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How to sell your home while still living in it

Packing away items in boxes
Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images
Packing away items in boxes
Catherine Delahaye/Getty Images

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The decision to sell your home is a big one. Even in a seller’s market, it can be stressful — especially if you’re still living there while it’s being shown. How do you prepare for a parade of strangers, all potential buyers, traipsing through your home while you’re still holed up there? And stay sane in the process? Read on.

Staging your home for sale

We all know the principles of home staging, even if we don’t know the specific term. Thanks to Marie Kondo and HGTV, the idea that a clean, clutter-free space translates into peace of mind is entrenched in our cultural psyche. Super-size this concept with some broadly appealing styling, and you’ve got the marketing tool known as staging. Employed effectively, it can make a property sell faster, and for a higher price.

But that’s in vacant properties. What if you are actually still living there? What can stay, what should be hidden away and what absolutely must go?

What you can keep on display

To give your home the best shot for a sale, it needs to be picture perfect — literally. Before potential buyers visit your home, they’ll evaluate it based on online photos. So, before listing photos are taken, pare everything down to your essentials.

It’s OK to keep furniture and artwork in place, so long as they don’t feel dated or quirky. But be sure to hide away items that are clearly personal. “Potential buyers want to be able to see themselves living in the space, not you,” says Birgit Anich, CEO and creative director of Connecticut-based BA Staging & Interiors. Anich recommends ditching small accessories and tchotchkes, too. “Bigger objects read so much better in a photograph,” she says. “Little things distract the eye, so the brain is not focusing on the most important components of the room.”

Of course, it’s not possible to pack away absolutely everything. Some rooms, like the kitchen, still need to function in an everyday way. Anich suggests choosing one or two appliances that you truly use on a daily basis to stay out on the counter — a coffee maker and a toaster, for example. And they should be sparkling clean. “Every object tells a story,” she says. “If the toaster looks banged-up and old, that will make a negative impression on potential buyers. They may think to themselves, ‘If the seller isn’t taking care of the toaster, what else isn’t being taken care of?’”

What you should hide away for safekeeping

With lots of people coming in and out, you likely have some items that you’ll want to not just stash away but lock away. Think things that have special value — sentimental or monetary — and that pertain to privacy and safety. Jewelry, documents with identifiable info, prescriptions and more fall into this category.

Another item that should be locked up: your knife block. It may seem extreme, but for the safety of the real estate agent showing your home, it’s an easy precaution to take. “I always say, ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’” says Anich.

What you should never, ever have in the house

Apologies to all the animal lovers out there, but the top thing to never have in your house while it’s being shown is a pet. Many potential buyers do not love Rover the way that you do. And they won’t love any signs of him, either: Make sure that food and water bowls, litter boxes and any pet-related things are well out of sight before buyers visit your home. And vacuum well to get rid of any pet hair. “You want to minimize any touchpoints that might remind potential buyers that pets live on the premises,” says Anich.

Other things to never have in your house while you’re selling it include objects with any religious or political affiliations. However strong your convictions, buyers may not share them, and you want them to be able to see the space as theirs.

Likewise remove anything that might make it seem as if you’re concealing a problem. Lots of scented candles or air fresheners, for example, could be construed as red flags, making buyers wonder what odor they are covering up.

Storage options for items you need to stash away

Don’t approach this part of your home-selling process as drudgery. Think of it as a bonus round of advance packing — a gift to the future you, who just sold your home and is ready to pack up and move out. Box up as much as you can while you’re prepping your home to be viewed by potential buyers, and make a plan for where you can keep the boxes for a while. Storage units and friends’ and relatives’ basements or attics are all good options. The main thing is, if at all possible, to get the boxes out of your own house.

Staying centered while showing your home

Try not to think about the showing process as people invading your space. Consider the house a product for sale rather than your home. Packing and storing a lot of your stuff is actually a good thing — it’s hugely helpful to adopt the mentality that, essentially, you’ve already moved out.

During this transitional period, be vigilant about having minimal impact on a room when you use it, and clean up after yourself as you go. Get family members on board, too. And if possible, treat yourself to a getaway. You’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever comes next.