W hether you’re getting ready to downsize to a smaller house or upgrade to a larger one, you’ll need some time to organize your current property and prepare it for staging and selling and for your eventual move. While many homeowners opt to handle most of this work themselves, others find professional help makes the process easier.
When Jonathan Kanter and his wife, Lisa, were preparing to move from their home in Potomac to a larger home in Bethesda, they took the opportunity to simplify their lives and get organized.
“We’d been in the house nine years, and during that time we had two kids and we’d accumulated a lot of stuff,” Jonathan Kanter says. “We wanted to improve the way we live so we could stay more organized in our next home and we also wanted to make sure we didn’t just pack up and move things we don’t need or want.”
The Kanters worked with Scott Roewer, a certified professional organizer and owner of Solutions by Scott & Co. in Washington, beginning about three months before they put their home on the market. They cleared out their garage and their basement, and Roewer found them places to donate belongings they didn’t need and to sell a few more valuable items.
“So many people in D.C. live hectic, high-pressure lives and want to be able to spend their free time with their kids and their families,” Jonathan Kanter says. “We didn’t really want to admit we needed help, but it’s liberating to have an outside person work with you. Scott not only helped us prepare our house to sell but he helped us unpack and stay organized in our new house.”
If you decide you want professional help to face the often daunting task of organizing and de-cluttering your home before a move, you can often find help from a moving company, an interior designer, your real estate agent, a home stager and a “move manager.” While each of these professionals has a slightly different skill set, there’s a lot of crossover in their work, and they’ll often create a team to help you.
“In recent years, good, professional Realtors will usually give you a list of things to pack or move out of your house before it’s listed for sale in order to create the illusion of as much space as possible,” says Jonathan Neal, president and chief executive of Metropolitan Moving and Storage in Rockville. “Staging the house to get the price you want and to sell your home quickly has created a new segment of the moving business that wasn’t there before, because now some moving companies like us also provide storage service. You can use one company to hold items in their warehouse, load them on a truck once you’ve sold your house and then pick up the rest of your belongings for one direct move to your new home.”
Before you achieve your goal of settling into your next home, you’ll need weeks or months to prepare, although professionals often get calls for help with organizing and packing a mere week before a scheduled move.
“The earlier you get started, the better,” says Lisa M. Bartolomei, principal of Lisa M. Bartolomei Design in South Riding, Va. “Your first step should be to eliminate what you don’t need, then you need to decide what you’ll keep for your next home, and then figure out what you need or don’t need to prep your home for sale.”
Roewer says sellers can save time and money by sorting through everything before they move rather than as they unpack.
“Start with a timeline that works backward from your first open house to today,” Roewer says. “Plot out your time on a calendar and make the time blocks nonnegotiable for sorting and clearing out rooms and closets.”
Roewer recommends starting in the room you use the least, such as a storage room or garage. He says these are good places to make a lot of headway quickly to reduce clutter.
Most real estate agents recommend that you clear as many surfaces in your home as possible. Bartolomei suggests focusing on your foyer and kitchen since buyers will look at those areas first. She also says it helps to know the size of the place you’re moving to.
“The single most important starting place to prepare for moving is a very clear scale drawing of your new floorplan so that you can see exactly what will fit comfortably in your new home,” says Alexandra Koneff, co-owner of Orchestrated Moves in Bethesda. “The biggest time- and money-waster is that most people have an overinflated idea of what will fit in their new home and where it will go.”
Koneff recommends visualizing your lifestyle in your next home as well, in terms of whether you’ll be entertaining and need place settings for 12 or, if you have kids, where they’ll play and what they really use at their current age.
Empty-nesters who are downsizing to move into a retirement community may want to hire a move manager, says Julie Sabag, director of marketing for Fox Hill, a retirement community in Bethesda, who can do a complimentary consultation to help you sort your belongings to donate, give to family or friends or keep. A move manager can do as little or as much as you want to coordinate your move.
“We call ourselves the ‘wedding planners of the moving industry,’” says Susan Danick, co-owner and founder of TAD Relocation (formerly known as Transitional Assistance and Design Relocation) in Gaithersburg. “We’ll go through every room in your home and identify what you’re done with, what you have and what you want to have in your new home. Once you thin out your possessions, you sometimes find things you’ve forgotten about that can work well to stage your home or to repurpose in your next home.”
Danick says after a free one-hour consultation, her company charges an hourly rate that depends upon the level of work they do. She says the total cost of her services can be $600 for a basic packing and unpacking job to as much as $5,000 or $6,000 for a more complex move.
Unless you have unlimited storage in your home, you may want to consider boxing up the items you don’t need now but know you want in your next home, such as off-season clothing, artwork, photos and rarely used kitchen appliances. An organizer or move manager or designer can help you with these decisions and identify a storage option for your possessions.
“I usually recommend a portable onsite storage pod so it can be loaded during the staging process at your current home and delivered to your new home the same day the moving truck arrives,” says Roewer. “There are also storage companies that offer pickup, storage and delivery, so you don’t need to worry about moving your stuff across town into a storage unit.”
Metropolitan Moving will pick up your items and store them in their warehouse for a monthly fee and then deliver them to your new home on moving day. Neal says the average price for the pick-up, storage for a month and delivery comes to about $1,000 but it can be more or less depending on how much you store.
“It can be worth it if you sell the home faster and for more money than if all of your clothes, furniture and boxes stayed in the house,” Neal says.
Koneff says her company will research storage options for clients to find the most cost-effective place that meets their needs. Typically, the farther away the storage unit, the cheaper it is, but if clients plan to visit the storage unit to sort through their belongings, it’s better to choose a more convenient location.
“If your mover says they offer storage, be sure you know where your belongings will be stored and how they will be stored so that you don’t risk damage,” Neal says.
Neal recommends asking your real estate agent and friends who have similar-size homes and who’ve recently moved to suggest moving companies and to check out reviews and ratings on Angie’s List.
“There’s a huge variation in quality in this business, so it’s important that you base your choice on quality of services, not just the price,” Neal says. “Make sure the movers come to your home for an on-site estimate, so you know you’re getting an accurate idea of your cost.”
Koneff says her company and other move managers can recommend movers and help sellers evaluate estimates. Move managers and professional organizers also offer services at the end of the move, including labeling everything as it’s packed and unpacking your entire home in one day. Both Koneff and Roewer recommend asking your mover for plastic moving crates instead of using boxes, because they’re easier to stack in the truck, stronger and a reusable, too.
Moving is consistently identified as one of the most stressful times in your life, but with professional help, you can ease some of the strain of the process.
Michele Lerner is a freelance writer.