I know. I know. You’re tired of my harangue always telling you to let go of stuff, get rid of clutter, clean house and downsize. But now I have another reason to nag you. You are going to lose out on a lot of money if you don’t.
We’ve been over the benefits of living in a clutter-free, well-organized, well-purged home. We’ve talked about the good feeling that comes from being able to park both cars in the two-car garage, or to pull a pillow out of the linen closet without having stacks of blankets fall on your head, or to have those friends over for dinner because you’re no longer embarrassed by your place. Those goals right there should be motivation enough to catapult you off your keister and send you searching for the extra-strength trash bags.
But if it isn’t, hear this, especially you in your golden years. A couple weeks ago, I got an email from a realtor sharing his lament. In the past year, he’d worked with several families where the adult children of the senior sellers were stuck unloading a house their parents had inadvertently left it in a mess.
This was me five years ago.
“In a typical scenario,” wrote Jerry Weaver, a realtor in Novi, Michigan, “the daughter calls. Dad has died, and mom has moved to a condo or retirement home. The house she’s moved out of is full of stuff. The finances are in turmoil because dad handled all that. And mom needs all the money she can get out of her home … “
“I like to believe I am very good at selling homes for top dollar,” he continued, “and want to help this family get the most they can, but trying to sell these houses puts us at a serious disadvantage.”
How much of a disadvantage? These neglected, cluttered houses, if they do sell, go for on average $50,000 to $60,000 less than they would have if they were cleared out and cleaned up, he later said.
Did you hear that? I don’t care if you are leaving all your money to your cat, $50,000 to $60,000 is a lot of catnip. Whether you leave your money to your kids or your college, use it to fund your world cruise or your long-term care, $50,000 is a crime to lose out on because you didn’t cut through your clutter.
“In most cases,” Weaver said, “these homeowners could get rid of 75 percent of what’s in the home, still have a full house, and it would look a lot better.”
I need to step outside for some air.
“It breaks my heart to see families in this situation,” he wrote. “I want to help them better than I am.” At the bottom of his email, he asked if I had any advice.
I did. My advice was to get his advice. I turned the tables, called Weaver and asked him to tell me, on behalf of realtors across America, what he wished more seniors knew. Here’s the advice, straight from the realtor’s mouth:
• Don’t wait till you sell. Be proactive before there’s an event. Sorting through and getting rid of stuff will not get easier as you get older. The stuff keeps building. Make it a lifestyle to keep only what you need, use, and love, starting now.
• Reap the benefits. By not waiting, you’ll get to enjoy the benefits of living in a clean, well-maintained place, and the peace of mind knowing that you will not leave a mess for your loved ones. Plus, if you have a big old yard sale, you’ll get the cash.
• Have those conversations. Ask your kids what items they want and if they’re willing to help you purge. Kids, talk to your parents, and urge them to lighten up so their homes will be worth more. Offer to help. Then tackle the attic, the basement and everything in between.
• Get help. If your kids aren’t available to help, professionals are. Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a trained organizer near you who can help you sort through your things compassionately and impartially and rehome them. If you’re moving, the National Association of Senior Move Managers also has experts who can help you separate what to take with you from what to let go of.
• Don’t be too proud. Some homeowners avoid cleaning house because they can’t do it alone, and are too embarrassed by the mess to ask for help. Professional organizers have seen worse, and are trained to deal with this.
• Declutter, repair and clean. Those are the steps, says Weaver. “Decluttering is the number one task more homeowners should tackle to help their homes look, feel and live better, and be worth more.” Next, address deferred maintenance. You may know how to live with the tricky toilet, the room that gets no heat and the spot in the kitchen that leaks when it rains, but plumbing, heating or roof repairs left undone turn off buyers. Then deep clean. Some seniors stop seeing or smelling what others notice in their homes. They miss cobwebs, surface film and the grime in the cracks. Hire a professional to scour the place inside and out.
• Picture all your stuff in the landfill. If Weaver can’t sell the home to a traditional buyer, he said, it will go to an investor who will snap it up for under market value, and put all the home’s contents into a dumpster.
• Be a good neighbor. If more money doesn’t motivate you, maybe this will. A low home sale impacts the neighborhood’s comps Do you really want to be remembered as that slob who lowered property values?
Decluttering and downsizing your stuff, even if you’re not moving now, is a gift to yourself, your loved ones, your neighbors and your realtor. Do it.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of three home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.