Why science says you should prepare your home for sale

Your home is listed. You’ve made minor improvements, tackled the clutter and had the garage sale you’ve been putting off for 3 years. Finally—your home is cleaner than ever. So clean, in fact, you’re wondering if you should even move (Stop. It's too late for that).

You go to bed absolutely sure your home is ready to host the pickiest buyer. The next morning, the kids wake up. One of them, inspired by their inner Picasso, paints the bathroom mirror in chalky toothpaste and the other slides their buttery toast hands along the railing of the stairwell leaving you and your spouse wondering a few things:


Why were you so painstakingly thorough in cleaning your home; is it that important?

After all, can’t the buyer see through the clutter? Well…not exactly. Here’s why:


The Buyer’s Brain


If you’ve ever met or are an excessively clean person you know it can’t be controlled. The slightest amount of disorganization or dirt begs a reaction before your attention can be diverted to other things.


But it isn’t just a habit; it’s a biological reaction that can be experienced by more than just a picky buyer. This behavior is highlighted in a recent study proving that experiencing something visually unpleasant or offensive causes us to make ethical assumptions about people. Meaning, that cleanliness immediately affects our perception of a situation or a place; which in this case, happens to be your home.


In one of these studies, one group was placed in a dirty room, exposed to a bad smell and shown a video of a dirty toilet. A separate group was exposed to the same smell and shown the same video while sitting in a clean room. Following this, both were presented with certain scenarios and asked to judge them as moral or immoral.


Those exposed to the dirty room were harsher in their judgement of each scenario than those who were sitting in a clean room. It appears the cleaner room kept the test subjects in a better mood indicating this: A feeling of cleanliness can positively influence a persons decision making.


The effect is summed up by psychologist Maria Konnikova:


“When we perceive a moral transgression, we tend to react in a similar way as we would to something that is physically off-putting, such as spoiled food or physical contaminants in the environment.”


When a buyer walks into a dirty home their attention is directed at the mess they’re presented with; not where their bed or dresser would go. They are left with a feeling of dislike or disgust they may not be able to explain. It’s the automatic correlation that occurs between cleanliness and morality that affects their perception of the home and how it makes them feel.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to guess their response when the agent asks for feedback on the home. Most likely, they’ll say —without realizing why—they didn’t like it. The majority of buyers will not have the skills necessary to look past the clutter so don’t leave it to chance.


How you AND the kids can keep your home clean


The last thing on your mind when you arrive home from work is cleaning. You shutter at the thought but you don’t want a messy home to create doubt in a buyers mind.

So, how do you do it?


Organize Daily


Consider setting aside around 20 minutes to walk through your home daily and address the mess that has accumulated. By tackling clutter as it forms you’ll avoid having to rush clean a large mess that’s piled up an hour before a scheduled showing.


Get your kids involved


As an adult, you understand the value in keeping your home clean through the selling process. But your kids —behaving as expected—will not.

If they’re young you can expect a toy in every corner of the house; if they’re older, you can expect a pile of clothes or a messy kitchen.


Before getting frustrated, try these methods:

  • Avoid making general statements like ‘clean your room’. Name a specific task you would like your child to complete to keep them from getting overwhelmed.

  • Create a game. Set a timer and challenge your child to finish the task before the buzzer goes off.

  • Avoid redoing their work. When your child hasn’t completed the task to your expectations resist the temptation to complete the task for them. You’ll end up discouraging them from completing any future tasks because they’ll assume you’re going to complete it for them.

Find the full list of helpful tactics to keep your kids invested in the cleaning process here.


Time naturally develops within us a sense of nostalgia and deep love for our homes making it difficult for us to view it as a consumer would. But, remember, while you may not see your home as a product, a buyer certainly does. They haven’t experienced the home as you have; therefore, understanding their perspective can give you insight into exactly why the smaller details make all the difference.

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