Here’s a quote by a famous actor from the past that I’d like to apply to real estate:
“My father used to say, ‘Let them see you and not the suit.’” (Cary Grant)
What the heck can I do with that? How does that apply to selling your house? Well, let’s just pervert it a little bit –
“My Realtor says, ‘Let them see the house and not your stuff.’” (Norm Werner)
One of the tougher things for me to get across to sellers is the concept of their house as a product and no longer their home. Sure, they may still be living there; but, as soon as it goes on the market, it is a product competing with all the other products out there for the attention of the buyers. Buyers aren't interested in seeing your wall of family photos or all of the sports trophies that you kids won in high school. Buyers could care less about the miniature teacup collection that you have from all of the places that you've visited or the Hummel collection of cute (if somewhat dusty) figurines that you have in the corner cupboard. They aren't very understanding when they open a closet and half of the sports equipment that you are still storing for your kids tumbles out at them. These are not selling points for your house.
Most people are pack rats, whether they admit it or not; they just keep too much stuff. If you have closets that are stuffed to the brim, you are a pat rat. If you have stacks of papers or magazines or things you have clipped out to get to later; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes of tools and shelves full of half full bottles and cans of stuff you can no longer remember buying; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes full of items that you used to collect and display but no longer do; you are a pack rat. If you have boxes up in the attic or out in the garage that are still unpacked from your last move; you are a pack rat. So, admit it – you are a pack rat- and then let’s get on with life.
When it comes time to sell your house it is time to deal with your problem. Get rid of stuff! Hold a garage sale. Load up the car and head to the nearest Salvation Army drop-off location. Rent a storage unit, if you just can’t bring yourself to part with your treasures; but, get it out of the house. People need to be able to see the house and not just your stuff. You may well find this exercise in getting rid of stuff to be very liberating. All of that excess stuff is like baggage that you may have been dragging around for a long time.
And what about the precious memories that have become a part of the house? Who didn't have the kitchen doorway or wall with the little ruler marks and dates on the wall or doorjamb that marked the passage of time and the growth of various family members? Paint it over! Buyers might think it is cute initially, but then it just becomes another update project on their list and something that they will take off money for to cover the paint. And what of the stars on the ceiling mural in the Princess room, lovingly placed to warm the heart of your little princess? Get rid of them and paint the ceiling. Take down the bead curtain on the closet, too, and put the door back. It might be little Tommy’s room next. Finally, there’s the Hunter Red family room that seemed so cool when you had it all decorated with your daughter’s Dressage pictures from the equestrian team. Paint it neutral and deep six the horse pictures.
The real point of all of this is not to call into question your tastes while you were living here, but to drive home the point that you have made the decision not to live here anymore and now you need to present the house in as neutral and unobtrusive way as you can. If the new owners want a Hunter Red room, they’ll paint one that color. If they want to put up soccer pictures of their kids, they can. If they have a little Princess, too, let them create their own fairy land bedroom. If they don’t want any of that stuff they certainly won’t want your old hand-me-downs. People looking at houses need to be able to see the house well enough to imagine their stuff in it and not be distracted by all of your stuff.
I know that this is a tough point to get over for some home sellers, but it is an essential point. Once you can get past the issue of your home becoming a product – a house competing against other houses of similar size and cost – then you can join you Realtor as a more effective partner in making that sale happen. What was your home will always be there in your memories. You will remember lining the kids up for the annual marks on the doorjamb, even if the marks are no longer visible. No one can take away your memories of the house as your home, but now it’s time to let someone else take your house and make it their home.