Sippy cups with old milk hidden behind the couch, shoes tossed in a pile by the back door, and an overflowing laundry basket — all familiar sights in a house with kids. It’s hard enough for parents to keep on top of housework during normal weeks, so what about when you’re selling a house?
If the thought of trying to sell your home with kids around fills you with more dread than when you found that hidden sippy cup, don’t despair. Our easy and comprehensive guide is here to help.
1. How to get your home ready to sell (no tantrums required)
There will be some planning required when you’re selling a home with kids, but it’s nothing you can’t tackle if you follow these steps.
Declutter your home by removing anything that might prevent a potential buyer from visualizing that they are living in the home. Your goal? To make it look as much like a model home as possible.
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.”
What to put away or store?
- Toys, stuffed animals, Hot Wheels sets
- Any dated, bulky furniture
- Take down family photos
- Kid posters hanging on the walls
- Take child items down from the refrigerator
- Knick-knacks, sports memorabilia, or awards
Once you think you’re done, wait a few days and then go through the house again. Guaranteed you’ll find more to pack away.
Involve your children in the process
As any parent who has snuck a trash bag of old stuffed animals out of the house while the kids were sleeping can tell you — kids don’t always react well when they see beloved objects “disappear.” Younger children, particularly, may not understand why you’re removing their favorite toys and could throw temper tantrums or cry.
Follow these tips to manage emotions as you pack.
- Ask kids which items they want to keep, and then promise you won’t throw those items away.
- Give them choices of keeping either one toy or another.
- Pack up toys in increments. Slowly get rid of the ones that haven’t been touched in months.
- Involve your kids in donating items to teach them about helping others.
- If you already have a new house lined up, bring them to see it. If not, bring them to a couple of open houses.
- When kids push back, explain that all their favorite things are going to a new or better house together.
- Share all the good things about the new house (better yard, more kids in the neighborhood, bigger rooms, location near a favorite park).
- 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 and entry-level art projects on the walls 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
While you’re at it, grab a paintbrush. To reel in multiple offers, a house has to appeal to every buyer, and most buyers don’t want to see kid’s decals on the walls or height markings on the doorframe.
Psychological studies about how buyers experience colors, and top agents surveyed about the hot color trends, revealed that more buyers can picture themselves best in a home with neutral-colored interior walls. Paint every room in clean white, cream, or light gray paint, and your house will look brand new.
Replace carpets and refinish floors
A house with carpeting can be a turn-off to buyers, especially in a home with kids. If the carpet is more than five years old, steaming cleaning may not be enough. Most buyers can see past a deep clean.
Replacing the carpet yourself is often cheaper than giving buyers a credit at close for dingy, stained carpet. You can pick the price point, and even though most buyers prefer hardwood floors, they’re more willing to look past carpeting in a home if it’s nice, new, and neutral.
What if you’re lucky enough to have hardwood floors? They 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. Ask your agent if they need a good clean and condition, or a full refinishing.
Here are some products to help shine up your floors.
- Bona Hardwood Floor Polish
- All Floors Restorer and Protectant
- Rust-Oleum Transformations
- Rejuvenate Professional Wood Floor Restorer
Keep it clean
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 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. Here’s when a clean house matters most:
- Professional photos and virtual tours: It typically takes one full day to prepare a home for its photoshoot, so plan on being somewhere else. A top real estate agent will take or arrange for the best photos by using a professional camera, adding light as needed, and finding angles that enlarge the space. It’s easier to do all that if they’re not tripping over a kid’s bike.
- 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.
2. Handling showings and open houses with kids
As if planning a family’s schedule — with ballet, soccer, and art class — wasn’t hard enough, you’ll need to include your agent. Make sure your agent knows when your family is out of the house, even if it means eating out or hanging out at the park more.
“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. Freeing up at least some evenings and time on the weekends benefits everyone.
Your real estate agent can consolidate showings and hold them back to back, speeding up the process. You should know when the house needs to be spic and span — no last-minute tidying up! Building fun outings into your week can make your kids happier and helps get them on board with moving.
Once you create a schedule for showings, here are some ideas to get the kids out of the house:
- Take them to the park
- Enjoy a movie at the theater or drive-in
- Visit the mall or a favorite kid-themed pizza place
- Have them help with the grocery shopping
- Schedule a play day at a friend’s house
- Have a library afternoon
- Surprise them with a trip to the amusement park
- Ask the grandparents to take them for a few hours
Have a game plan
It’s been a hectic week. 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. Unfortunately, you don’t always have hours to prepare for a showing.
Making the house spotless without much notice may seem impossible. Don’t panic, you’ve got this! Keeping empty bins or totes handy to fill with items that buyers don’t want to see will help you get showing-ready on a minute’s notice. In addition to tidying up clutter, here’s what else to spot clean:
- Put all the toilet seats down
- Remove personal items/toiletries from the bathroom
- Wipe surfaces
- Empty every garbage container
- Put everything from the sink into the dishwasher
- Sweep the floors
- 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
- To touch up that last room, put the kids in the car with snacks and handheld toys while you finish
- Go to the park, grocery store, or a friend’s house until the showing is over
Discuss with your children early in the process that this situation might happen so they aren’t confused or upset when it does.
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.
- Todd Jones Real Estate AgentCloseTodd Jones Real Estate Agent at Rodeo Realty Currently accepting new clients
- Years of Experience 17
- Transactions 283
- Average Price Point $1m
- Single Family Homes 190
3. How to help your kids cope with the sale
Whether they’re sad about leaving a house they love or worried about going to a new school, most kids will have an emotional reaction to moving. As a parent, try to respond sensitively and give them space to express themselves.
“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. Give them the freedom to share how they’re feeling without fear.
Here’s what you need to know to be prepared to help your kids cope.
Will the move 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. Most parents try to avoid moving a lot — both for their child’s mental health but also because it’s expensive.
A move could affect an introverted child more than an extroverted child. However, the reason the move is happening in the first place could be more important than the move itself. 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.
Will my child have a hard time making new friends?
This depends on your child — their personality, their friendships, and whether they fear change. But you can make it easier by doing the following:
- 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 assure them that you will call, send letters, or even visit.
- Host a gathering with parents and kids from the new school you move to.
- Enroll them in some of their favorite activities — whether it’s sports, music, or art classes — soon after the move so they can meet other kids with the same interests.
Should I involve my kids in the selling process?
It’s up to you whether your children should be involved in the home sale process. 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 in.
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 toward themselves or others intentionally, get immediate assistance and do not leave your child alone.
4. How kids react to home sales at every age
At certain ages, children process change differently. In this list, find out how your children are likely to react to your home sale.
Infants and babies (0 to 2 years old)
Babies are typically the easiest to handle when selling a home (they’ll definitely be the least opinionated). As long as their needs are met, removing them from a house will have little to no effect.
However, as an infant grows into babyhood (around 5 to 6 months), trouble can occur if a routine is broken, especially at bedtime. Keep all bedtime (and naptime!) routines the same. Avoid scheduling showings that could interfere with their regular sleep patterns.
When decluttering, 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.
Toddlers and preschoolers (2 to 4 years old)
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 like those featured on this list are a useful tool when preparing for upcoming events that may be emotional.
Findings in a study by the University of Adelaide and Menzies School of Health Research 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.” Remain upbeat and calm, letting your little one see that packing up everything and leaving isn’t a bad or scary thing.
Avoid unnecessary stress when selling your home 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 to 7 years old)
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, 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 children ages 4 to 6 and concluded that, during early years, children use emotional clues from 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.
Elementary school (8 to 12 years old)
One of the biggest issues parents face when selling a home with elementary-aged kids is leaving beloved schools and friends. Advice is mixed — some experts say moving in the summer avoids school-year disruptions, others believe that moving in the middle of the year will help them make friends immediately. You’ll have to make the best decision for your children, but ultimately the move takes place when you sell your home.
When you decide to list, it’s best to sell as fast as you can to avoid throwing off your school plans. Before moving, gather necessary documentation (vaccination records, past grades, and performance records) to process the school transfer so that there’s no delay.
The older a child gets, the less they want to change schools, so consider reaching out to their school or school district to explore your options.
When working with families selling homes in the Los Angeles 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.”
Stay calm and caring when dealing with angsty teenagers. Listen to what they’re saying and let them know their feelings are valid. Keep communication around the move open and judgment-free so they know they are not being punished and that their needs are considered. With teens, you can explain more about the reasons behind the move — such as a new job opportunity or needing more room — to help them feel included.
A teenager may also benefit from inclusion in the 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.
Bottom line: Selling a home with kids takes a plan
It could take over a month to get the house ready to sell, depending on how messy it is now! You’ll need a plan. Be sure to talk to an experienced real estate agent in your area to get advice on home preparations and the best time to list based on when you need to move, local market conditions, and where you really need to declutter.
Need help finding a great agent? HomeLight’s Agent Match can connect you with a top-performing agent in your area. Their expert advice will help you from the moment you pack that first toy to when you take it out of the box at your new home.
Header Image Source: (Sidekix Media / Unsplash)
- "Moving Is Tough for Kids," Psychology Today (July 2010)
- "Moving to a New Town: The Impact on Kids," Psychology Today (May 2016)
- "10 Books About Moving for Toddlers & Preschoolers," Stir the Wonder (2013)
- "The effects of house moves during early childhood on child mental health at age 9 years," National Library of Medicine, Alice R. Rumbold, et al. (August 2012)
- "Perception of Parental Love in 4-6 Year-Old Children," EpSBS, Müge Yurtsever Kılıçgün (2016)