How to Sell Your House Despite Your Messy Kids

It takes a lot of moving parts to sell a home, and it can be frustrating when one or more of those moving parts just won’t sit still. I’m talking about kids. Kids who, despite your best efforts to present your home in its optimal condition, don’t give a good gosh-darn that Mommy and Daddy are trying to make a sale.

But there’s still hope. As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em (and you definitely cannot), join ’em — with these helpful tips on how to sell your house despite your messy kids.

Conduct a purge before the house goes on the market

Your house is for sale, which means you’re probably moving soon. Now is the best time to cut your clutter so you don’t have to drag all that junk from one house to another. Set a week aside to organize your purge, then pack up and ship out whatever you don’t want or need anymore.

“We end up with a lot of baggage over the course of our lives, and while a lot of these items have sentimental value, that's about the only thing they're worth,” says Texas realtor Abigail Vytlacil. “Donate what you can, toss what you can't. Then, pare your home's contents down even more by storing anything and everything that isn't being used. Surfboards, bikes, winter clothes, baseball uniforms and equipment, golf clubs — get as much as you can out of the way, out of the house, as possible.” (See also: My 16 Favorite Ways to Get Rid of Clutter)

Have the house professionally cleaned

Kids or not, a well lived in home has years of dust and dirt buildup in the corners and hard to reach places. A deep clean will give that extra sparkle to impress buyers. While it is more expensive to hire a professional cleaning service than doing it yourself, it’s better. It’s hassle-free for you, and you can take the little ones out for the day while the service works their magic. You'll get to spend quality time with your kids instead of screaming at the little buggers because they keep tracking mud across the floor you’ve freshly mopped.

At the same time, have the carpets cleaned. Removing stains and odors from the carpets is just as important as anything else you’ll beautify in the house to make a good impression.

Touch up or repaint the walls and doors in high-traffic areas

A little paint goes a long way to freshen up walls, doors, and baseboards that have encountered your children and pets over the years. You may not even notice how grimy these areas have become, but get up close and you’ll agree that they need tending to. (See also: 4 Paint Colors That Can Boost Your Home's Value)

Organize cabinets and closets

Buyers will absolutely want to look in your cabinets and closets to get a good idea of what kind of space they have to work with. So, take the time to tidy these areas up. Fold and organize the clothing in the closets (a good time to eliminate clutter here, too; donate whatever your kids haven’t worn in awhile or items that no longer fit), and get rid of any expired foods and open bags/containers in the pantry. Streamline the contents of your kitchen cabinets — toss dishes you don’t use or that your kids have outgrown — to make the shelves more aesthetically appealing at quick glance.

Concentrate on areas to clean based on the type of buyer

If the potential buyers stopping by for a showing are not parents, concentrate on cleaning up the areas that have your kids’ proverbial handiwork all over them. These buyers want to know what the house will look and feel like for them, not a family of four. Likewise, if you’re showing to parents, focus more on the family gathering places that will be most important to them.

“If something is going to be messy, let it be the children's actual rooms that are messy,” adds Michigan-based real estate broker Jon Boyd. “I've never had buyers not buy a home because of the condition of the children's bedrooms. However, if there is junk or clutter in the kitchen, bathrooms, dining areas, and living areas, it is going to be a challenge.”

Draw buyers’ attention away from problem areas

Open your blinds and curtains to let in the sunshine; many buyers are attracted to how well a home receives natural light, and that may distract them from your kids’ belongings lying around. Create focal points in the least attractive rooms using art, flowers, or mirrors, the latter of which can also help seemingly expand the space through optical illusion. Whatever works. (See also: 8 Ways to Stage Your Home Without Hiring a Pro)

Offer incentives to your kids for keeping their rooms clean

Yes, I’m telling you to bribe your children. Increase their allowance for helping you keep the house extra tidy. The end result will pay off much bigger than the extra few bucks you’re shelling out per week to keep your kids in line.

Keep the kids’ rooms brightly lit

If you don’t have a magic wand to send all your kids’ bedroom junk back under the bed, use a light bulb.

“Make sure the light switch near the door works in the kid's bedrooms, and make sure it is a reasonably bright bulb," Boyd suggests. “A well lit but messy bedroom won't stop a motivated buyer, but a poorly lit messy bedroom might give them second thoughts.”

Use totes to pick up and store clutter in a flash

If you’re short on time before a showing and everything your kids own is spread across your house, use totes to quickly gather up the mess and toss them in the garage, basement, or attic. This smarty-pants tip is courtesy of realtor Denise Supplee, co-founder and operations director of Spark Rental.

“I tell clients to purchase a bunch of non-see-through totes,” she says. “Keep them on hand. Have your agent provide you a heads-up of showings of an hour or so. Take everything that is on the floor, tables, beds, and throw it in the totes. Stack them neatly. People will expect to see them because you are moving.”

Set specific times for showings so you can always prepare in advance

You’ll have a better chance of keeping the familial chaos under control if you discuss with your realtor a set schedule for showings, with available times on weekdays and weekends. If you know that there will be showings on Sundays from noon to 2 p.m. and Wednesdays from 6 to 7 p.m., for example, you can plan ahead and stay prepared.

Enlist help to get the kids out of the house

It’s difficult to get the joint spick-and-span when your kids are coming right behind you to mess up what you’ve done. Why not pawn them off on their grandparents or a favorite aunt or uncle for the afternoon? They’ll get to spend time with someone they enjoy (and probably enjoy being a little spoiled), and you can focus on your long list of showing-prep to-dos.

Create a "buyer’s book" to showcase what you love about your home

If you don’t have time to douse the house in bleach or make it look like the maid just left, fortify your efforts with a book of photos of your home looking its best — including before and after pictures if you’ve made any improvements — to help buyers see the home’s full potential.

“Add a little extra to your showings by creating a listing binder or 'buyer's book' that showcases why you've loved the home, what it's like living in the area, things your family likes to do, and other pertinent information to a new homeowner like average utilities, association dues, and anything else that would help them make an informed decision faster,” says Vytlacil. “It may seem trivial, but you'd be surprised at how much these little touches affect a prospective buyer.”

Let your family come and go using one door

You’ll reduce your cleaning workload substantially if you restrict your family’s access to the home to one entrance while it’s on the market. Fewer paths of entry equates to less dirt and outside gunk tracked into your home from multiple directions.

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