How much will potential home buyers disrupt my life when I sell my home?

Peter Warden
The Mortgage Reports editor

In this article:

Selling a home, whether you do it yourself, work with a discount broker or a full-service outfit, is no picnic. So, of course, you’re wondering how much your life will be upended by home buyers. The answer depends on a few things.

  • How much does your “real life” differ from the perfection demanded for home showings?
  • Must you consider the effect of children and/or pets?
  • How accommodating do you want to be to selling agents and their clients?

For minimal impact, you hire a full-service agent, a weekly housekeeper, and take a long vacation somewhere nice. But few of us can do that. Here’s how to make selling your home bearable.

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“Keep it looking this way”

Do you watch The Property Brothers TV show? Each episode, the brothers carry out an extensive remodeling on a home seller’s house and then stage it. It always ends up looking fantastic.

And, toward the end of every episode, the brothers tell the owner, “Now keep it looking this way until a sale’s agreed.”

In the show, that’s a throwaway line. But, in reality, keeping your home show-ready is essential to getting a quick sale at the best price.

Meanwhile, in the real world …

Yeah, right. It may be easy to keep a home immaculate when you’re retired and the household comprises one or two adults. But it’s a serious challenge when there are kids in residence. And pets. And both parents work full-time.

Related: How to stage your home yourself

You can bet your agent will call with a two-hour warning at the very worst possible time. Of course, you can always say no and demand a rescheduling. But do you really want to send hot, qualified home buyers off to view other homes and miss out on yours? By the time you’re ready to receive them, they may have bought somewhere else.

Luckily, there are some tricks, tips and strategies that could help you never have to postpone a viewing — and still always show your home at its best.

The good news

Let’s start with a positive thought. You’re already 90 percent of the way there.

Assuming you’ve already staged your home well, it’s had a deep clean. And you’ve already put your clutter into storage, so the place is now fundamentally neat. Better yet, you’ve probably devoted more time to cleaning since the staging so it’s not looking too bad. You just have to smarten it up and tidy away the recent debris.

Plan ahead

You know your agent could call at any moment. So think ahead and make a plan of what you’ll do.

This mainly involves distributing tasks to members of the household. If everyone knows what his or her roles are when the call comes, there will be less headless-chicken panicking and duplication of effort.


Kids are an issue here. Really tiny ones are probably best sat on the couch, watching their favorite video, with strict instructions to stay put. Don’t forget to let them know they can still use the bathroom. Damp patches on seating are not known selling aids.

Older ones can reasonably be asked to help. Certainly, they can at least be expected to restore their own rooms to pristine condition.

Related: Selling a home without the hassle (full-service home prep services)

Take a photo or two of all their rooms when those were perfect and send each her own. “Your mission is to make your room look exactly like it does in these pictures.”

That shouldn’t take long, so feel free to task them with other things. And, of course, double check before your showing to make sure that your kids and you are on the same page.


Agree in advance with each adult (if there are any others) what his or her tasks will be. By all means, make a checklist so nothing’s forgotten.

Read on for some tips that might help you speed through the chores.

Tips for success

Clearly, the best thing you can do is never let up on cleaning and tidying. If your schedule allows it, vacuum and mop floors daily. Dust as frequently. All those should be easier now you’ve decluttered your home.

Get into the habit of wiping down countertops and mirrors after each use. And wash dishes or put them in the dishwasher the moment you’ve finished with them.

Related: New app allows buyers to visualize your home with their own style

Of course, your agent will call only on days when you haven’t had time to do any of those. Stay calm! Take five minutes to tour your home, making mental notes of what to prioritize. It’s more important that your home doesn’t stink of stale garbage than that your rugs are as fluffy as they can possibly be.

Pay particular attention to pets. Take your dog with you and make sure the cat’s litter tray is pristine. Home buyers won’t recognize how loveable Tiddles is if all they can smell is cat urine.

Many agents recommend that evidence of cats be removed because some people assume that a home with a cat has damage. If you can move the litter box to an inconspicuous spot in the garage and take your cat with you in a carrier, it’s an advantage. Less worry about a feline escape or odor issue.

Clutter containers

There are two types of clutter, and both make your home look untidy. The first sort is the stuff you’ve already put into storage: the ornaments and collectibles that make your place look busy and smaller.

The second sort comprises the items you use all the time and that are bound to be left around the property. You know the things: half-read newspapers and books, electronic tablets, snacks, toys, shoes, sports gear … the lists are endless. And you’d face a revolution if you tried putting all those in storage.

Related: Staging your home helps it sell 73 percent faster

You could go round after your agent calls, trying to put all those back in their proper places. But why not have a couple of large but unobtrusive plastic containers secreted in the attic, basement, garage or the back of a closet? Everything you pick up after the agent’s call goes into a large laundry bag and then into one of those.

It’ll save time you don’t have. And, once the showing ends, everyone will know from where to retrieve their stuff.

Your go-bag

In the movies, every decent spy has a go-bag ready to make a quick escape. You want one too. But you don’t need wads of currency and a pile of fake passports.

You want ready all the stuff you’ll need when you’re out and your agent’s showing your home. You need to devote every second to make your home perfect, not to pack up for a family expedition. So your bag might contain diapers, juice boxes, snacks, books and toys. Keep the bag near your exit door, together with coats and shoes for everyone.

There’s a Newtonian law of physics that kids can never find their shoes (certainly not a whole pair) when you’re in a hurry. Okay, there should be such a law. If Newton failed to notice that, he obviously wasn’t as clever as we think.

Home buyers

Don’t make the mistake of assuming home buyers will be forgiving of anything short of perfection. Sure, they’re humans, too.

But they’re looking to buy their dream home, not some dreary, grubby, smelly, untidy, “homely” slice of reality. If you want to sell your property quickly and for the best possible price, you have to pander to home buyers’ taste for the perfect. It’ll be worth it in the end.

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Selling A Home