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Kids can trash a house on a Tuesday afternoon playdate faster than teenagers throwing a basement rager while their folks are out of town.
Sticky surfaces, fingerprint smears on the glass, grape juice stains for an unconventional tie-dye carpet aesthetic, smooshed Goldfish crackers stashed behind the couch that Sally was saving for later…the list goes on.
As a parent, the constant picking up, putting away, cleaning (and re-cleaning) is an annoyance. As a person trying to sell your house, a dirty home is a threat to your bottom line.
So, how in the world do you pull off staging a home to sell with kids (aside from lighting your house on fire at the end of each day and rebuilding it from scratch)?
To find out, we turned to expert real estate agents—you could call them miracle workers, or armchair family counselors—and the best professional stagers in the business who’ve helped tons of parents turn their unkempt mess of a house into a model home worthy of the magazines.
How to Stage a House With Kids (and Keep Your Sanity)
Pick Up, Put Away, and Neutralize
If you had a nickel for every time your kids actually listened when you said “pick this up” and “put that away,” well, you’d be none the richer for it.
But until your house sells, you need to set the ground rules for a “new normal,” which doesn’t grant Jane and Joey the luxury of leaving their LEGOs, Paw Patrol characters and Nintendo game controllers sprawled about the living room. It’s time to simplify all that stuff to a bare minimum.
Pare down the toy collection to just the kids’ favorites.
To start, you’ll want to pack up most of your kids’ toys and get them out of sight.
Yes, this might cue the hysterics from some defiant kiddos. But the reality is: you are going to move out at some point anyway. Save yourself some energy when moving day comes and declutter your house all at once.
“Kids can end up having a lot of stuff. So you want to move all the toys out and just keep their favorites,” says Pam Smith, a Duncanville, Texas, real estate agent who ranks in the top 3% for selling single-family homes.
Here are some ways to explain to your kids that their toys are going bye-bye and include them in the decisions about what stays and what goes:
- To start, get rid of anything that is broken, has missing pieces, or is a duplicate. Put duplicates in the giveaway box and recycle the unusable toys. Explain to your kids that you don’t need broken toys or two of the same thing.
- Gather and remove any toys you know your kids haven’t played with in a while. If they get upset, let them play with the toy one last time. Then, separate the toys into the giveaway and recycle piles based on condition.
- Next, separate the remaining toys into categories (cars, dolls, animals, etc.) and have your child pick their favorites.
- Then, ask your child to pick out toys they’d like to share with other children. Bring those toys to a friend, cousin, charity organization, or resale toy center.
*Ding! Ding! Ding!* Teaching opportunity! Show your children that it’s good not to waste and even better to share toys with kids who need them.
Here are some options for places to donate gently used toys:
- Local Shelters or Children Centers
- Your Local Church
- The Salvation Army
- Toys for Tots
- The Ronald McDonald House
- SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies)
- Second Chance Toys
To maintain a manageable number of toys in your house, tell friends and family to only give your kids experience gifts (trips to the zoo, museum, beach, etc.) for the time being. This will keep your toy supply low and get your kids out of the house more to help you keep it staged to sell.
Only keep your child’s most treasured toys, and make sure you have a game plan for how to stash them away during a showing. Here are some awesome, secret toy storage options to incorporate in your home decor:
Cover up themes, characters, and bright colors.
OK, we love Frozen, too! But we don’t need to see Elsa everywhere––and buyers definitely don’t want “Let it Go” stuck in their head for the remainder of their home tour.
“It’s important to take down posters and clean up their room,” says Smith. “Even if you leave the princess murals, take down extra posters. You don’t want the walls to look cluttered.”
With the excess toys out of the way, tone your kids’ rooms down even more with minimal children’s decor.
“Keep it neutral, inviting and simple,” says Cindy Lin, owner of award-winning staging company and online home staging school STAGED4MORE.
“I see often times people make elaborate staging for children’s rooms; however, we are in the business of selling the space, not the furniture,” Lin adds of her 10+ years of home staging experience. “So keep it simple, easy to tour and neutral enough to fit a wide variety of potential buyers.”
Here’s how to tone it down so buyers can envision the room turning into the space they desire:
- Remove kid-themed decor such as posters, comforters or duvets with loud patterns, wall decals, and clutter on dressers like figurines and jewelry boxes.
- Ditch the train track rug for a simple, neutral throw. This chevron hand woven area rug is simple, stylish, and leaves room for a buyer’s imagination.
- Pack up the castle tent in the corner and add an accent chair or ottoman.
- Paint over bright walls with a light beige or gray.
- Replace baby animals on the walls with simple paintings that could pass as decorative wall art for any room.
Say bye-bye to bulky beds.
Bulky children’s beds make rooms seem smaller and are hard for buyers to look past—and they need to be able to picture every possibility to entertain the idea of making an offer.
Car beds, loft beds, and bunk beds gotta go. If your kids share a room, replace a bunk bed with a trundle bed or a classic daybed to show the versatility that buyers will love–—throw a simple desk in and you’ve set the scene for a perfect guest room-home office combo.
Create secret storage for quick stashing and hiding precious items.
Kids spread their things out all over the house. Use hidden storage under the bed to stash kid’s clutter. Buyers open every door in a house they’re interested in—but they won’t look under beds.
Hide placemats and high chairs in drawers and closets when you’re not using them (and especially during a showing).
You also don’t want anything traumatic to happen to your child’s cherished Blue Bunny stuffed animal or (god forbid) the one and only Blankey when you’re not home.
“If the children have specific pieces of toys that they are emotionally attached to, take those with them during the open house or hide those toys in places that the open house traffic will not touch,” Lin advised.
Take down fridge art and family photos.
Not to diss your child’s art skills (we’re sure their scribble has real potential) but buyers don’t care about hand-turkeys or spelling tests with perfect scores. They do, however, care about that beautiful stainless steel fridge underneath it all that comes with the house. So make sure they see it!
With your family photos layered on every built-in, buyers will be distracted from the original detail that you’ve worked so hard to maintain. It can also block their vision of their family living in the home. Box up family photos and personal items to keep the space simple and expose the home’s selling points.
Make sure doors and cabinets are easy to open.
It’s easy to overlook things that you’ve gotten used to in your home over the years, like locks that don’t work, jiggly doorknobs, or unused drawers that don’t open. Buyers expect these things to be in working order when they tour a home.
Go through the house and open every door, including cabinets and closets. Make sure they open and close easily and that there aren’t any decade-old child-proof locks still hanging on for dear life.
“I’ve been in a showing with buyers where we couldn’t open cabinet doors because we couldn’t figure out the childproof lock,” says Smith. “So you should remove it or leave the manual or written instructions on how to open it.”
If you still have young children living in the house while you sell it, leave the childproof locks on and provide instructions for how to use them for your real estate agent and buyers. Tell your real estate agent to notify buyers that the locks will be removed once you move out.
Deep Clean To Erase Years of Built-Up Kiddy Grime
Cleaning with small kids is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. Realistically, you’ll have to clean every day when your house is on the market. But, this deep cleaning list will help you kick it into gear. Do the following chores to keep your home looking spotless.
Wipe all surfaces clear of fingerprints and juice rings.
Little hands love to veer off the beaten trail and touch the top of every piece of furniture. Make it a daily task to wipe down every surface to avoid unsightly fingerprints or snack remnants. Pay close attention to stainless steel appliances and hardware that are prone to cloudy prints.
These Amazon top-rated surface cleaners are safe for every surface:
- Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant Spray
- Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
- Puracy Natural All Purpose Cleaner
- Method All-Purpose Cleaner
Erase the crayons and scuffs on the wall.
Take a close look at your walls and baseboards. From a distance, it may look like there’s nothing there, but the smudges, scuffs, and subtle red crayon lines will stick out to buyers looking for a clean, new home.
Grab a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and start scrubbing.
Bonus: recruit your kids’ help with a fun game of who-can-erase-the-most…. Winner gets to clean the bathroom!
Clean the bathroom of evidence from bath-time, potty-training, and teeth-brushing.
Let’s face it—kids don’t have the best aim. Odds are they’ve missed the potty, the sink, or the tub a few times.
Focus on the floor and edges around these areas to make sure there are no signs of mold or mildew. Deep clean the area around the toilet and the sides of the tub for splash marks and moisture. Wipe down the front of the vanity and the mirror for toothpaste-spit that missed the sink.
Check out these green bathroom cleaning products that are tough on grime and safe for your whole family:
- Seventh Generation Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner
- Bean & Lily Bathroom Cleaner
- Attitude Bathroom Cleaner
- GreenShield Organic Bathroom Cleaner
Call In the Pros to Tie Everything Together
Talk to your real estate agent about the value of repairs and professional service.
You may need to make some updates on your home to attract a strong offer, but it all depends on your market. In a strong seller’s market, you can get away with doing the bare minimum home repairs.
But in a buyer’s market, you might have to add some cosmetic features to sway buyers from the competition. Your real estate agent will help you determine which professional repairs are worth the money for your home sale.
“If they’re able to, I usually recommend neutralizing the paint colors,” says Smith. “Sometimes, we’ll make a note to the buyers that upon move out, we’ll paint the walls a neutral color.”
Bring in a professional stager to give your house a facelift.
A professional stager can make the dullest home look like a luxurious retreat. If you haven’t purchased new furniture since your first child was born, ask your real estate agent if hiring a professional stager is a smart idea.
“Home staging is essentially the packaging of the product in the home selling process,” Lin says.
“Great home staging showcases the advantages of the home and targets the buyers’ ideal lifestyle. A well-staged home will feel inviting and help the buyers stay longer in the home and discover its charm.”
Keep Things Tidy and Sane While Your Home is on the Market
Put play dates on pause.
Before you agree to host a sleepover, think again. With your house on the market, you need to be ready for a showing at all times. So, avoid bringing any unnecessary guests over… especially guests with muddy shoes and sticky fingers.
Instead, bring your kids and their friends to fun outings. Kindly ask other parents to skip your turn for play dates until your home sale closes.
Avoid stovetop meals and baking from scratch while your home is staged.
If you don’t use the stove, it doesn’t get food splattered all over it…which means you won’t have to wipe it down after every meal. This simple hack can save you much needed minutes when trying to keep a house clean with kids running around.
Ditch the stovetop pans to save yourself from repeat cleaning over and over again. Swap baking from scratch with pre-cut cookies. Try that new place on the corner for take-out instead of chopping up a storm.
Make sure your real estate agent knows your nap schedule.
You know what they say, never wake a sleeping baby. Steer clear of unnecessary tears and stick to a strict nap schedule. Let your real estate agent know that last minute showings are off-limits during that time.
“The most important thing is that everybody needs to be ready to leave the house. Especially if the kids are at ages that they take naps, it can take more time to get them out,” says Smith.
Be ready to show your house in a hurry.
When a buyer calls to see the house, your real estate agent won’t waste any time. Their main focus will be to get that buyer in the door. Your job is to make sure the house looks amazing when they do.
Remember this when you’re sitting on the couch in your PJs on a Saturday. You’ll have to kick it into gear, clean everything as fast as you can, grab your kids, and get out leaving nothing behind but the lemon scent of your all-purpose cleaner.
“It’s important that the buyer doesn’t feel like they are intruding in someone else’s home,” says Smith. So be ready to flip your comfy down time upside down.
“A couple of times in the past, I’ve kind of co-conspired with the kids,” Smith recalls. “I’ll make a little game of it. I’ll tell them to put their toys in the box as fast as they can, and I’ll have a treat for them once they’re done.”
Have a plan to get ready for showings in a jiffy. If your kids are old enough to help, assign them roles beforehand. If they aren’t, have a to-go bag ready with snacks and toys to entertain them while they wait in the car.
“Get into the habit of cleaning up every day, instead of doing everything the morning of the open house. It will cut down the rushing and the pressure as well,” said Lin. “A checklist is also very effective to help the kids to be on point on getting their rooms ready for showing.”
Use this showing checklist to make sure you don’t forget something that could make buyers cringe (hint: double check that all toilet seats are down!)
Talk to your kids beforehand.
If your kids are confused about what’s happening or don’t want to move out, they’ll get in the way of keeping your home ready for buyers.
“I’d recommend speaking with your kids about why you are moving and get them involved in the process of moving. Encourage them to choose the few key pieces that are staying and pack up the rest of their things themselves,” Lin tells her clients. “Let them take ownership of the process, after all, they are moving too.”
Staging Your Home to Sell With Kids: Tricky, But Not Impossible
You’ll need all the help you can get when you stage your home to sell with kids. The key is to get your little ones on board and keep your house looking its best at all times.
Have your last minute-showing checklist handy to make sure every buyer walks out of your house ready to make an offer. Find a top real estate agent with a history of working with families to help you stage your home with ease and most importantly, sell it fast!
Article Image Source: (Elena Nichizhenova/ Shutterstock)