The French provincial with blue shutters in Guilford is where Karen Ryugo and her three small children spend happy days -- finger-painting, playing with the wooden train set and snacking on gooey peanut butter crackers. It's also the house Mrs. Ryugo and her husband have put up for sale.
As a stay-at-home-mom, can Mrs. Ryugo and her youngsters conduct their daily lives normally and still maximize the family's chances of selling their yellow stucco house for a princely sum? Realty experts say yes -- assuming the family is well organized and has a good contingency plan for coping with unexpected showings.
"Just because you're selling your home doesn't mean you have to move your family out. Your family is part of your home," says Lynn Creager, an agent at the Phoenix-Hunt Valley office of Coldwell Banker.
Granted, an at-home mother with small children may have to sacrifice some of the comfortable clutter of her family's usual lifestyle to make their home more marketable. But with good planning, they can avoid much of the panic and stress that could accompany the home-showing process.
"There's a little bit of living abnormally when you put your house on the market. But if you think through the process, you shouldn't have to sacrifice too much," says Mike Brodie, president of the Residential Sales Council, a realty education group associated with the National Association of Realtors.
The point here is not to discount the importance of having a home clean and clutter-free when it goes to market. Rather, it is set a strategy for the stay-at-home mother which compels her and her children to make the fewest concessions possible.
Here are some pointers:
* Try to declutter your home before you put it on the market.
"People like houses that are clear, with things put away. Who wants to look at somebody else's junk?" asks Florence Feldman, an organizing consultant and head of the Reston-based firm Clearly Organized.
Since you'll have to sort, pack and throw away belongings in advance of moving anyway, why not do it prior to selling your home? The job can take hours, weeks or months -- depending on your home's condition -- but by clearing the clutter ahead of time, you'll make your rooms look larger, thereby making your house more salable.
"Go through the house, getting rid of everything you no longer want, need or like," advises Ms. Feldman. Even things you'd like to keep for your next home can be pre-packed for the move. You can pack away knick knacks, off-season clothing, sports equipment, toys the children don't use daily and items that clutter your kitchen. Homebuyers are more forgiving of neatly packed cardboard boxes in storage areas than of crowded kitchen counters.
If after your sorting and packing you're still encumbered, why not rent a mini-storage space to serve until you move? That could be a good place to temporarily store your spare dining room chairs, skis, or the bags of hand-me-down clothing and toys that will one day be used by your infant.
* Get help with the de-cluttering process if you need support or a push.
Many intelligent people have a tough time clearing through their belongings. Rationally, they know every piece of art their children produce is not holy. Still, they feel guilty about throwing away the most ordinary yellow duck drawn by young Michael. But when you engage a friend or hire a teen-ager to help you sort, your irrational patterns become more apparent.
* Never refuse a showing because your house is a little messy.
If you and your children have a finger-painting project spread all over the kitchen table and your agent phones to bring a buyer over in 15 minutes, it can be tempting to ask that the showing be set for another day. But, as Mike Brodie of the Residential Sales Council points out, many buyers who are put off never come back. You lose the chance to show them your house forever.
Rather than postponing the visitor for another day, it's better to explain that finger-painting is under way and request a few extra minutes to get organized. If your house is generally clutter-free, it shouldn't take too long to make the place look presentable.
* Practice the art of last-minute stashing.
All your cardboard boxes may be lined neatly in rows in the attic. The red tricycle your youngest child will one day use is safely put away in mini-storage, along with your extra dining room chairs and kitchen gear. But as a stay-at-home mom, you may still face the need to quickly clear away clutter to prepare for an unexpected house showing.
If that's the case, be resourceful and stash things in places where buyers won't look, recommends Lynn Creager, the Phoenix-Hunt Valley agent. It's unwise to put any of your mess in closets, since closet doors are often opened by prospects. But hiding your clutter in your car (especially your trunk) or under your bed are good bets, she says. Putting a stack of dirty dishes in your trunk may seem silly, but not when you realize that a sink full of greasy pans could come between you and the successful sale of your property.
Stresses Ms. Creager: "When see dirty kitchens or dirty bathrooms in a house being shown for sale, you're looking at thousands of dollars lost to the seller."