The late, great George Carlin had a superb comedy routine that featured the idea that a house is really just a place to keep your stuff. But -- to cleanly paraphrase another point he made in it -- other people's stuff is dreck, while your dreck is stuff.
Well, this week, we're continuing our ongoing Motley Fool Answers series covering major life events with an episode on selling your home, and in this segment, guest expert Ross Anderson of Motley Fool Wealth Management offers some advice that dovetails naturally with Carlin's insight. Potential homebuyers don't want to see so much of your stuff, so it's time to declutter. Cohosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp chat with Anderson about the best methods to do that, as well as some other ways to make your home more salable.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 14, 2019.
Alison Southwick: Even before you're thinking about selling your house, what should you be thinking about while you're living in it?
Ross Anderson: When we've been in a home a little while, we tend to have some of those project areas where you go, "Well, someday we'll do this." I tried to take the process along the way that if it was something I was going to upgrade at the time of sale, I wanted to enjoy it. I don't want to put brand new kitchen counters in for the next person. I don't care about them that much. I'd like to enjoy the new kitchen counters.
Even from the very point that we bought the home we didn't think we were going to be there forever. We ended up being in our condo for about six-and-a-half years. And things like the kitchen counters we replaced, but we did it a few years ago. We knew it was ultimately going to be necessary to upgrade some of the finishes for sale. [We] didn't want it to just be at the very end where you fix all this stuff, and then you look at it, and think, "Hey, this place is actually kind of nice. Maybe I'm OK staying here."
I think looking around at your projects list and just saying, "Do we need new carpet? Do we need some of these things that might improve our ability to sell the home, but would also improve our quality of life in the home?" You may find that a little bit of touching up might extend your happiness in the home and let you extend that further, but at the very least it will help you to list and be a little bit more attractive.
Southwick: Once you decide, though, that you are ready to sell a house in the somewhat immediate future, what should you start doing?
Anderson: The best way I can categorize it is to get rid of all of your stuff.
Southwick: Just put it on the front lawn, see who takes it, and then burn the rest.
Anderson: And maybe this is just me. Some other folks are very neat people and maybe they do a better job at managing clutter, but the amount of junk that two people in my home accumulated just shocked me. We'll talk about how you list in just a moment, but if you have a realtor come through, they're going to tell you you've got to get rid of all of the clutter. You've got to get rid of some of the personalization. People want to be able to picture themselves in the home and not necessarily your family photos and things like that.
But getting rid of that clutter you can start doing right now. That's one of those things where you can go through. Marie Kondo it. If you've been watching that on Netflix...
Southwick: See if it sparks joy.
Anderson: Yes. If it doesn't spark joy and if you don't need it, start to whittle that down, because you're going to be so much happier not having to move all of this stuff.
That's really what's coming next is No. 1, you need the house to show well. It's going to show better with less stuff in it and you start realizing how much junk you don't have to have. Even though we tried to downsize our stuff, we were still shocked by the process.
Southwick: Bro, we've done episodes in the past about decluttering. What were some of your favorite ways that you've gotten rid of stuff in the past when you moved?
Robert Brokamp: One issue with us is having the kids.
Southwick: Ugh! Kids have so much stuff!
Brokamp: That's part of it -- just getting rid of the stuff that kids no longer play with or the clothes that [don't] fit them. We're big fans of once a year having a yard sale or putting a bunch of stuff on Craigslist. If you tell your kids, "If you sell this, you get to keep the money," that is a great way to get rid of a lot of stuff that they don't play with anymore.
I'll also say that the last couple of times that we sold our house, we didn't just get rid of stuff. We also got storage to put stuff in because sometimes you have some furniture that is maybe not the best-looking furniture and may not help the house show well, but you still want to keep it. And you can stretch out that process of decluttering the house and getting ready to show by just starting to move that. And it only costs like $100 to $300 a month or so. You can stretch it out. And a lot of the things you have to do to your house -- like painting, new carpets, or stuff like that -- you have to clear the room anyhow, so getting a storage facility is helpful for that, too.
Southwick: And then are you good about going back and actually emptying out the storage facility or do you just tend to put that into the "this is always going to be here."
Brokamp: No, no. For me, I hate paying for something. Anything that's related to just paying just because you have stuff. As soon as we get the new house, we clear that out.
Anderson: These storage facilities know they've got most people on the ropes. They keep increasing that rent year by year. That's a tremendous business just because I think most people get all that junk in there and they go, "Oh, no, I'm not going back in that." I know my dad was one of those people for years. He would have paid anything to just not have to clean it up.
Southwick: So after you've gotten rid of the clutter...I make it sound so easy. It took us months and months, and so many car trips, and so much posting on Slack on the Fool. "Who wants six martini glasses that we have not unwrapped since our wedding?" Because why did we put martini glasses on our registry? I don't know. That was dumb!
Anderson: For all of your cocktail parties.
Southwick: For all of our cocktail parties. We have one friend who drinks cosmos, and she's the only person who has ever had a drink in one. All the rest of them were in their original little box, never touched. Oh!
Anderson: You've got to start making Manhattans. That can go in a martini glass.
Southwick: That's a dumb shape for a glass. I don't care. Everything can be drunk out of a jelly glass. Who cares! So clutter's gone. It was not hard, but you did it. Good for you!
Anderson: And honestly, we got lucky. My parents live in the area and let us put a bunch of boxes in their home and that helped with two phases of it. No. 1, getting rid of our stuff, which ended up being out of the house for like months at a time. Then you go to pick it up and you're like, "Why do I need any of these things?" I've been living for months without this stuff. Do I really need it? But they were also very motivated to get the stuff back out of their home, so that made sure we went and picked it up because my mom wasn't having it.
She said, "You've moved now. Go ahead and get it." So decluttering, and then you start to neutralize a little bit. You've got to assume that your taste is not everybody's taste, so to the extent that you can go less knick-knacky and more just kind of neutral colors. Try and appeal to the broadest audience. Again, not all of us are interior designers. That's certainly not who I am, but I just assumed most people wouldn't like my stuff, so as much of it as I could put away, I think that was the goal.
And buyers -- and I think this is true across all buyers -- are going to prefer a turnkey house. The less they have to do, and the more you can do for them so that your home looks like it's ready to just come plop your stuff down and sit and relax, I think it's better.
We had a tough choice on our carpet. We knew it needed to be replaced, and we ended up not doing it because we were still living in the home at the time it was showing, and we were going to have to move all of the furniture. And quite frankly, I think we paid for that a little bit in terms of what we got for the home and probably should have done that work ahead of time, but people definitely appreciate if they don't have to do the work when they move in.
Southwick: For us it was important to be moved out of our house before we started showing it. We just didn't want to have to deal with people walking through our house and all of our things. But then our realtor was like, "Well, but we need to stage the house to take photos." And so we had to do this whole rigmarole where we took photos of one specific floor. The whole staging your house can be expensive if you actually are going to stage it and bring in other people's furniture.
Do you find with the people that you've been working with -- and granted the people you've been working with live all around the world -- that they are having to do a lot to sell their house? Is it hard for them to sell? Or generally speaking is it actually a pretty good time to be selling?
Anderson: The message I hear right now, at least locally and certainly in other parts of the country where the market's been hot, is that it is a seller's market at least at the moment. Now I was going through this process at the end of last year and the market was falling like a knife through butter. That was not going as well, because the traffic was down. I think people were a little concerned and heading into the holidays was not a great time to list. It was a decent time to be a buyer and I think what I gave up on the selling side I got on the buying side and being able to be a little bit more aggressive there.
But right now it seems like inventory is exceptionally low. The home across the street from us in our new place went up and it was under contract within three or four days.
Southwick: Yes, D.C. is...
Anderson: A very quick turnaround. It seems like that at the moment if you're in one of those markets that you can basically write your ticket. But at the time we did it, we definitely had a little more effort that had to go into it.