your family. Living in your home while it is on the market isn’t easy, so our team will use all our skills and strategies to sell it quickly and minimize the discomfort.
What's the craziest thing you did when you were selling your home while it was on the market? What tips might you have for overcoming the challenges of living in the home, keeping it clean, and navigating showings? We would love to hear from you all. Comment below with the tips and tricks that worked for you!