The top 9 mistakes downsizers make when they sell the family home

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Here’s what real estate experts want you to know before you list.

It’s time. Your house was a lovely place to raise a family, and holds countless cherished memories. But your kids are grown and gone, and you’ve had it with the maintenance, repairs, cleaning and yard work that come with a big house.

Today’s home buyers have a new generation’s expectations and sense of style.

When you’ve lived in a home for years — maybe decades — it’s hard to see your house the way it looks to potential buyers. But today’s home buyers aren’t younger versions of you. They have a new generation’s expectations and sense of style. Here are common mistakes downsizers make, according to real estate experts. 

1. They have a misguided sense of what’s new

“Your home is more dated than you think,” says Bill Tierney, a Realtor south of Boston. “For example, you put in a new kitchen 10 years ago. But 10 years ago, that 30-something buyer was just out of high school or early college — in their life that was eons ago. So your kitchen, while quite nice, is old to them.”

2. They ignore the HGTV effect

Virginia-based Realtor AJ Heidmann says he sees downsizers make improvements based on their own taste, rather than what today’s buyers want: “Buyers now for the most part have grown up on HGTV and have certain expectations of what a ‘normal’ house should have — hardwoods, granite, stainless-steel appliances, etc.” Putting in new laminate floors or white appliances can cost you money without adding value.

Wood — yes, the oak, walnut, or cherry cabinets you love — is out, says Linda Fennessy of Kitchen Magic. If your wood cabinet boxes are in good shape, refacing your cabinets might be a cost-effective option. 

3. They expect to price-match the highest-selling house in the neighborhood

The house down the street might have been fully renovated top to bottom. Your old shag carpets and outdated wood paneling aren’t going to get the same price, says Melanie Hartmann, owner of Creo Home Buyers in Baltimore. 

And larger houses aren’t always desirable, says Emile L’Eplattenier, chief real estate analyst for in New York City. “In many areas larger homes sit on the market longer and might even sell for less money than well-renovated smaller homes. Maintenance costs, taxes, and renovation costs can add up and make a larger home more of a burden,” he says.

The top 9 mistakes downsizers make when they sell the family home

4. They leave the growth chart in place

You know, that door jamb that marks the kids’ heights and ages? “We ask sellers to remove this,” says Justin Riordan, founder of home staging company Spade and Archer Design Agency. “They start thinking about the family who is selling and they grow emotional around the family, rather than the house itself.” 

Riordan says most people can’t bear to paint over the growth chart. If that’s how you feel, have a carpenter remove and replace it so you can take it with you. 

5. They don’t have their home inspected

Your buyer is likely going to want a home inspection, so it makes sense to get one done yourself so you uncover any hidden problems. “One of the biggest worries many sellers have is, ‘What will the inspector find?’” says John Mease of John Mease Home Inspections in Roswell, Georgia. With your results, you can either take care of any problems your inspector finds or disclose them to potential buyers. 

6. They overlook the power of video

“Zillow will give your home a preferred rank if you upload a video to your listing,” says Benjamin Ross, a Texas-based Realtor with My Active Agent. “In an age where Californians are buying Texas homes over the Internet, you must take advantage of the video medium if you want to compete.”

7. They like their home the way it is

“They have likely lived in the home for years, invested a great sum of money into the purchase and upgrades along the way, and have made many happy memories there,” says Michael Valente a licensed broker and managing partner of Renovation Sells in Chicago. “Real estate experts know that today’s buyers want an updated, move-in ready home with a modern design aesthetic, but downsizers often have a hard time seeing the value of updating a home that they find perfectly acceptable as is.”

8. They don’t rent a storage unit

Even if you’ve ruthlessly decluttered, which is job one, you likely have a lot of stuff that you want to keep but you won’t need while your home is on the market — holiday décor, out-of-season clothing, books, spare linens, special-occasion kitchenware, etc. Spending a couple hundred bucks to store that stuff can help make your home look airy, bright, and open.

9. Or, they over-stage their home

“Staging a home for sale is no longer about completely de-personalizing. Buyers are attracted to the story and the personality of a home,” says Rebecca Chambliss of Curated Design Inc. “Clean and declutter, yes. Take down family photos if they cover every surface, but leave some personality and hints of a life well lived. It will attract the right buyer and the house will sell for more than an empty white box that feels overly staged.”