Is Your Clutter Keeping You Out of the Real Estate Market?

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For many New Yorkers, the barrier to upgrading their residence has nothing to do with “not-enough-money” and everything to do with “too-much-stuff.” With huge salaries, tiny living spaces, and minimal time and energy for home care, this town can provide the perfect storm for heedless hoarding.

“New York is the fashion capital of the world so even the men here have too many clothes” says Liz Hamilton Holt, the founder of Wardrobe Renewal (WardrobeRenew@gmail.com), a service that helps people get their closets in order and their personal style defined and refined. “I get a lot of cautionary warnings when I first arrive at a client’s home and in the first hour of delving into their stuff I’m usually giving them a lot of reassurance and encouragement to get them beyond their embarrassment and shame.”   

Liz has been a close friend ever since we shared a Montauk house in 2010, so I was well aware of the fact that her organizational expertise extends well beyond wardrobe functionally. I called her for help when a prospective client — who was potentially looking to sell her one-bedroom condo — told me that she needed “at least” six weeks to get the place ready for me to see because the bedroom was a disaster area. I figured if I was self-deprecating enough she would relent and let me in the door immediately to do the home evaluation. So I confessed to being a slob myself and even showed her a photo of my guest bedroom that has been a virtual laundry pile for the last five years. Still, she wouldn’t budge.

The six-week timeframe sounded crazy to me, but Liz took it in stride.

“Six weeks? That seems normal. But my guess is that it’s more than just the bedroom.”

In her years since transitioning from luxury retail management, Liz’s territory within her clients’ homes has expanded to all areas where clutter can take over. Books, kitchen accessories, and — the most frustrating offender — old paperwork; the accumulation of stuff creates a layer of exhaustion both in someone’s home and in someone’s brain. And that depletion of energy impacts everything from romance to home valuation.

“The range of negotiation in Manhattan is around six percent, and you don’t even need to be an actual hoarder for that margin to work against you,” says Laura Cook, a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson with LC|NYC at Keller Williams NYC. “Buyers make the market, and if they can’t see themselves living in the space because too much of your stuff is there, you’re not going to get the best offer.”

A huge proponent of de-cluttering, Laura has even negotiated special rates for her clients with Manhattan Mini Storage to help facilitate the process. “People who are way too committed to their stuff lose out on a ton of opportunities because they dread the process of showing their homes to agents and potential buyers. But once you get them through the very intimidating — but ultimately very freeing — process of reducing and organizing their stuff, they get this burst of energy that opens all sorts of doors.”

When it comes to the benefits of organizing an unruly home, Laura has seen it all: People who had been renting well beyond the point where they could afford to buy something finally discovering that they can easily become homeowners, cleared-out second bedrooms becoming tenant-occupied streams of revenue, and formerly problematic homes selling above asking price.

So, if you’ve been holding back from putting a property on the market because the mere thought of cleaning it out provokes a panic attack, there’s one great way to get yourself motivated: Invite a non-judgmental real estate agent you trust (just so you know, most agents in this town have seen everything and are virtually incapable of being shocked!) to do a home evaluation and provide you with two numbers: The dollar amount you can sell your home for if you show it in its present state, and an estimated “post-organization” price.  

The great thing about living in New York City is that you don’t have to do ANYTHING alone. My prospective client took me up on my suggestion to work with Liz, who was correct in her assessment that the problem indeed went beyond the bedroom. She hasn’t let anyone besides Liz into her apartment yet, but she was more than happy to share the details of their progress.

“This apartment has been a slow-drip energy drain for years and I’m just beginning to look at it without feeling like a failure. I’ve worked with other organizers and it always devolved into an argument. But with Liz, she’s intuitively responding to my vibe as we go through all of my stuff piece by piece and that just makes it easier to let go of things. I’m getting my bedroom back and eventually we’re going to attack the living room. But the next step is my dining area because I took the table apart to make space for a clothes rack. Once everything is in order, I’m going to either bask in the joy of selling my home for a nice tidy sum, or bask in the joy of actually living in it. Still haven’t made up my mind, but either way I’m free and I win!”

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