We’ve all seen those immaculate homes on HGTV with freshly painted walls, supremely organized closets and not one item out of place. But when you’ve got kids at home and potential buyers on the way, a staged house can be tough to maintain.
“The way you live is not the way you sell,” says Jorge Fernandez, a real estate agent with 11 years of experience, who is currently with Compass real estate brokerage in Miami.
According to the National Association of Realtor’s 2019 Profile of Home Staging, 53% of buyers’ agents say that staging reduces the amount of time a property is on the market and 44% say it increases the dollar amount offered.
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The NAR profile shows that 95% of agents recommend decluttering to their clients before they put their home on the market. But decluttering isn’t so easy when you have enough Legos to build an empire along with miniature cars and trucks to fill it.
“Kids don’t actually play with 75% of what they have,” says Libby Newman, who opted to rent a storage container when she sold her Alexandria, Virginia, home in March.
Newman and her husband, Jason,have two children, 5-year-old Jack and 3-year-old Amelia.
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Choose must-have toys
You need to engage the entire family when you’re staging a house for sale, says Yasser Ponce, also a real estate agent with Compass in Miami.
“When the kids are 10 or 12 or older, it’s easier to explain it to them. But when they’re younger, you have to talk to the parents about the importance of being ready to show the home with an hour’s notice,” says Ponce.
For toys and books, parents should prepare with baskets or bins for storage, says Elizabeth Lucchesi, a realtor with more than a decade of experience with Long & Foster Realtors in Alexandria, Virginia.
“Let the kids decide what is a ‘must’ to have out to play with and everything else gets boxed up,” she says. “When a request to show the house comes in, these items go in a bag they take with them when they leave the house.”
Newman stored most of her kids’ toys, except for a few “photogenic” ones that were displayed in the playroom.
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One of Fernandez’ clients shoved plastic bins of toys in a big closet when buyers came by. Other options: under the bed or in the trunk of your car.
Wet sheets, damp towels and dirty clothes can be thrown in the washer or dryer before showing the house and then taken care of after buyers leave.
While keeping the clutter out of the living areas is important, kids’ rooms can also be a source of frustration for parents.
“Kids’ rooms are often brightly painted,” says Fernandez. “It’s a good idea to paint them to be neutral and light so buyers can see how the rooms can be used even if they don’t have kids.”
For Newman, her kids’ stuffed animals were the biggest bone of contention.
“It helped when I explained the stuffed toys were moving into the new house and would be waiting for the kids there,” she says.
DIY or hire help
The Newmans opted to do the staging themselves to save money.
“Most of my folks set a DIY staging budget of $1,500,” says Lucchesi. “One of my clients paid about $5,200 for organizing and packing. They were thrilled since they didn’t have time to tackle any of these tasks with two full-time jobs and kids.”
Professional staging can cost from $5,000 to $30,000, says Ponce, depending on how much work needs to be done.
But staging once doesn’t solve the problem of keeping your house immaculate while kids are around.
The Newman children spent the weekend at their grandparents’ home when the house was on the market.
Most sellers need to be prepared for their home to be on the market for more than just a weekend, so a game plan for daily viewings is a must. Counters should be cleared of clutter and a Magic Eraser should be handy to wipe away fingermarks. Every bed needs to be made and the kids need to be trained to close the toilet seat, flush the toilet and neaten the towels before leaving the bathroom, says Lucchesi.
“Remember, what would your mother-in-law say if she saw your house?” says Lucchesi.
That standard could be a high bar but worthwhile for sellers with kids.