It’s understandable if clients get anxious when preparing their homes for sale — especially if they haven’t moved in decades. As an agent, you should guide them through the process, and remind them that all it takes is a little bit of planning ahead.

As a listing agent, you have to be sensitive when working with sellers who haven’t moved in two or three decades and have found themselves in a position to sell — or even worse, sellers who are forced to sell in a hurry.

Everyone, at some point in their life, needs some motivation. Some sellers will be happy to hire a professional organizer or team of packers or an auction house that will catalog and sell collections and items they no longer deem necessary. Others will want to — or due to financial constraints, be forced to — handle the downsizing and packing themselves

While real estate agents are responsible for pricing, marketing and selling property, the homeowner who is listing with you will appreciate some guidance and help with getting their home ready to show to prospective buyers. 

It’s always best to sit down with your seller and, using a calendar, work from the present to the first showing, with specific tasks outlined by day or week. I use the “divide and conquer” technique and set specific goals for all participants.

If family members are unwilling or unable to actively sort, pack and prepare a property for showing, it’s helpful to set a budget for personnel who are qualified and capable of lending a hand. For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming that the seller is working with family and relatives to help them, as this is the most common set of circumstances, in my experience. 

Everything about moving begins with sorting 

Before packing can begin, closets, attics, garages and storage units need to be purged, and piles of similar items assembled together. I usually suggest labeling different rooms (such as bedrooms) with signs on the doors that outline which pile will go in that room.

If a large space or room is available, corners or areas of the room can be used for this purpose. One sorting area or room can be for all items that are being donated, and another can be for items that are being discarded. This may be the easiest and fastest-growing area if sellers are definitive. Items that are being discarded can be stashed in trash bags for disposal or recycling.

Having a ‘survival kit’ is important

The second sorting area is for things that will be used immediately in the new home. These items are typically put on the moving truck last, so they can be unloaded first. If a homeseller hasn’t moved in a long time, they will overlook the “survival kit” idea of packing.

This should include everything needed for the first night and the first week in the new residence. Typically, these boxes include coffee makers, filters and coffee, sheets and towels, flashlights, first aid kits, cleaning supplies, lightbulbs, and some simple, nifty tools (especially a hammer). 

Some small lamps, soap, laundry detergent and snacks are good additions to the survival kit. If children or pets are involved in the move, they will require their own survival kits, tailored to their needs.

A third sorting area could be dedicated to items that the homesellers probably won’t use for six to nine months in the new home. There are so many expendable items that the homeowner may not even miss when packed — things that they’ve forgotten about entirely, or things they’ll rediscover with pleasure when unpacking.  

The ‘I don’t know’ box

Finally, the most difficult category is usually the “I don’t know” box. Keep or toss? Sell or cherish? Homesellers may not agree with my technique, but I strongly suggest these items be put in a hallway, landing or on the stairs, so they can’t avoid deciding on the fate of these questionable items. 

As a last resort, these items can be packed. However, I tell sellers to mark the box with a large question mark, so they know that a future decision awaits.

What about furniture?

Sellers who are downsizing may not have decided how much furniture they’re taking with them.  Simple arithmetic will help in most cases! A two-bedroom house or apartment will not accommodate everything from a four-bedroom home. A small dining area or apartment-size dining room will not absorb a table with three leaves and 12 chairs. 

It’s time to call an auction house or family members who may want these extra items. The same thought process applies to pool tables, large exercise equipment or oversized furniture such as armoires, pianos or china closets. It’s best to plan ahead with these decisions — it will prevent future tension. 

Finally, here is where I suggest — or better, “warn” — sellers that it’s best to plan on average-sized doorways, hallways and freight elevators in a new residence, particularly when downsizing. A lovely, cherished piece of furniture will not serve well in a new home if it doesn’t fit in the door or completely overwhelms a room.

Of course, it helps if the homeseller knows the dimensions and floor plan of their new home. If they’re undecided, they may wish to move almost everything. This is your opportunity as a real estate agent to offer your sellers a referral to an agent at their next destination. 

I suggest that sellers look at ratings for moving companies, particularly if they are crossing state lines or leaving the country. It’s best to pay for as much insurance on your belongings as possible.

Planning and organization, as I have outlined, will help ensure your clients’ packing and moving experience is successful. Make sure to help them focus on the end result: unpacking in their new home and how happy they will feel once they’re all settled in. Tell them to pace themselves, not to overwork, hire helpers when necessary — and they’ll achieve their goals.

Gerard Splendore is a licensed associate real estate broker with Warburg Realty in New York. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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