Faster Sales, Higher Prices for Homes With Less Clutter


Before Carolyn Nelson put her small, Spanish-style house up for sale in the Palos Verdes Estates neighborhood of Malaga Cove, she rented a 100-square-foot storage unit. Into the unit she crammed clothing, kitchen items and many pieces of furniture.

Nelson paid $80 per month for storage, but she didn't regret the outlay. That's because purging her house of superfluous items made it seem much larger to prospective buyers. Consequently, the property sold quickly and for almost her entire asking price.

A veteran of 17 years in real estate sales, Nelson offers this simple adage to clients: "Less is more when you're selling your home." As she says, those who eliminate unneeded items--especially bulky furniture--can often expect a speedier sale for a better price.

Why? Because rooms with less furniture appear larger and more appealing, said Nelson, a broker-associate for Coldwell Banker in Rancho Palos Verdes. In her own case, removing a rocking chair from her master bedroom made it look more spacious, and her dining room seemed to grow after three leaves were removed from the imposing walnut table.

"Surprisingly, I missed very few items I took away from the house," Nelson recalled.

The notion that a less-furnished home is larger is an optical illusion, said Kimberly Causey, who writes on home furnishings. She noted that designers who outfit model homes for builders often order scaled-down furniture, such as sofas that are narrower and more shallow than is customary.

Unlike models, many owner-occupied homes are crowded with oversized furnishings, which give prospective buyers a "claustrophobic feeling," Causey said.

If you're stumped on how best to scale back and rearrange your furnishings before your place goes on the market, Causey suggests engaging an interior designer for just a few hours.

After you've removed excess furnishings and reorganized what's left, you may still wish to buy a few additional pieces to create the final "show home" look for visitors. This could be an especially good investment for those marketing an upper-end property.

But Causey, author of "The Insider's Guide to Buying Home Furnishings," (Home Decor Press) usually advises against making major furniture purchases before you move into your next place.

Still, Causey allows that it might be wise to buy a conservatively styled sofa in a neutral tone to replace one that has become badly worn and stained. Another reasonable investment would be decorative mirrors that make a place seem larger.

"Mirrors always add space and dimension to a house," she said.

Here are several other suggestions for home sellers:

* Remove area rugs that can appear to shrink a room.

Although such rugs can offer a cozy feeling, they usually make rooms look smaller, Causey said.

"The color contrast breaks up the room visually. You want less contrast to make a room seem larger," she added.

* Take down heavy draperies.

Weighty window treatments can not only hide a nice view from the inside of your home, but they can also darken rooms--seeming to diminish their size.

To create a brighter, more updated look, Causey recommends that those who have removed heavy drapes simply leave their windows bare. (Exceptions, of course, would include the bedroom and bathroom windows of a place you still occupy.)

* Remove heavy bedroom furniture if possible.

"Plantation-style" bedroom furniture, often made of mahogany, walnut or cherry, can present a majestic, expensive look in a master bedroom suite.

However, unless the suite is huge, such bulky furniture (including headboards, armoires and chests) can seem to overwhelm a room.

Would it be inconvenient to put such bedroom pieces in storage while your house is for sale?

"Plantation furniture will definitely make your room look smaller," she said.

* Limit small items on tabletops.

Many homeowners cover end tables, coffee tables and dining room tables with numerous small items--from framed photos to small statues and various mementos.

Nelson advises her home-selling clients to heed her "rule of three," which limits the client to no more than a trio of small decorative items on a tabletop.

Clutter is the enemy, whether on tabletops or elsewhere, she said.

* Don't rule out your garage as a stashing area.

Do you object to the idea of paying for temporary storage? Then the next best stashing area could be your garage, Nelson contends.

"The garage is one place where people are more forgiving about clutter," Nelson said.


Ellen James Martin is a syndicated columnist. She can be reached via e-mail at However, she cannot answer questions individually. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.

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