Marketing

3 ways to attack client clutter with compassion

And the resources that will help you complete the task
  • America has an ongoing obsession with stuff; all that stuff can be tough to get rid of when selling time comes.
  • Create your own list of estate sale companies, professional organizers, storage locations and junk removal companies in your area.
  • When offering solutions always be respectful -- one person's junk is another person's precious keepsake.

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Nearly every real estate agent who has been in the business for a while has walked into that house — the one with the clutter. Part of preparing a home for market these days is often about helping the client downsize, remove, store or sell some of their belongings.

Americans love their stuff. Journalist Alison Stewart recently wrote a book: “Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair With Stuff” that explores this phenomenon in depth. Her own experience with cleaning out her parents’ basement lead her on a journey that included embedding with junk removal services.

It’s clear that the problem of too much stuff is one that we will be dealing with for years to come, especially as more baby boomers consider selling their homes. Last year, studies showed that there are now more self-storage spaces than McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.

For real estate agents, talking about clutter removal can be a delicate dance. In cases where older parents are downsizing, the children and other family members might advocate for getting rid of everything — a process that can be daunting for people who see their stuff as a physical representation of their memories.

There’s no one simple answer, and though many people have become enamored of Marie Kondo’s KonMari method of getting organized when trying to prep a house for sale, there often isn’t time for a thoughtful and slow process of paring down belongings.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

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1. Start with respect

The most important thing to keep in mind when addressing the issue of someone’s collections — be it clutter or more serious hoarding — is respect. A good policy is to frame conversations in the context of getting the best value for the home rather than addressing the issue of the things themselves unless the seller actively asks you for a solution.

Try to avoid referring to the items as clutter or junk because they might have deep meaning for your clients.

2. Assess the situation

Real estate agents aren’t personal property appraisers, but it can be pretty clear in most cases whether the situation is one that calls for junk removal, an estate sale, the services of a professional organizer, a storage facility or a combination of services.

The priority is removing anything that might prevent the home from shining in the marketplace. Sometimes that means that a client might be willing to part with a lot of items, but if they aren’t, things can still be moved to another location for sorting later.

A storage facility is not a permanent solution for the family, but it can solve the immediate issue of getting the things out of the home.

Sparefoot.com offers an easy way to locate storage facilities, and in many cities, they offer what is called full-service storage, which means that they pick up, load and transport to a storage facility. Smartboxes and moving pods can also solve the urgent problem of removal.

3. Hire help

As Stewart’s book showed, the love affair with stuff has spawned not just a massive uptick in storage facilities but also a whole industry centered around junk removal.

There are now multiple junk removal franchise businesses around the country as well as local businesses that help sort and make sure that items are disposed of properly.

For longer-term solutions, the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net is a great resource to help find a trained professional to assist.

Organizer services can include everything including creating closet systems, preparing for moves and helping organize collections. For downsizing elders, a professional organizer can often provide compassionate assistance. Offering a gift certificate for organizing services can also be a nice closing gift.

Other estate and online resources

In cases where a family is ready to move and make a little money, an estate sale can be an excellent solution. Doing clutter removal before the house is listed for sale is the best path. It’s also important to make sure that if clients are selling things that they don’t sell fixtures such as chandeliers or built-ins unless you already planned to exclude them.

Like junk removal services, estate sale services are popping up around the country, which makes a once strictly localized business now accessible online.

Leading Real Estate Companies of the World recently added Everything But The House (EBTH) to its Solutions Group. EBTH runs sales that are held locally but also offer online bidding. It isn’t available in all markets yet, but there are also individual estate sale operators in most towns now. Antique and consignment stores might also take small collections for resale.

Selling online takes patience and time, but it can also yield good results. Sites such as eBay and Craigslist are the old reliable options, but newer app-based services including Close5 and depop are quickly becoming more popular.

These solutions are best to suggest if the belongings are already out of the home as not to impede the sales process.

Having a knowledge of solutions and the landscape of estate sale providers, junk removal services and storage options help reinforce your wide-ranging expertise to clients.

Residential real estate remains a business that is emotional at is core. Talking about belongings with clients in a direct and compassionate way can be a major key to their overall satisfaction with the transaction.

Deidre Woollard is head of communications at Partners Trust, a luxury real estate brokerage in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @Deidre.

Email Deidre Woollard.