Surviving Your House Sale

By Lori Lovejoy

Moving has been ranked as one of life’s most stressful experiences. Listing your home for sale is, for many, the first step along this stress-inducing path. This is especially true for families with small children, or indeed, any children.

There are some simple steps you can take to reduce stress and keep a grip on your sanity while you prepare your home for sale and during the time you have it on the market.

1. Have an escape plan. Buyers generally prefer to see homes when the current owners aren’t present. This poses a special challenge if your children still take naps. Devise an escape plan for yourself so that you have a destination ready. Remember to plan for all types of weather; if you expect to go to the park, your plans could be thwarted by a summer storm.

2. Reduce the toy population. Keeping toys tidy can be a constant battle in any home. If you’re trying to keep your home “show ready,” it can be virtually impossible. Improve your odds by packing up one-third to one-half of your child’s toys. Be sure to keep out favorites and enough variety to keep him or her entertained. This also has the advantage of giving you a head-start on the inevitable packing. As a bonus, this will also serve to “refresh” your toys: toys that have been packed away are like new again once they are unpacked.

3. Be first or last. Realtors will often show several homes to buyers in an afternoon. So, when they call you to schedule a visit, they’ll offer you a range of time, say from 1 to 4 pm. Right in the middle of prime naptime!

Ask the Realtor if your house can be the first or the last one they show. Chances are, the Realtor will be showing other homes in your vicinity, so they should be able to accommodate this request. This also gives your home a slight advantage: if buyers see several houses in one afternoon, they are likely to remember the first and last house they see in greater detail.

However, if the Realtor is unable to alter her/his schedule, ask for a quick call when the party is en route. That should give you the time you need to pack up and let the buyers look around on their own.

4. Follow your nose. We all know that babies do not always smell like, well, babies. Don’t rely on a diaper disposal system to completely eliminate diaper odors. Empty your diaper system regularly; I suggest at least daily, or if possible after any major diaper episodes. Do not try to cover up odors with other scents. Your house will have a much better impact on prospective buyers if it smells simply clean. Strong perfumes or scents can actually give a prospective buyer a negative impression of your home.

5. Always use your lockbox. If a party shows up unexpectedly (and they will — even if you ask them to call first), ask the Realtor to use the lockbox to access your home. Your Realtor can use the lockbox data to follow-up with all agents who have shown your home. This is a valuable tool in the ongoing marketing efforts for your home.

6. Forgo the open house. According to the National Association of Realtors’ 2005 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, less than 1% of buyers, nationwide, learned about the home they purchased through an open house. However, getting ready for an open house can be stressful and very time-consuming. Forgoing an open house can greatly reduce the stress of selling your home, as well as freeing up your Sunday mornings.

Of course, Realtors have differing perspectives on, and success with, holding open houses. So discuss your options with your Realtor. You can compromise and hold an open house your first weekend on the market.

7. Be realistic. When you make your moving plans, allow sufficient time to market, sell, and settle your home. The median time on the market for all Northern Virginia counties in the first quarter of 2006 ranged from 38 days (Arlington) to 62 days (Loudoun). Bear in mind as well that it can take an additional 30 to 60 days to settle once you have a contract on your current property. Of course, the summer market is typically very active, which may result in homes selling more quickly. However, it’s best to be prepared for all eventualities.

8. Spend a weekend at the beach. Sometimes getting your house market-ready feels like half the battle. Realtors typically list homes just before the weekend, since many buyers spend weekends touring prospective homes. Once you’ve succeeded with getting your house listed, reward yourself by getting away for the first weekend on the market. There will be a surge of activity during that first weekend. If you’re out of the house, it will help to ease your transition into the marketplace.

9. Remember, buyers are people too. Occasionally Things Happen even if your home is on the market. If someone shows up unexpectedly, or if you forget an appointment, try to relax. Chances are other families have seen the occasional toy out of the box and, perhaps, even dishes in the sink.


Data from the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems. Median days on market data are for all properties sold in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, and Prince William Counties. (38, 46, 62, and 52 respectively) Please note that properties still active at the end of the first quarter are not included in these data.

Lori Lovejoy is a Realtor with Samson Realty, LLC. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and their two children, ages 4 and 21 months. Samson Realty is a full-service brokerage that offers its clients 4-4.5% listings and cash back to buyers. You can reach Lori at 703-635-6359 or


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here