Decluttering can mean the difference between a home that sits and a home that sells. Here are eight ways real estate agents and their clients can address the clutter when preparing a home for sale.

It seems hardly a day goes by that we aren’t reminded of how crucial it is for us to use the latest tech, step up our “concierge” game and become neighborhood experts if we want successful longevity in this industry.

Those things are important — and they work — but it’s equally important to focus on the nitty gritty minutiae of every home sale. I’m talking about getting down to basics and mastering the simplest way to help get your listings off the market.

It all starts with decluttering.

When marketing any listing, the mission is to help buyers envision themselves living there, and having the current homeowner’s knickknacks and family photos weaved throughout the home detracts from that goal.

When preparing to come on the market, decluttering is one of the most proactive and cost effective things a seller can do for maximum impact. Here are eight ways real estate agents can help minimize the clutter when preparing a home for sale.

1. Clear things out

Preparing to sell starts with clearing out. Advise your clients to go through their entire space and determine what they no longer need, use or wear. They should start gathering those items to donate, sell or toss.

Doing some legwork on this upfront will save time and money when the moving truck arrives on closing day. Less to move means less to pack, and moving day will be busy and stressful enough without having to worry about what to do with unwanted stuff.

2. Stop messy habits

Having your clients’ messy lifestyle on display is not the proper way to present a home for sale. Maybe they don’t regularly make their beds or hang up clothes; maybe their laundry piles up until they have run out of things to wear; maybe stacks of mail regularly sit on the counter for weeks or months on end.

Think of going on the market as a time to start fresh and develop good habits that will help create a stronger selling price and shorter time on the market.

Tell your clients this: If you get it out, put it away. It’s as simple as that.

When it comes to mail, deal with it or discard it. Have a place to save important bills and other documents, and set up binders with tabs or accordion files to sort those bills with ease.

3. Show the space, not the stuff in it

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Buyers walking through your listing want to see the layout — they want to visualize how they will use the square footage, not how your clients currently clutter it.

Don’t create unnecessary distractions with walls of photos, collections of “stuff” on shelves or magnets and pictures all over the refrigerator. Would your clients rather buyers focus on umpteen family photos or notice the upgrades and improvements they’ve made? The answer is obvious.

Buyers might forget to check out the gorgeous backyard because they were too busy looking at that wall of travel photos and souvenirs from around the world. Minimize the distractions, and simplify the space with pieces that enhance the home, not detract from it.

4. Freshen up outdated things

Old and worn decor creates a dated vibe you do not want. The couch in the family room is sinking and has a ton of wear and tear from the family pets who have generously camped out on it day and night. Ditto for the coffee table that is full of scratches and the plants that have seen better days.

Your clients might be thinking, “Who cares?” After all, they plan to get new furniture once they move into their new digs, right? Wrong. That mindset is flawed, and it’s your job to explain why it is important to present a fresh, clean space with updated furniture.

Your clients should consider discarding old pieces and updating them with something new, or finding ways to repurpose what they have. Think slipcovers, new pillows and a punch of color (where appropriate) with rugs and artwork.

You want buyers to want to sit down on that couch and plan their life in that home, not avoid it.

5. Don’t ignore the garage, attic and basement

Click and Photo /

These areas are the guts of the home, and they serve as critical storage areas — don’t ignore them. They should be organized and easy to navigate for buyers and inspectors.

If these areas are dark, dingy, packed with stuff and full of cobwebs, they may send buyers running for the hills. Garages and basements should also have a clean and fresh appearance, so your clients should consider repainting the walls and floors.

Make sure the garage ceiling is not sagging, and ask your clients to consider repairing or refinishing it if it’s old and outdated. In other words, buyers seeing dangling drywall tape from the ceiling is not a good thing.

6. Don’t forget about the exterior

The outside of the home matters a lot. It’s the first thing buyers will see when looking online or in person. Aerial images and video can be extremely unforgiving if the outside is not properly prepared for sale.

Give your listing a critical eye from across the street, and walk around all sides of it. Your sellers should trim back or remove any overgrown landscaping.

Plantings should complement the house, not overwhelm it. Hanging tree limbs can hide beautiful exterior features and block light from streaming into the house.

Be sure to clean gutters, freshen up ground cover with new mulch, rock or pine straw and add some new plants or flowers to create a welcoming feel.

Don’t forget to pressure wash the driveway, walkways, patios and pool decks. Wash down the front entrance, and clean out any cobwebs or dead bugs. Consider repainting the exterior of the home if the appearance is old and worn.

7. Put it in storage

Advise your clients to get an assortment of bins, baskets and boxes to easily store (and label — never forget to label) the belongings they are keeping in an organized and easy-to-access fashion. They should consider stacking everything in alphabetical order.

Your clients should keep a few extra bins handy to quickly clear clutter and mess (current mail, piles of paper, etc.) when that last-minute showing request comes in; they can just stash it all in a box and store it away until they return home.

8. Clear the mental clutter

Prepping a home for sale not only involves getting rid of physical clutter, but mental clutter as well. Have your clients mentally prepared for what is to come with selling their home and ultimately turning it over to someone else?

This means getting rid of thoughts that involve “me” and “my” — “my house, my style, my decor” or “this flaw or that problem never bothered me when I bought the house.”

Advise your clients to open their mind to the reality that there will be many viewpoints and opinions about the property, and no two buyers will see it the same way.

What one person sees value in might be completely different from what another person values, and the reasons that led your sellers to buy the home may not be the same as the next owner.

Also, clients should remember that in most cases, they are asking a higher price than what they paid, and with a higher price comes a different set of expectations. Objectivity and brutal honesty are key, and it’s your job to show your sellers what their home’s strengths and weaknesses are.

Sellers need to work with an agent who will give them a realistic and unbiased view about their home as it compares to the local marketplace. They need an agent who won’t sugarcoat the truth; telling them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear is the difference between a home that sits and a home that sells.

Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

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