A Clutter Bug Comes Clean

The seller’s home was so cluttered that prospects grew claustrophobic when viewing it. That’s when one practitioner stepped in and got a pack rat to change her ways.

May 1, 2008

Location: Miami
Square footage: 1,800-square-foot townhome
Bedrooms: 3
Bathrooms: 2.5
Year built: 1999
Extras: One-car garage with a separate laundry room in a gated community.

THE CHALLENGE: Jose Gomez, a sales practitioner with the Keyes Co., in Pinecrest, Fla., says the townhouse — one of 195 townhomes in the area — was lovely from the outside. But the inside of the home was another story. A large hairy dog and two nonconforming teenagers added chaos to the clutter of bins and boxes stacked up in every corner, and enough furniture to fill a home twice its size.

When the owner told Gomez she would be putting up a Christmas tree for the holidays, Gomez says he returned to the home to see a “a winter wonderland.” “She had enough holiday decorations, lights, and animated dolls to put Dr. Suess’s Whoville to shame,” he recalls. “I began to realize the magnitude of the problem.”

How did you get the owner to change her ways?

GOMEZ: I knew I needed to showcase the potential of the home to buyers, especially since many complained of feeling claustrophobic when viewing the home. I showed buyers an identical vacant property under contract a few doors down immediately after showing the home. But it wasn't really working.After six weeks on the market with no results, I met with the owner and discussed a plan of action to de-clutter the home. For two hours, we went room by room and made lists of items to pack, items to display, and discussed specific staging ideas.

Even though it was the holiday season — clearly her favorite time of year — I told her the changes had to be implemented by New Year’s Day, and I was strict with a deadline. She put everything in rubber bins and stored the bins in the garage. It worked. The very next person who saw the home after it had been de-cluttered and de-personalized bought it.

What was the selling price?

GOMEZ: The property listed for $305,000 and it sold for $300,000.

How did you get the listing?

GOMEZ: I got the listing Nov. 21, 2005, because I farm this neighborhood. My philosophy when marketing is that I hit the pavement. It takes me about 2 hours to walk 195 houses and give fliers to the neighbors. If I can knock on the door and hand someone something, it’s more personalized.

Also, when I walk the neighborhood or go to the grocery store or the gym, I wear these T-shirts with listing information on them that I call “ProperTees.” I buy white shirts for about $2 at Target, heat transfer the words “for sale” with an iron across the top back of the shirt, add three photos of the property, and a short blurb — “3-bedroom, 2.5-bath town house in West Kendel”, for example — and put my name and phone number in big letters across the back along the bottom. I don’t put the price because if that changes the shirt is outdated.

In essence, I become like a walking billboard. I wear them everywhere. It costs me less than $10 to market a property this way.

How much did you spend marketing the home?

GOMEZ: Unfortunately, my T-shirt didn’t work with this particular listing. So it probably cost me about $10 to market this home walking the neighborhood with fliers and through the MLS.

How did you find a buyer?

GOMEZ: I must have shown the home 25 times. I showed it once or twice a day. But it wasn’t until she cleaned it up that we found a buyer. The buyers were a young couple looking to upgrade from an apartment to a town house and start a family. They came to me through the MLS. They saw the property right after New Year’s Day and made an offer Jan. 3, 2006. We closed Jan. 25, and they’re still living there.

What do you attribute to closing the deal so quickly?

GOMEZ: I was willing to be honest and explain the concept of presenting the property to the seller and work with her to find the best way for a quick sale. Today, I have incorporated this concept into my marketing platform and give my clients a packet I've created that includes articles, ideas, checklists, and a DVD of home-selling techniques presented by HGTV.

The end result is my listings spend fewer days on the market and have higher sales prices. So my sellers have seen the payoff and so have I.

How did you get started in real estate?

GOMEZ: I worked as a journalist in New York City. After the 9-11 attacks, I moved to Miami to be closer to my family. In 2005, my grandfather, who is a real estate practitioner, talked me into getting my real estate license and paid for me to take my exam as an incentive. And sure enough, I fell in love with it.

What lessons did you learn from this transaction?

GOMEZ: Well, I don’t take pictures the first day I view a listing or show a property that’s in the process of being readied for sale because to me that first impression is a lasting impression. I will wait until it has been cleaned up, and then take pictures.

In addition, I have no problem speaking up anymore. When I took this listing, despite being uncomfortable with all of the clutter, I was too new to the business to feel comfortable saying anything to the customer.

This sale taught me to go with my gut feeling. Don’t be afraid to speak. And don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and help. That’s part of the job. I listed a house for a priest and had to tell him that he had too many religious items around the house. So there I was helping him box up all of these crosses while praying silently that God would not be offended.

But that’s why people hire you. They hire you for your skills, your input, and your work. So if you’re not providing input or working, you’re not doing your job.