What stuff to keep and what to remove

The point in showing a home is to allow prospective buyers to mentally move in and assess how well the home fits with their lives and possessions. Real estate agents know to listen and watch for buying signals, and one of the clearest and best signs is when buyers discuss how their own belongings may fit in various rooms.

Buyers can hardly think about where their piano, china cabinet, or most-treasured family heirloom will go when they can't get their eyes past the visual onslaught of furnishings, accessories, and clutter of the current owners. Use the following information to guide your recommendations regarding what sellers should leave in place and what they should move out prior to home presentation.

1 Pictures: Suggest that the owners pack up all but a few of the personal photos in the home. If they have a wall covered with pictures, advise them to pare down to just a few.

1 Appliances: Except the ones that get used daily, store all small kitchen appliances. Leave the coffee maker on the counter, but lose the blender and maybe even the toaster.

1 Vanity items: Remove most of what is on the bathroom vanity, including decorations and toiletries. A collection of items draws attention to a small vanity size.

1 Closets: Thin clothes out of closets to create the illusion of greater space. Even a good-sized closet that is crammed with clothes looks undersized and inadequate.

1 The garage: Too often, what gets removed from the home goes into the garage. Don't let your sellers make this mistake. Ask them to move household items into a rented storage unit instead. While they're at it, they can move garage items — from extra sets of tires to out-of-season recreation equipment — to the storage unit. Then advise them to organize what's left. Suggest that they hang bicycles from the ceiling and install a few inexpensive pre-made cabinets to hold paint cans, tape, shop rags, toolboxes, and the rest of the amazing collection of stuff that ends up in most garages. The objective is to end up with a clean, spacious garage that adds openness and perceived square footage to the home — and dollars to the seller's final sales price.

If you encounter seller resistance, remind your clients that they're going to have to pack their stuff up anyway. By preparing their home for presentation they eliminate visual clutter and get a leap on the packing process at the same time.

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