Buying a house was one thing, but now you’re ready to upgrade, and you have to sell that house while you live in it. It’s a problem a lot of homeowners face, and while selling your home while you’re living in it can be a challenge, it’s not an impossible situation.
Thirty-eight percent of repeat buyers used the proceeds from the sale of a primary residence to purchase their next home, reports the National Association in its 2022 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. This means it's common for sellers to live in their house until they sell it. Having a plan to keep your living space tidy and ready to show will pay off.
Begin at the Beginning
Getting your house ready to show is a process, and will require that you think like a buyer. No one expects you to live in a museum, but you should consider the impact of your belongings and lifestyle on potential buyers who may come in to look around.
“Everyone sees things differently,” says Désirée Ávila, real estate agent at Charles Rutenberg Realty Fort Lauderdale in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Some like to see it with the current furniture while others prefer to see it empty so they can imagine their own furniture in it. That being said, a tip I always give clients is to declutter and depersonalize. Make the house look neutral, kind of like a hotel room.”
Although most people with families and busy schedules can live a bit of a chaotic life behind closed doors, it’s important to develop a system for containing all the mess that comes with being a person before you start showing your home. Buyers often make decisions based on their impressions, regardless of how great your house is under the necessary layer of lifestyle.
“Leaving mail on the counter, dishes in the sink, etc., makes the house look messy, smaller, and oftentimes gives the impression the house is in worse shape than it is,” says Rick Albert, broker associate and investor with LAMERICA Real Estate in Los Angeles. “In residential real estate, there is a lot of emotion and feelings. It trumps logic more than people will admit.”
Just How Much Should You Tuck Away?
Realtors will tell you to declutter, but they rarely go into great detail about what that means. For someone who is naturally a little cluttery, it can be hard to know when you’ve reached the peak decluttered point.
“Try to reduce every surface (countertops, dressers, coffee tables) by a third,” says Ginger Lazovik, real estate agent with the Falk Ruvin Gallagher Team of Keller Williams in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “A good rule is three items per surface. Make sure that each surface is free of clutter and has no more than three essential or decorative items on it. Next, downsize the items in your closet and cabinetry by half. When buyers tour, they open closets and cabinets. Overstuffed cabinetry makes your home look like it does not have enough storage.”
But where do you put all that stuff you need to remove temporarily, but don’t want to get rid of permanently? A lot of sellers will automatically rent a storage unit, but real estate professionals say that’s not always a necessary expense if you have suitable storage space in your home and not too much decluttering to do.
“Before a seller takes on the additional expense of a storage unit, I recommend that they box their items and store them in a basement, garage or supplemental area of their home,” says Hollie Hernandez, real estate agent at RE/MAX Professionals in Cottage Grove, Minnesota. “I have found that buyers look past the storage of items, as long as it isn’t extensive furniture or an overabundance of boxes. Buyers will comment, ‘Oh, it looks like they are ready to move.' ”
Enhance Your Home Before Listing
You may have heard that a home needs to be professionally staged to sell. This is not necessarily true. When you’re living in a home that you’re selling, people understand that you still live there. It’s still important to make your home seem very appealing.
“A well staged home can include the owner's personal furniture,” Lazovik says. “Make sure that you do not have too many pieces of furniture in any particular room. Remove overstuffed chairs or anything that looks worn or damaged. Add layers like cozy pillows and fresh blankets and throw rugs to freshen up your space. Fresh flowers add color and a clean smell.”
The money you saved on staging can pay off big time if you spend it on improving the first impressions of your home. After all, if people drive by, but aren’t interested enough to walk through the front door, you’ll never sell your house.
“The outside is the first impression a buyer will get of the house,” says Ávila. “As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Investing in making the outside look inviting is essential, otherwise some buyers may choose to pass on the house altogether.”
Managing Showings While You Live in Your Home
Once your house is ready to show – really ready – it’s time to figure out how to keep it in show-ready condition. Buyers have all kinds of schedules and you may sometimes need to show your house at the last minute, depending on the kind of market where your home is listed.
“The kitchen and bathrooms must look impeccable. Always close the toilets and pull the shower curtain,” says Ávila. “Little Johnny might not like to make his bed but it is important that it is made if showings are expected. If the realtor gets a call that there is a cash buyer willing to close quickly, if the seller really wants to sell, they need to be ready to make an exception (to their showing schedule). If little Johnny’s bed is made, that is one less thing to scurry about doing to get the house ready for a showing not during the regular showing schedule.”
Other things to consider when preparing for showing are children’s toys and pets, both of which can make a house very hard to show if they’re not kept up with. If your child is too young to keep their toys completely picked up, or you can’t take the dog for a walk during every showing, there are options.
“What I have done is asked that kids' toys be in a designated area, rather than all over the place,” says Albert. “For example, maybe the toys can all stay in the kid’s bedroom. For pets, gate off the side of the house and the pets can hang out there during the showing.”
Know What to Expect From Your Market
Every local real estate market is different, and your home may not be as popular as others for reasons that may be outside of your control, but you should be prepared for the worst case scenario in your market. Ask your agent what their most popular homes’ showing schedules have looked like so you know exactly how busy things may get.
“In the Twin Cities we are still operating in a seller’s market, up to approximately $350K. Most sellers under this price point aren’t prepared for the amount of showings that they will receive the first weekend that they list their home,” says Hernandez. “For example, I have a home that was listed as Coming Soon for one week, priced at $349,500. Within the first two days on market, the seller had 32 confirmed showings on the property. Their teenage son saw me the weekend before the home was active and stated, ‘This is going to be a war zone.’ ”