Sellers should start packing as soon as they think they might want to put their home on the market. That is, they should start weeding out all the personal property they no longer want or need. It makes no sense to spend time and money packing and moving these things.

Most homes need decluttering before they’re sold. This is so they show at their best, which usually results in a faster sale at a higher price. Cluttered homes look smaller than they are. And, an unkempt look puts buyers off. Clearing out the clutter early is a good idea even if you aren’t sure when you’ll be moving.

Deciding when to pack the things you’re keeping should be carefully considered due to changes in the home sale market over the past few years. Sellers used to start packing as soon as the buyers removed all contingencies from the contract. It was usually smooth sailing from then to closing.

Now, there are some sale transactions that don’t close on time because lenders take longer to approve loans, often asking for an additional appraisal or more documentation from the buyers before they’ll deliver the funds. Occasionally, a transaction doesn’t close at the last minute. The lender might cease offering a certain loan program, change the terms of a loan or run out of money.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Sellers who are living in their homes during the marketing period shouldn’t move their furnishings out until they are sure the transaction is closing. Otherwise, they could have to move back in again if the deal falls apart at the last minute.

An East Coast seller moved out and then heard that the closing was delayed. Her furniture was already on its way to the West Coast, so she couldn’t move back in. Luckily, the sale closed three weeks later.

To avoid moving out before you know the sale is closing, build a few extra days into the purchase contract at the time you negotiate the sale with the buyers. For example, you could ask to vacate the property within two or three days after closing. This way, if the closing is delayed, you have time to reschedule your move, and to move out and clean the house before the buyers take possession. …CONTINUED

Movers, particularly the larger moving companies, can be flexible regarding your move date. It’s best to schedule the move in advance for the date you’d like to move. If the closing is delayed, you can reschedule the move date accordingly.

It can be difficult to sell a vacant house. Most buyers don’t have the ability to imagine how a house would look furnished. It’s hard to gauge the size of a room that’s void of furnishings. For example, most people can’t visualize how a king-size bed would look in the master bedroom unless it’s already furnished with a king- or queen-size bed.

Some sellers hire a professional decorator to stage their home for sale to enhance its appeal. This could be a partial staging, incorporating some of the seller’s possessions, or a complete staging with all the furnishings provided by the staging company. In either case, it’s best to leave the staging in place until you’re sure the sale is closing to avoid the cost of having to re-stage the house if the deal falls apart at the last minute.

THE CLOSING: Buyers who are currently renting should have assurances from their lender that the sale will go through before giving notice to their landlord, unless they have a place to stay temporarily if the closing is delayed.

Dian Hymer is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide," Chronicle Books.


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