Selling your house while keeping your life under control is a tricky juggling act no doubt. Add kids to the mix, and you could put on your own personal three-ring circus.
Make no mistake, your spunky, adorable children who have every piece of your heart don’t care to learn what “show-ready” means, let alone whether the sale of your largest financial asset goes sideways.
Their superpower is turning a tidy room into a toy dumping ground in under 10 seconds flat. They can drag out the home sale process by zapping all your energy and fighting you every step of the way. And any top real estate agent will tell you the longer a home sits on the market, the higher your risk of attracting lowball offers.
Keep in mind, thirty-seven percent of homeowners between July 2015 and June 2016 had at least one child under the age of 18 living in the house when they sold it, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. That number jumps to 73% for sellers 36 years old and younger.
So remember, you’re not alone if you’re trying to figure out how to sell a house with kids!
Plus, we spoke with top real estate agents and pored over parental advice columns and scientific journals, and here’s the good news: there’s a simple game plan that can keep your home sale on the right track.
This guide is huge, so here are a few quick links to jump you to each section:
- Getting your home ready while keeping the kids at bay
- How to keep the kids out of the way for open houses and showings
- How to help your kids cope with the sale of your home
- What to expect your child’s reaction to be and how to make it fun
How to Get Your Home Ready to Sell
(No Tantrums Required)
In real estate, time is money, and frankly, sellers with kids don’t have either to spare.
If your kids want to help, more power to them! Assign them small tasks so they feel included, but if they aren’t interested, don’t let them get in the way. Send them to their friend’s house, have a family member take them out for the day, or distract them with a movie so you can get the house ready.
It’s been a fun run in this house, but it’s time to get ready to sell.
Start By Getting Rid of Your Kid’s Clutter
Imagine touring a home and stepping on a Lego. Ouch!
So, first things first, clear out all the toys scattered around the house.
Beyond removing hazards, get rid of eyesores like the hot pink Barbie dream house blocking the stairs or the conspicuous play kitchen taking away from your lovely renovated dining area.
If you must leave some toys out in view, consolidate them into one place designated for kids’ stuff.
Todd Jones, who ranks in the top 2% of real estate agents in Los Angeles, advises sellers to, at the very least, get rid of toys in the common area. “It’s more acceptable to have it in the kids’ room,” says Jones. “But definitely do your best to make the living room look like a living room, not a playground.”
Most buyers already have a hard time picturing their belongings in someone else’s home, so get your own personal items, especially of the kid variety, out of plain sight.
To make space for buyers’ imaginations, create some “toss” and “donate” containers and start filling them up, only leaving behind the things you (and your kiddos) can’t live without.
Think you’re done decluttering? Keep going.
That’s right, you’re not done. A home that’s filled to the brim with furnishings passed down through generations and collections of tacky vacation souvenirs will not impress.
Put away any dated, bulky furniture or decor. Family photos, random decorations and knick-knacks, and anything else that shows personal interest (such as sports fan gear, awards, and memorabilia), should also go into storage.
Keep in mind the end goal: make your house look like a model home.
What to Do When the Kids See You Packing
Whether you’re packing up toys to store until the house sells, or getting rid of them for good, prepare for a range of reactions. Your kids (and maybe even you) may find it hard to part ways with items they’ve outgrown.
The British Psychology Society published an article explaining that starting around the age of two and continuing throughout adulthood, the objects one owns become infused with their identity. This emotional attachments to objects sometimes lead to a painful but necessary series of goodbyes when selling a home.
Whatever the scenario is in your household, these tips will help manage emotions that are revealed when removing life-long items.
- Ask kids which items they want to keep, and then assure them you won’t throw those items away.
- Give them choices of keeping either this or this.
- Pack up toys in increments. Slowly get rid of the ones they rarely play with and hold onto favorites.
- Involve your kids in donating items to show them that you are giving these things to people that need them, not just throwing them away.
- When kids push back, explain that the whole family and all their favorite things are going to a better house, where everything and everyone will still be together.
- Share all the good things about the new house (better yard, more kids in the neighborhood, bigger rooms).
- If you already have a new house lined up, bring them to see it, along with some of their stuff. If not, bring them to a couple open houses.
- Get them excited about moving and don’t try to hide what’s going on — this will make them even more upset and you’ll need their cooperation.
Deep Clean Everything
Years of boogery faces pressed against windows, juice spills, holidays with your entire extended family, and entry-level art projects can really take a toll on a house. It’s time to deep clean like you mean it.
Start at the ceiling (you might find some baby food up there) and work your way down. Clean the crayon off the walls, wipe off the handprints on windows and doors (inside and outside), and scrub every bathroom until it shines (don’t forget to remove toys from the kids’ tub).
Here are some of the best home cleaning products for your various needs that you can find on Amazon:
- Ceilings and walls: Chomp Cleanwalls Wall and Ceiling Mop
- Sticky Stuff Remover (also works on crayon markings): Goo Gone
- Wall Scuffs and Marks: Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
- Glass windows and doors: Windex
- Kitchen cabinets: Parker & Bailey Kitchen Cabinet Cream
- Stainless steel: Therapy Premium Cleaner and Polish
- Multi-Surfaces: Puracy All Natural All Purpose Cleaner
- Bathroom: Clorox Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner
- Carpets: Kids ‘N’ Pets
- Hardwood Floors: Bona
Paint Over Kid-Themed Walls
To reel in multiple offers, a house has to appeal to every buyer. Buyers don’t want to see chalkboard paint or pink flower wallpaper.
And although the height measurements of the kids that’s been a decade-long work in progress on the kitchen wall means a lot to you, it has to go.
When we looked at psychological studies about how buyers experience colors and surveyed top agents about the hot color trends in the housing market, we found that more buyers can picture themselves best in a home with beige walls. Paint every room in a clean beige paint, and your house will look brand new.
Replace carpets and refinish floors
A house with carpeting is usually a turn-off to buyers, especially in a home with kids. When we spoke to Ryan Cave, who ranks #3 for seller’s agents in Collin, Texas, he clarified that simply steaming carpets won’t give the illusion that they’re new.
If you have kids, you’re probably going to be lucky to get past five years of carpet with it really looking good,” says Cave. “Very often times, aged carpet has to be replaced.”
He adds that it’s cheaper to replace the carpet yourself than to give an allowance to buyers for replacement once in escrow. If you do it yourself before listing, you can choose the price point. Plus, most buyers are willing to look past carpeting in a home if it’s nice, new, and neutral.
Hardwood floors, on the other hand, may only need a quick once-over with a floor refinisher.
But, if you’ve raised a puppy and taught three kids to roller skate on these surfaces, you may need a professional’s opinion.
Ashlyn Petrocco, a real estate agent on Cave’s team advises to “give them a little extra TLC first, before doing something more extreme.”She points out that a good clean and condition, using hardwood floor refinishing products, could give them that extra shine needed to sell.
Check out these best selling refinishing products:
- Bona Hardwood Floor Polish
- All Floors Restorer and Protectant
- Rust-Oleum Transformations
- Rejuvenate Professional Wood Floor Restorer
Stage the home
Once you’ve cleaned your house and prepared it to sell, the hard part is keeping it that way. It’ll be a joint family effort, so you’ll need all hands on deck. Yes, this is hard… especially if your kids are dead set on not moving.
On two important occasions, your home will need to look its best. And as anyone with children can attest, it’s during the most important days that kids will wreak havoc.
So, let’s rephrase that…
There are two important occasions in which your kids need to be somewhere else.
- Professional photos and virtual tours. It typically takes one full day to prepare a newly painted, clutter-free home for its photo shoot. Have grandparents or friends take the kids for the day — to the zoo, a waterpark, jury duty, it doesn’t matter, as long as they are out of the house. It takes attention to detail to make your house look as if it’s being featured in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. A top real estate agent will get the best photos by using a professional camera, adding light as needed, and finding angles that enlarge the space.
- During showings. In this case, you may need to get the house ready at a moment’s notice while also removing yourself and your kids. This doesn’t mean your home has to be picture perfect, but it does have to look as presentable as possible.
How to Get Your Kids Out of the Way
for Showings and Open Houses
Peek-a-boo. There they are! Always underfoot. Deep breath – we’ve discovered the best ways to make sure kids don’t mess up showings.
Create a Schedule for Showings
Showings can happen on any given day, so it’s important to let your real estate agent know your schedule.
“Most buyers want to look at homes after 5 p.m. on weekdays or on weekends,” said Jones, adding that over half of the sellers he works with have kids.
So, try to make Tuesdays and Thursdays eat-out nights and let your real estate agent know that you’ll be gone until 8 p.m. on those evenings. If soccer is every Saturday morning, share this with your real estate agent, too.
A good real estate agent will help manage the showings with your schedule. It’s beneficial for everyone for a few reasons:
- Your real estate agent can consolidate showings, and bring multiple potential buyers at the same time. This makes the process faster, which helps everyone.
- You’ll know exactly when to have the house ready. No more rushing to leave with limited time to prepare.
- Your kids maintain a routine along with fun outings, which will make them happy.
Good news: you don’t need to host open houses if you don’t want to.
Our Top Agent Insights survey concluded that 63% of top real estate agents don’t always recommend hosting an open house and in 2017, the National Association of Realtors found that only 7% of buyers discovered the home they purchased through an open house.
With that being said, an open house could work for a seller’s benefit (that is, if you’re okay with nosy neighbors walking through your house.) An open house can help sell the house faster by bringing in more potential buyers. It also allows you to set a deadline for staging and decluttering your house.
Have a Game Plan
So, the week has been hectic. Your child is sick, the house is a mess, it’s Thursday morning and there’s a showing this evening. Or your real estate agent calls you to tell you they’re on their way with a buyer, despite every request to warn you in advance or abide by your schedule.
You have to make the house spotless, and it seems impossible!
Don’t panic, you’ve got this.
Keep empty bins or totes handy to fill with items that buyers don’t want to see. Here’s a checklist of what to do to prepare for a showing on a whim:
- Put all the toilet seats down.
- Remove personal items/toiletries from the bathroom.
- Wipe surfaces.
- Empty every garbage.
- Put everything from the sink into the dishwasher.
- Sweep the floors.
- Remove everything from refrigerator doors.
- Store small appliances.
- Gather shoes, toys, and any random loose items.
- Turn on all the lights and open blinds and curtains.
- Make the beds and fluff every pillow.
- Stash small rugs and excess clutter from bedrooms.
- Close closet doors.
- Spray air freshener.
- Hide outdoor toys and garbage bins in the garage or on the side of the house.
- Keep your trunk clear to store the totes and bins you’ve filled.
- Gather the kids in one room while you prepare the house. Then, put them in the car with snacks and handheld toys until you finish.
- Go to the park, grocery store, or friends house until the showing is over.
Discuss with your children early in the process that this situation might happen so they don’t panic when it does.
How to Help Your Kids Cope With the Sale
Most kids will have an emotional reaction to the selling process. They might feel sad about leaving a house they love or stressed about the changes happening around them.
“It’s hard enough selling a house. It’s one of the most stressful things you do in your life. The kids should be able to be kids,” says Jones.
Here are some common questions that parents have regarding their children’s emotions throughout the home-selling process.
Will this affect my child’s development?
A study in the Journal of Social and Personality Psychology says that frequent moves are tough on kids and could disrupt important friendships.
This could affect an introverted child, especially if you move often. However, a bigger factor is why the move is happening in the first place. If it’s due to a disruptive situation (like divorce or job loss), your child may experience more negative emotions.
Make the move easier by staying positive, supporting each other as a family, and being flexible with adjustments. Show a positive, open-minded attitude and your kids will likely follow your lead.
Will my child have a hard time making new friends?
This depends on your child. However, you can help them maintain steady friendships throughout the move.
Here are three quick tips to make the move easier on your child’s social network:
- Keep in touch with their old friends through social media and FaceTime.
- Make a photo book of memories with friends from the old house and ensure them that you will call, send letters, or even visit.
- Host a gathering with parents and kids from the new school you move to.
Not only will this give your child an opportunity to make new friends, but you can mingle with the parents and develop relationships within the new school.
Should I involve my kids in the selling process?
At the end of the day, it’s really up to you whether your children should be involved in your move. If they show interest, let them help. If not, don’t force them. Be open to answering any questions they may have while keeping stressful details to yourself.
What if my child starts acting differently?
It’s normal for children to have different moods and behaviors through major changes such as selling a home. According to Psychology Today, most kids will mope for a few weeks or months, but then eventually settle into their new surroundings.
However, if you sense your child has a deeper issue or the negative behavior continues longer than six months, you may want to consult a therapist.
Here are some symptoms that could be brought on by major changes that the Association for Children’s Mental Health marks as possible red flags:
- Frequent temper tantrums or emotional outbursts
- Unusual fears, worries, thoughts, or actions
- Difficulty taking part in activities or concentrating
- Ongoing lack of energy and prolonged negative mood
- Ongoing decline in school performance
Trust your instincts and seek help if you think your child may need it. If your child acts in a violent way towards themselves or others intentionally, get immediate assistance and do not leave your child alone.
How Kids React to Home Sales at Every Age
At certain ages, children process change differently. It’s important for parents to provide a seamless transition out of the place they call home, so kids can continue being kids.
We read scientific studies and broke down the information based on the age group to provide parents with a general understanding of how kids of different ages will react to selling their beloved home.
Infants and Babies (0-2)
Babies are typically the easiest to handle when selling a home (they’ll definitely be the least opinionated). Most newborns will react immediately to their needs in any environment, so removing them from a house will have little to no effect.
However, as an infant grows into babyhood (around 5-6 months), trouble can occur if a routine is broken, especially at bedtime.
A study by the Department of Psychology at Yale University notes that “infants habituate to repeated stimuli” and states that, “habituation is well tuned to our highly complex and dynamic visual environment”.
Basically, infants become comfortable with stimuli that they’re exposed to often, especially in a visual environment.
So, completely changing their visual environment (like putting them in a new room with all new furniture) could overstimulate their senses, causing them to stay awake at night or nap time.
While some stimuli are good for development, such as introducing new toys and sounds, a total change in resting environment could cause a baby that has been sleeping on a schedule to become restless during random hours. (You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve ever traveled with a baby.)
When selling your home, keep the furniture, linens, and decor from your baby’s room until you have completely settled into a new environment. Your baby will associate it with a known environment in your next home, creating a calm, safe haven for sleep.
Try to keep the same routine for naptime and bedtime, as well. With two-year-olds, avoid adding other advanced changes during a move, such as starting potty training or switching from a crib to a bed. Little ones love predictable routines, so messing with that could make unhappy campers.
Toddlers and Preschoolers (2-4)
Aside from keeping the same routine as you would a baby, it’s important to communicate with toddlers and preschoolers about the process of selling a house. Children’s books are a useful tool when preparing for upcoming events that may be emotional. Some books to consider are A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle, Goodbye House by Frank Asch, and A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn… but there are hundreds and most of them will do the trick. When possible, show don’t tell. Remain upbeat and calm, letting your little one see that packing up everything and leaving isn’t a bad or scary thing.
In a study by the University of Adelaide and Menzies School of Health Research, findings suggest that “young children exposed to frequent family upheaval may experience considerable stress, while not having the language skills to fully understand what is happening.”
So, in the selling process, avoid unnecessary stress by helping little ones understand that there are no threats to their well-being and by urging them to share their feelings with you.
Young Children (5-7)
The older a child gets, the easier it is to explain what’s happening and why. It’s still important to answer any questions your child may have and to keep them in the loop about what’s going on through books and open communication.
But, at this age, your child will mostly mimic your attitude.
The European Proceedings of Social & Behavioral Sciences studied the perception of parental love in 4-6-year-old children and concluded that, during early years, children use emotional clues of parents as a social reference. In this stage, children notice changes they may have in their emotional reactions and will learn to control them based on the expressions they experience from adults.
Therefore, if parents act in a positive manner about selling, young children will more than likely respond in the same way.
Don’t talk about the stresses of the selling process in front of your kids. Keep the conversation focused on positive things like how exciting it’ll be to sell the house.
Elementary School (8-12)
One of the biggest issues parents face when selling a home with elementary-aged kids is leaving beloved schools and friends. Dr. Jennifer Shroff Pendley, an expert in clinical psychology and behavioral health, shared opinions for making the transition easier for kids.
- Some experts say moving in the summer will avoid disruption in the school year.
- Others believe that moving in the middle of the school year will allow the child to make friends immediately.
Ultimately, when the move will take place depends on when you sell your home. So, when you decide to list, it’s best to sell as fast as you can to avoid throwing off your school plans.
Pendley suggests avoiding any stress by having necessary documentation for processing the school transfer handy so your child can jump in without any messy setbacks.
The older a child gets, the less they want to change schools. When working with families selling homes in the L.A. area, Jones sees this a lot. “I’m selling a home now that has kids,” Jones says. “They’re moving close enough that they got permission from the school district to let their kids go to the same school. The people buying their house have a daughter in high school which is now 30 minutes away, but they’re just going to keep making the drive until she’s out of school.”
For angsty teenagers, it’s important for parents to stay calm and caring. Listen to what your teen is saying and let them know their feelings are valid. Have open, judgment-free communication so they know they are not being punished and that their needs are considered.
“Sometimes it’s best for the teenager to move with the family. Sometimes it’s best to find a way for the teen to finish out high school and join the family later,” Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family counselor, advises in an article on PsychCentral.
A teenager may also benefit from inclusion in the selling and buying process. Ask them what they want in a new house, and invite them to attend open houses with you. By knowing that their thoughts matter, they can better adjust to the idea of change.
Lastly, consider the relationships your teen may have to leave behind, such as life-long friends. If distance allows it, give them the opportunity to come back and visit friends or return to attend a highly-anticipated school event. Remind them that they’ll make new friends and the move is a practical experience for college and future jobs.
The Bottom Line: Selling a Home With Kids
Selling your home with kids is tough, but you can be ready for every twist and turn with the right game plan.
Deep decluttering and smart staging before a home hits the market can pay off big time. Think: cutting down days on market, and getting the best offer for your home.
Once you’ve done that initial legwork, corral everyday messes and chaos by sticking to a core checklist that will help you get the house ready for buyers — fast.
With a top real estate agent on your side, you can focus on getting the family excited for the road ahead with a positive and caring attitude, all while making sure the house sells quickly and for the most value.
Article Image Source: (Danielle MacInnes/ Unsplash)