Spring is a prime time to list a house and reach a wide buyer audience. But before you do, know that today’s buyers prefer rooms that appear spare yet a bit warm and cozy. That better allows them to imagine themselves living in the home with their own belongings without having to push aside mentally an overflow of stuff from the sellers.
The primary way to do this is to be vigilant about removing excess possessions that may clutter every room. Bookshelves and closets should only be half filled, kitchen counters should follow the “rule of three”—no more than three objects, appliances or utensils—on any surface, and end tables should display even less.
The problem remains what to do with all your things since overflowing garages, attics and basements won’t appeal to homebuyers either. You also shouldn’t spend money to move everything to your next home if you don’t have room there or haven’t used objects in a while. You also shouldn’t put things in off-site storage facilities since time passes quickly and you’re apt to see monthly or even yearly bills mount up. The solution? Deal with what you don’t need or want now.
But you also should be aware that the once tried-and-true strategy of getting rid of stuff no longer works as well as it once did. With so many homeowners, particularly baby boomers, seeking to downsize and younger Millennials not necessarily wanting their parents’ belongings, there’s a surfeit of inventory that’s competition for yours at consignment shops, auction houses and even yard sales. Stuff doesn’t always sell and certainly not for a great price. “People will say, ‘But it was appraised for $4,000,’ then find it sells for one third or one quarter of that, if it sells at all,” says Debra Blue, CEO and co-founder of Blue Moon Estate Sales in Raleigh, N.C., which handles personal property liquidation. Chicago interior designer Jessica Lagrange concurs, “The market is flooded with traditional pieces from the first half of the 20th century that are almost always insignificant reproductions. Exceptions are reproductions from important furniture companies such as Kittinger or Baker,” she says.
Also be aware that tastes change. Many homeowners want simpler, more modern furnishings, says art and antiques dealer and appraiser Eric Kase whose eponymous firm is based in Rochester, N.Y. The market, however, remains strong for mid-century modern furnishings in good condition with a provenance (history), studio pottery, Swedish designs, and Lionel train sets, says Kase. The best way to keep up is to study what sells well on the Internet, at auction houses, or on HGTV shows. “There’s so much information out there,” Blue says.
Some things also become functionally obsolete—typewriters or hutches for china and crystal—and some homeowners find at some point they don’t need to keep objects because of family pressure or sentimentality, says Betsy Hellmuth, a designer with Affordable Interior Design in New York. Furthermore, if older furniture needs to be restored, she’s found it’s often cheaper and less time consuming to buy new.
There are yet other reasons why disposal has become difficult. Some homeowners who are clearing out their clutter worry about strangers showing up at their door to buy from their Craigslist postings. Others learn that even charities now say “no” to categories such as mattresses and stuffed animals for fear of bed bugs or because items aren’t in top-notch condition.
Yet, it’s still worth trying at certain targeted venues. Blue and other pros cite the following as the best ways to try to scale back what you own before you list and sell your home:
- Family and friends. If money isn’t your main driver, ask loved ones. “Many figure if someone wants something, they would have asked. But many don’t,” says Madeline Gelis, an interior designer with an eponymous business based in Evanston, Ill., as well as her Evolving Lifestyles (TM), service which helps homeowners make decisions. “You need to be direct, firm, and set deadlines,” she says.
- Appraiser. Even with looking on the Internet for accurate prices, it’s smart to have a professional evaluate your best items such as antiques, art, and jewelry. “Some times people will sell sterling silver for very little because they don’t know its worth. Even though many may not use it for dining, it has value because of its weight,” says Blue. It’s smart to find the right appraiser since some who value art don’t assess furniture, Gelis says. She suggests finding appraisers by checking with the American Society of Appraisers, Appraisers Association of America, and International Society of Appraisers. While you usually have to pay for a written appraisal, Kase will perform a free walk-through to give homeowners an idea of what they own and make recommendations.
- Consignment shop. Many will charge from 50 to 75 percent to sell belongings and goods may sit unsold, says Eric Kase. Some shops will also lower prices periodically if they don’t sell, and then offer items back to owners, so the problem of getting rid of the stuff remains.
- Craigslist. With a good photo and description, this site offers the potential for a huge audience. If you find a buyer, it’s wise to have a friend present when a stranger shows up at your house, Hellmuth says.
- Other online sites. Chairish—dubbed the place where design lovers buy and sell, 1stdibs—known for its crème de la crème inventory, eBay, and OfferUp—an app, all list belongings at different prices.
- Freecycle. This nationwide nonprofit organization is made up of members who give away and get stuff for free. You won’t get a write-off like you will from Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other charities, but you will help keep good stuff out of landfills, Hellmuth says.
- “Porch pickup.” An alternative is to post an item with photo and price on a local site such as a Mommy-and-Me group, which many communities have, says Larina Kase, an interior designer and stager in the Philadelphia area. Though it doesn’t guarantee the buyer’s legitimacy, it’s less likely you’ll run into problems, she says. If you’re just looking to get rid of stuff, leave it on a porch or by a sidewalk with a sign that says, “Take me,” Hellmuth says.
- Estate and yard sale. Although you have to share proceeds, the advantage is having someone weed out what will sell best, know current values, arrange all neatly, promote the sale, take the money, and clean up. Most pros take between 35 and 50 percent. Be sure to interview them rather than just rely on a nice website, visit one of their sales, check their pricing, and see if they negotiate with customers, says Gelis. All should indicate how well they will do for you, she says.
- Flea markets and rummage sales. Some generate big sales, so ask neighbors and read local papers for ads. Visit a few in advance to see what kind of traffic they bring. Many churches and synagogues are known to make extra cash this way. And there are even organizations that will help you set up.
What appeals less to other homeowners these days:
- Items with an obsolete function such as a hutch for fine china or crystal since many entertain more casually nowadays.
- Certain period styles such as Victorian and Art Deco, unless they carry a good provenance.
- Love seats since homeowners prefer big sofas, sectionals and comfortable chairs.
- Matching dining room and bedroom sets.
- Vanity tables since most bedrooms are smaller and bathrooms often have no room either or provide better light.
- Rugs worth more than $1,000, since so many affordable designs are available, except for the finest.
- Pianos unless from an important manufacturer such as Steinway since many homeowners don’t have room or don’t play.
- 1950s and 1960s furniture and lamps since there’s so much on the market.
Learn more about putting your best foot forward to sell or buy a home and deal with other real-estate challenges at GREEN, Global Real Estate Education Network.