As a top real estate agent and certified D.A.D., David Shipley of Chattanooga, Tennessee, understands a struggle many parents face: How exactly do you get the house ready to sell with children running afoot?
“What you really have to do is just declutter and put all the toys up and try to be diligent about that, especially when it’s a showing time,” Shipley told his clients who have five children, ranging from age 15 all the way to an infant. “With that many people in a house, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of stuff. The garage is already full.”
Indeed, 24% of sellers with kids need to move because their current house is too small while over a quarter have to sell their home “very urgently”—that’s a lot of compound stressors!
So we’ve put together these helpful tips based on our combing through of top parenting publications and culling the best advice on the web from people who have been there, done that when it comes to selling the house with kids.
1) Don’t let the for-sale sign do all the talking
Selling a house with children has an emotional element too, with memories around every corner.
Child development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents, told Parents magazine that toddlers and preschoolers need about a month in advance to process moving plans without much anxiety.
Emphasizing what will stay the same—particularly favorite belongings that are coming with you—also helps ease youngsters’ stress.
Of course, sometimes circumstances dictate that conversation has to come sooner, but sticking to your family’s regular routine (same bedtimes, game night) can ease the adjustment, Brookline, Mass., therapist Katie Novick told Parents. So can keeping your cool as much as possible and being positive about what lies ahead.
If your children are old enough to help you pack, give them the power to make decisions about what items they keep, donate, or discard, recommends the moving company Allied.
Honor your old home and prepare for your new one by encouraging them to make a small memory book, complete with photos of favorite spots, and writing thank-you notes or visiting with kind neighbors.
2) Avoid open houses and stick to showings for your family’s sanity
Showings are best, especially if you have young children, because you can whisk them out of the house for a short time and let potential buyers browse quietly, Shipley said. An open house, because of its length, can disrupt youngsters too much.
Talk to your real estate agent about how to best work showings into your schedule. Many buyers like to look at homes after 5 p.m. on weekdays or on weekends, which might coincide with your child’s soccer practice on Saturday mornings.
You also can plan a fun outing, such as dining out, while your agent brings over buyers. Your agent also can consolidate showings by bringing multiple potential buyers at the same time.
If you have the option to specify how much notice to have before a showing, ask for two hours at least. With one hour to get everyone together and clear the everyday clutter, you might still be in the driveway when potential buyers arrive.
3) Organize, pack, purge, and spritz
Speaking of the everyday clutter, designate favorite toys and belongings that won’t be packed until later but can be stowed quickly for a showing, Shipley said.
However you do that is up to what works best for your family. Some homeowners give their children free roam of one area of the house to make last-minute cleanup easier. Or you can keep your vehicle trunk empty to stow everyday items—perhaps in a rolling suitcase—before potential buyers arrive.
Morgan Hutchinson, a mother of two children, wrote in Vogue magazine about having a “designated junk zone” when her family put their home on the market. They kept the house tidy but used one to two large storage bins—which stacked neatly in a deep coat closet—for the everyday toys, mail, throw blankets, and whatever else needed to be swiftly out of sight.
Hutchinson said she had her family use one bathroom whenever possible to keep their home’s other bathrooms neat. For quick cleanup, she also spread an old white towel over her vanity when applying makeup to catch loose powder and brush hairs, and got her husband a beard bib to avoid shaving messes. She also used rubbing alcohol and microfiber towels to make the vanity and fixtures sparkle.
4) Make a house-showing checklist
You’ll no doubt already have a running list of what to do before you move, so make a separate one for everything you should do before potential buyers arrive.
This includes putting down the toilet seats, removing toiletries from the bathrooms, turning on lights, opening blinds and curtains, and storing small appliances. (HomeLight has a ready-made quick housing showing checklist you can print and save.)
5) Try to overlap access to your old home and your new home for a smoother transition
If you’re able to overlap having access to your old and new home—for instance, if you can get into the new home a few days before you have to vacate your old one—do it, advises the PBS Parents blog Supersisters, written by three sisters sharing motherhood tips. It’s exhausting to move an entire house in one day and makes everyone grumpy.
“Moving room by room is one thousand times better than trying to sort out a sea of boxes,” wrote one of the sisters, Patience Salgado, whose children moved seven times over ten years. “It makes for an easier transition for the littlest members of your family, too.”
If your move is a local one, hire multiple babysitters, set up playdates, or ask family and friends to keep the children occupied so you can ease the unpacking chaos and get settled, Salgado said.
Selling a house and moving with children is definitely an adventure, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. With some organizing and preparation, you can get your house shipshape without much hassle and have your whole family ready for some new memories.