Selling? Job Number One: De-clutter


Prepping a home for sale can be arduous—physically and psychologically.

But, according to some local real estate agents, sellers who can get over the emotional hump of having to box up treasured items that have graced the walls for years reap rewards in terms of the price they can get for their home.

Agents try to put sellers in the mind of buyers as they begin staging the home. A potential buyer wants to walk into a house that’s clean, fresh smelling, tidy and with an easy flow.

The most important overall task given to clients who want to sell their house for top dollar is to de-clutter.

Berkshire Hathaway agent Kelly Gaitten, who’s been in the real estate business for 15 years, said clients vary in their reaction to the advice given to them.

“Some have a good feeling for what they have to do. They watch TV shows. They’re savvy and they get it. Some don’t,” the Hamilton-based agent said.

“The first thing is to de-clutter, tidy everywhere and box up things that are going to have to be moved anyway and store them in the basement or garage,” Gaitten said.

The seller should understand that the buyer “is looking for things that might cost them money to fix,” Gaitten said, noting a house with “weird” paint colors might appeal to some, but probably not to most.

“If there’s been deferred maintenance, things are in disrepair—the buyer sees dollar signs,” she said. And the remedy can be simple.

“If there’s a stain on the ceiling from an old leak that’s been fixed, just paint it,” Gaitten said.

Eve and Mike Weber with Long and Foster in Leesburg agree.

Sellers have to think in terms of selling a product, rather than their personal home, Eve Weber said. Once they realize that, they can neutralize the effect and take away a lot of personal items.

Initially, she said, that can be difficult if the seller doesn’t understand the concept. “I have to convince them to trust me so they get the best result.”

She does that by walking through the house and suggesting the ways in which the seller can make the house more attractive. Setting the tone from the outset is important—focusing on the front door and exterior appearance.

Sometimes, maybe 5 percent of the time, the Webers call in a professional stager to help make the seller feel more comfortable.

“They’re professional decorators and they can come in and suggest how to reposition things,” Mike Weber said. And sellers don’t have to take away all their personal photographs or decorations. He also points out that sometimes developers add fabricated “family” photos in the model homes to give them a personal touch.

Veteran Realtor Gwen Pangle, broker/owner of Pangle and Associates in Leesburg, is fully aware of the emotional aspects involved in selling a home.

“We have a conversation about the most difficult part of the job—which is to help the seller see the home as a product,” she said.

Pangle then walks through the house with the client. “I watch the body language, for signs of distress, but we establish that we want to make the most of the sale.”

Pangle likes to stage things herself, starting with the outside: “Nice flowerbeds, a clean door and windows.”

Inside, she also advocates de-cluttering and depersonalizing.

“Take things off the cabinet, all the magnets off the fridge. You want a bit of a minimalist look to make it look bigger,” Pangle said.

She said that many clients instinctively sense there’s something wrong with the flow in a room, but can’t figure out how to make it right.

“You need good flow and energy, so take out pieces [of furniture] that impede the flow. You want clean smells, but it’s a fine line—you want it to smell good, but not too much,” Pangle said.

When staging a house she’s prepared to be ruthless, recalling an entire room full of cloth dolls in one home, and another with grandma bears on the bed. “They’ve got to go,” she said.

Her personal approach is to “take away 75 percent of what’s there, then add back judiciously.”

While there’s not a lot of available inventory at the moment, Gaitten is not yet seeing sellers’ getting full price. But she has a sense that’s about to change.

She’s been busy since Christmas, and she’s seeing more buyers in the market. That gives sellers more incentive to get their home in the best shape they can to get top dollar.




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