How to Stage Your Home to Sell When Your Kids Have Too Much Crap

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Photo: Juliya Shangarey (Shutterstock)

Whether it is sustainable or not, the housing market in the United States has been undeniably hot for much of 2021. In some of the most desirable markets, homes are only listed for a few days before multiple offers roll in. However, even in a seller’s market, cutting corners when it comes to staging can have an impact on the final purchase price—especially if small children live in your home.

The process of selling a home is stressful—and that is especially true for parents raising little kids. Staging a home to make it attractive and clutter-free for buyers can seem like an impossibility when your home is overflowing with toys, mountains of dirty clothes from messy toddlers, and stray goldfish crackers smashed in between couch cushions. But it’s both possible and important to do.

“Staging is one of the most important parts of selling a home,” says Sparkle Rattler, CEO and Broker of Promise Land Realty Group, a Michigan-based real estate company. “When a buyer is searching, they don’t know much about a home other than what it looks like and whether they can envision themselves living there. Even in this market, it’s definitely important to show (your home) the best way that you can. When I have consultations with sellers, staging is something we talk about very early.”

But parents for who are fretting over how to make their home neutral and free of all the things they need for their children on a daily basis while still living there, the process doesn’t have to be overly daunting or intimidating.

Start with a quick de-cluttering of your home

When buyers walk through a home, they’re usually trying to get a feel for how their furniture and personal items will look in a space. Taking a few easy steps, like making sure small items are picked up off the floor and out of walkways, can help. Similarly, putting items on countertops away in cupboards, and packing away refrigerator magnets (and all that artwork they’re holding) can make the kitchen feel less cluttered.

“One of the tips I give my sellers is just start with decluttering,” Rattler says. “Just put away the snack bars and the breakfast cereals and other things you might have out on the counters—you want to keep those clean and clear.”

Get creative with storage 

People are typically moving for a reason, and a common one for families with young children is a simple need for more space. In smaller homes, where baby and toddler items have taken over living spaces, Rattler points out that there are some space-saving solutions sellers can consider.

Using large bins that can be filled and fit into a closet, or furniture items that have hidden storage compartments, can be creative ways to hide some last-minute before showings—and then easily access again after. If extra closet or basement space isn’t available, use decorative bins that can be stacked into a corner of a room, out of the way.

You should also store seasonal or rarely used items into bins that can be kept in garages, basements, or other more remote areas of a home. For things the kids need on a more day-to-day basis, those can be put into more accessible locations—but still hidden creatively.

“Things that are not going to be used every moment, start trying to pack those away,” Rattler says. “I recommend things like containers, or furniture items like ottomans that open up and have storage. Having places that you can, in a blink of an eye, put those toys away and run out the door before a showing.”

Remember that neutral is better 

If a potential buyer is trying to envision themself or their family in a space, the biggest way to make that vision difficult is by having pictures of other people everywhere. Rattler recommends taking down pictures and other personalized items.

“Marketing is a huge part in selling a home,” she says. “De-personalizing is very important. You never know what type of buyer is going to come through your home. So for you, your home might be a lovely family home for you and your children. But if a buyer is a single person, they need to be able to picture themselves there.”

Walls don’t necessarily have to be barren to have a home be de-personalized. More generic or neutral artwork can remain in moderation. But for older kids with wall stickers or other decorations covering their bedroom walls, those items should probably come down.

Some potential buyers will certainly also have children, so some family elements present in a space are okay, as long as it is not overpowering.

“We don’t want a home to look boring, but it should look as neutral as possible,” Rattler says. “You don’t want to erase yourself completely from the property. It’s all about looking clean and organized. So, for example, when we’re staging, if a room is a nursery, we’re still going to make it look like a nursery. You don’t need to completely redecorate the room.”

Call in reinforcements 

The best news for parents who are stressed about having to de-clutter a kid-dominated home is that they don’t have to do it alone. Rattler says the best place to start is simply consulting with the real estate agent you are working with. If you really want to go all out, there are even companies and consultants who specialize specifically in staging homes for sale and can offer help for those who are particularly intimidated by the process.

But, even in a seller-friendly market, the reward for taking the time to de-clutter and de-personalize, whether on your own or with help, can be significant.

“Even though it’s considered a seller’s market, you still want to be able to get the best price for your property,” Rattler says. “It’s still competitive. Sometimes, even when a real estate agent or investor can see the potential in a property, buyers may not be looking at the same things. They may see things as too much work. We see the vision, but that’s because we do this every day. A seller may not, so the cleaner and more attractive you can make the home, the more potential offers you can get.”

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