It sounds simple in theory: When the buyers of your home come to take possession, you need to be completely, 100% moved out.
The reality is the home hand-off can be a logistical nightmare.
“I’ve had people literally crying in the driveway, moving vans in the driveway, and the other people haven’t moved out yet,” said Nicole Solari, a top 3% ranking real estate agent in Fairfield, California. “And conflicting times. Just lack of coordination, and lack of communication, is the biggest thing.”
In a hot market, you may have as few as 36 days from list to sell. What can save you from this soap-opera level drama during what should be an exciting time?
A checklist, of course. And not just any checklist, but a detailed moving checklist to track your progress along each step of the home sale, even while you’re juggling buyer pop-bys and keeping your home show-ready. With help from moving pros and best real estate agents in the business, that’s exactly what we’ve created.
Pre-listing: Purge, declutter, clean and start making ‘moves’
Before you put the for-sale sign up in the yard and start booking showings, you’ve got a lot of work to do to get your house ready for the market.
The good news is that all the effort you pour into decluttering and cleaning your house to attract buyers will also make your move easier.
Jenna Weinerman, head of marketing at Updater, a well-funded moving app, recommends you start decluttering early on by using the “MoSCoW Method” (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have). The MoSCoW method is actually a business management prioritization technique that you can apply to your sorting process to more effectively decide what to keep and what to get rid of.
To use the MoScoW Method, go through your belongings and divide them into separate piles based the following priority tiers:
- Absolutely necessary to your daily life (Must have)
- Important but not necessary (Should have)
- Desirable but not necessary (Could have)
- Least critical (Won’t have)
From there, go back through your “should have” and “could have” selections for another level of sorting. Take each item and put it either in the “Must have” or “Won’t have” piles, leaving nothing in the middle.
When it’s time to get rid of your “Won’t” pile, think about having a yard sale or selling unwanted items on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace. If you donate any items, don’t forget to keep the receipts, as they can be a tax write-off.
With less junk cluttering up every corner, it will be easy to give your house a nice deep clean for showings.
- Cleaning/decluttering supplies stocked:
- All-purpose cleaner
- Toilet bowl brush
- Toilet bowl cleaner
- Glass cleaner
- Wood surface cleaner
- Mr. Clean Magic Erasers
- Disinfecting wipes
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
- Storage bins
- Clothes and accessories in good condition (especially anything designer) posted on apps like Poshmark or eBay to sell them fast and assist in your purge.
- Scheduled a pickup time with the Salvation Army for any donation boxes.
While your house is on the market, do your homework on movers
With all that heavy lifting of cleaning and decluttering out of the way (save your quick clean-ups before showings), you can make a game plan for your move and start doing some research while your house is on the market. Your agent will handle all the showing logistics on your behalf, and will keep you updated along the way.
On your end, you can start collecting quotes from professional movers and comparing the costs of shipping containers if you plan to book one.
Create a moving binder to help you store estimates, receipts, and an inventory of all the items you’re moving. Keep track of moving expenses in your moving binder as you go for tax purposes.
- 3-ring binder purchased to keep track of moving quotes, appointments, furniture measurements, estimates, and receipts.
- Captured serial numbers/condition noted of any high-value items to protect yourself in the event of an insurance claim
- 2-3 professional moving quotes collected (written estimates from each moving company based on an in-person evaluation of your household goods).
- 2-3 quotes collected from places like PODS and U-Haul (if you plan to use a shipping container).
Accepted an offer and signed the contract? Book your movers and gather up supplies
The moment you go under contract with a buyer, you’ll start filling in the gaps of your moving and packing timelines, especially once you set a closing date.
As soon as you know the date you’ll need to move out by, you can book your movers accordingly. Don’t wait around or put this off until the last minute. Movers book up fast (especially in the summer) and early scheduling means you’ll secure the date you want at the best price. Before you finalize your decision, make sure you check that your moving company has proper licensing and insurance.
Going under contract should also light a fire under you to get serious about packing. A lot can happen between contract and close, and it’s possible that you’ll face closing delays during the inspection or home appraisal. But only 2% of contracts are terminated completely, so in all likelihood, you’re moving—soon. And that means you’ve got an entire house to pack up in about 30-60 days!
Be sure to stock up on all your moving supplies. Determine how many boxes and which moving accessories you’ll need using a moving calculator. Check with your movers on which supplies they will provide, including any moving blankets, furniture wrapping and furniture pads. Fill in the gaps of your supplies shopping list with our moving supplies checklist.
Don’t buy boxes if you don’t have to. If you’re looking to get free or reduced price boxes, reach out to your social circles, ask your workplace, hit up the liquor store (ask for boxes with lids!), go to the fruits and veggies section of the grocery store, try U-Haul box exchange, or post about your box needs on Freecycle.
Then, rather than going the traditional packing route of labeling each box with the contents inside, consider using a numbering system and digital spreadsheet to track the contents of each box. Simply give each box a number that corresponds to the inventory spreadsheet, and list out each item you put in the box next to the number.
This system requires more upfront work and organization, but it will make unpacking a breeze. You’ll thank yourself when you ask, “where did I pack the silverware,” and instead of getting flustered, you can do a quick spreadsheet “control find.” Genius, right?
Then, use a color-coding system to track which box goes in which room. When you arrive at your new residence, you’ll be able to label each room with its respective color so the movers know where each box goes. Be sure to communicate this system clearly to the movers!
- Moving supplies stocked. Short list:
- Packing tape
- Packing paper
- Bubble wrap
- Box cutters
- Trash bags
- Colored labels (Post-its or sticky dots)
- Moving date set based on contract with the buyers of your home.
- Moving company selected based on 3 estimates.
- Background check completed on the moving company of your choice/confirmed company’s license and insurance.
- Checked moving company valuation clause/confirmed full value protection of your items.
- Moving truck is the right dimensions based on the size of your home.
- Professional movers and truck scheduled and booked for correct date and time.
- Shipping container arrival and departure time set (if applicable) in coordination with the professional movers.
- Packing inventory spreadsheet ready to go.
- Packing milestones marked in calendar based on closing timeline.
6 weeks before the move (during the home inspection and appraisal): Get serious about packing
The buyers by now have scheduled their home inspection and home appraisal, and meanwhile you’ve got a lot more packing to do.
As you can imagine, working for a moving company has made Weinerman a bit of a packing pro. Here are a few of her top tips to stay organized:
- Slide clothes on hangers directly into garbage bags. Don’t waste time by taking your dress clothes and blouses off the hanger, folding them, putting them in a box, only to put them back on hangers at your new place—wrinkled and unwearable. Instead, take your hanging clothes out of the closet chunk by chunk and slide them into garbage bags. Push the hanger through the bottom of the bag, and tie off the top of the bag at the other end. You can even plan to move the bags of clothes yourself in the back of your car to save the need to buy more boxes, if you don’t have too far to travel.
- Use space wisely: Fill up pots and pans with spices containers, dish towels, and other kitchen items to save space.
- Keep plastic sandwich bags handy: They’re useful for holding any small parts (think nuts, bolts, screws, etc.) of things you have to take apart, like curtain rods or mounted flat-screen TVs.
- Take pics: Snap a shot of the back of your TV and other electronic devices. Then, you’ll know exactly how to put them back together when you get to your new home.
- Pack jewelry individually: Pack necklaces in their own little safe havens with in an egg carton so that they don’t tangle in the move.
At this point, you’ll want to check the room dimensions at your new place, if you can, to be sure that your larger furniture items will fit in the house and especially through the door.
Now’s also the time to check off some more administrative details, keep your most important stuff safe before your house gets too chaotic, and start notifying people of your upcoming move.
- Notified work to take any necessary time off for the move.
- Furniture measurements completed and stashed in moving binder.
- Jotted down room dimensions of new residence.
- Snap shot taken of back of TV, office setup, and other electronic devices (so you know how to put them back together).
- Contacted any maintenance professionals who service your house regularly (pool maintenance company, landscapers, lawn mowers, pest control) to notify them of the upcoming change of ownership.
- Grouped together important items for buyers in safe place:
- Reference manuals for major appliances
- Keys for the front door, back door, basement, porch
- Codes for the garage and any gates
- Collected important personal documents/items in moving binder, filing cabinet, folder, or backpack before packing ramps up:
- Social security card
- Birth certificate
2-3 weeks before closing: Take care of the little moving details
Closing time is nearing, and your buyers are busy working out the final details with their mortgage lender. As far as the transaction goes, may find yourself in a bit of a “dark period,” according to Shawn Maxey, who ranks in the top 3 highest-performing real estate agents in Frederickson, Washington.
“It’s a little quieter for them because everybody’s working on all the documentation for the loan and the waiting for the appraisal report to come in,” he says. “So there’s things moving along with the process. But the seller sometimes feel like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? Nobody’s contacting me, nobody’s asking me for anything.’”
With a little extra breathing room, now’s a great time to tie up loose ends with your move to make this transition as smooth as possible.
- Confirmed move out date and time with your real estate agent and the buyer’s agent.
- Scheduled care for small children, elderly family members, and pets on moving day.
- Notified USPS of official change of address for mail forwarding.
- Set up cancel date/transfer date for homeowners insurance.
- Scheduled disconnection date at current residence/set up the following at new residence in your name:
- Landline telephone (if you have one!)
1 week before closing: Get ready for moving day
Your small stacks of boxes are turning into mountains, but you can see a light at the end of the tunnel. As you finish packing each room, give it a final cleaning. Don’t pack your vacuum or other cleaning tools until the very end, in case you need to clean up any last-minute messes.
It’s also in this last week that the buyer will come to do their final walkthrough to check that all the agreed-upon inspection repairs were made, and that there will be no surprises when they move in.
- Final buyer walkthrough.
- Re-confirmed move out date and time with your real estate agent and the buyer’s agent. (Yes, you need to triple check!)
- Confirmed moving date and time with professional movers.
- Donated any unopened food you don’t want to haul to Move for Hunger or your local food pantry.
- Filled nail holes on wall surfaces with spackle.
- Refilled low prescriptions.
- Set aside box(es)/suitcases with all of your moving day and first 24-hour essentials.
- Makeup/skin products
- Body wash
- A few changes of clothes
- Sheets and towels
- Toilet paper
- Paper towels
- Paper plates
- Plastic cups
- Coffee maker
- Hand soap
- Dish soap
- All-purpose cleaner/rags
- Dust brush/dustpan
- Box cutters (at least 2)
Moving day! The buyers are coming to take possession soon…it’s go time
After all that hard work, you save the most stressful day for last: moving day!
Here’s when you need to remember a few key things: stay fueled and hydrated, make sure you have a form of payment for all of the day’s services, and don’t lose your keys!
- Checkbook or other payment handy for paying movers.
- Cash withdrawn to tip movers.
- Filled cooler with bottles of water.
- Snack tote stocked with protein bars, chips, nuts, crackers (whatever you need to stay fueled).
- Left reference manuals, keys, and codes for new owners in safe place, such as cabinet or drawer.
- Left note for buyers explaining any house quirks, tips or tricks.
- Keys to new residence in hand.
- Folder/backpack of important documents are safely with you.
- Confirmed USDOT number on the side moving truck matches your moving estimate.
- Signed the bill of loading/inventory list before the movers leave, filed document in moving binder.
1-2 weeks post-closing: Spread the word about your new address!
Once you’ve closed the book on your home sale, it’s time to notify any party you haven’t already notified about your new address.
- Sent change of address to:
- DOT (driver’s license/car registration)
- Doctor’s offices
- Health club/gyms
- Kids’ schools
- Credit unions
- Credit card companies
- Voter registration
- Friends and family!
Congrats! You’ve made it to the finish line
Selling your house adds a whole extra layer of complexity to the already-stressful moving process. Keep organized from day one and be in close communication with your real estate agent throughout each stage to avoid any total disasters. Other than that, all you can do is stay patient, calm and, of course, find a moment to celebrate once you get settled.
You did it!