How To Show Your House Without Losing Your Mind

The thing about selling your house is that I don’t think anyone can be completely prepared for just how dang annoying it is. Showings are a pain in the butt for most people, but add a pet and a toddler, and sometimes two toddlers into the mix, and it is a whole other level of annoying. I feel like we live in a museum these days, with the pressure to keep it clean and tidy looming on me always, and when its time for a showing, we have to vacate ourselves at inconvenient times. I can tell I’m stressed out because when I’m stressed out I chew my hangnails mercilessly, and let’s just say I’m not going to post a picture because this blog ain’t a horror show.

We listed our place just over three weeks ago, and I no longer remember the number of strangers that have waltzed through my house and poked in my cupboards. I find it slightly invasive, and know that most places where you might hide things you don’t want people to see who are coming to visit you are often the places where buyers want to look – closets, pantries, and storage. During this past week, in Olympic Prime Time, we saw a significant decrease in showings than the first week, not shockingly, but today we have two scheduled so apparently we are back on course for full speed ahead showings. One was set for 11:15, the other is 4:50. Generally, our realtor has been pretty good about being at most of the showings but he has a life, and other clients, and we are big girls and boys here at Chez Arbo, so for the few times he can’t make it, that’s okay – I get that.

At about ten after 11, after having sped around the house lighting candles, putting away toys, and picking up random dog fur tumbleweeds, I dutifully bundled up Kale and Bonnie, woke the dog up and kitted her out with her harness, and we four hung out on the patio in close proximity to the phone. I had asked my realtor to arrange with the buyer agent to buzz to be let in, sort of hoping for a good idea of when they were in there and whenwe could come back. In hindsight, I wish I had told him to give them the lock box instructions instead. Having to wait for the buzzer with two toddlers with an eye for their lunch, and one dog with an eye to be anywhere but on the patio with two toddlers with an eye for their lunch was not a good time.

Finally, the realtor buzzed, at the extremely tardy time of 11:40, and I cheerily but snidely commented “Oh, you are coming! I thought you were a no show!” before pushing the buzzer to let her and her client in. They took their time coming to the back, and as they passed me, the realtor snippily said to me “we reserved this place from 11:15 to 11:45”. I replied “Well, you had best get inside then, it’s 11:43!”. She then proceed to enter without removing her shoes, and when done 30 seconds later (seriously, why look at all, why did you waste all of our time? We have a movie, and eleventy billion photos online) she slammed the gate behind her hard enough for plant pots  on my patio to rattle. Lady, you just made the list. Thank you for leaving your business card on my table so now I have a name and a company to avoid and talk badly about.

Realtors, just a tip:  It is not in your client’s best interest to be a bag to the seller because here’s the thing: I can say no to your client’s offer just because YOU SUCK because its a seller’s market. Not that I would, but I CAN and that’s all that matters.

This whole process had had an extreme learning curve of what works and what doesn’t, and I’m trying hard to remain positive and enjoy the whole experience without going stark, raving mad. So, here’s my list of eight things to do to ensure you don’t lose your mind during this lovely time:

  1. Clean your house thoroughly, from top to bottom, before all of this begins. Having a good base line is going to make it easier to maintain showing after showing. If you feel you don’t have time, hire someone to do it for you. This is crucial – a clean house will sell. A dumpy dirt pit will not sell at what you want to sell it for. A clean house also helps people forget about things like that stain on the carpet on the other side of the bed or the fact that one of the tiles in the fireplace surround has a hairline crack around it.
  2. Fix everything you are going to fix before it hits the market, and don’t try to hide things you don’t plan on dealing with. Ross and I replaced the bathroom flooring with nice tile, repainted the whole joint, and upgraded all the lighting. We did not replace the carpeting, but we also built our list price around the fact that this may be a negotiation point. Remember, most buyers are going to do a home inspection before they buy and any half competent inspector is going to find the deficiencies you aren’t dealing with. Hiding them just gives them leverage and you want leverage on your side. And don’t have half completed projects lying around – we looked at one house recently that had spackle all over the place – on dark green walls – and it looked sloppy.
  3. De-clutter and de-personalize. We went so far as to actually rent some storage space from friends to take all those rubbermaid totes full of stuff we might need one day out of the closets, because I think its important to make your closests look big and empty. People can imagine their things on a blank slate, but can’t take away your things beforehand, so make sure that treasured wall of family portraits has been replaced by some nice, bland, small, inoffensive artwork. I was also tempted to install some shelves above our TV stand – but Ross pointed out that that wall would actually make a perfect location for someone’s 52″ plasma high def yadda yadda TV, so we elected to leave it as is. Also, anything “mounted” is generally a part of the sale.
  4. Make up your mind about when you are willing to show it, and be absolutely firm on it. Originally, we said we wouldn’t accept any showings after 7PM, because that’s Kale’s chill down time before bed. We also were firm that we would not accept a showing during what should be Kale’s nap. We made an allowance outside of these times once, and we paid for it with an unhappy toddler dying to sleep. There are many hours in the day in which people can come and look at your place. Be firm, and don’t play the “what if” game.
  5. Make sure you and your partner (and any other owners) are absolutely on the same page about expectations. It wasn’t until Ross and I got the first offer, which we ultimately did not accept, that we actually sat down and had a conversation about expectations for what we wanted to sell for, how long before we wanted to drop the price, etc. We should have done it sooner, because in a fast market, some offers might only be open for a few hours. We were lucky that the first offer was open for most of a day.
  6. Make up a list of “to-do’s” in order to show the place. This list comes in handy for me. I know it off by heart now, but for the first few showings I felt really scattered and a written list made sure I didn’t forget any details. Here’s what I do to prep for a showing. It might sound like a lot, but it takes me about 30 minutes now. First, I tidy the whole house, including putting away toys, sweeping up dog fur, and spot cleaning the windows. I actually clean up the kitchen and bathroom because those are the rooms that are sellers, and I dump some pinesol in the toilet and swish it around but I wait to flush it till right before  I walk out the door because that smell makes people think the place is immaculate. I try hard to have fresh flowers on the table, but if not, the fruit bowl will work – I don’t leave the table empty. I light nicely scented candles about 15 minutes before I leave, put away the dog bed, open the shower curtain (they’re gonna look, trust me) and open the door to the washer and dryer (ditto). I  turn on every single light in my house, put on soft pleasant music (I use ‘the spa”, a canned music station on the Telus TV lineup), and lastly, turn on the fireplace with the fan off (it’s noisy). I make sure all the blinds are up, and the curtains open, and if its nice out, I open the windows. Then I go flush that Pinesol filled toilet, and walk out and don’t look back.
  7. Don’t take anything personally. I know, this one is kind of funny given my realtor anecdote above, but the people traipsing through your house don’t know you and don’t care about you. They are looking to buy for themselves, and really don’t care what is happening in your life. Don’t be offended by a low offer – that’s all part of the game. And try not to fall for the sob story their realtor will present to you.
  8. Involve all the members of your house so that it is less onerous. Kale’s tasks when its time for a showing is to help me put away the toys, help me put away Mooki’s bed, and “help” me clean the rest of the house. Instead of shooing him away, I try really hard to make it a fun game for him to help me get the place ready. With that in mind, I start about an hour before, to allow for time for all the tasks to happen. I also made sure Ross was aware of the list, so that if I couldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be stressing out wondering if he remembered to light the candles.
12 years ago


  1. As a house-hunter recently it has amazed me how some people will leave their homes in a state of absolute CRAP when taking the photos for the MLS listing. I love your list and would say that I will try to remember it for when we eventually have to sell our place but as it turns out we are probably buying our friend’s grandparents house and gutting parts of it so unless Mister gets a job out of town you will have to pry this house out of my cold dead hands. It is in such a fantastic location (elementary school at the end of the block! Right beside a huge park!) that the house isn’t really what we are buying it for – although I do like the house and have lots of plans for it, I think the grandparents were the original owners and it needs a ton of work. Anyway, I should really be writing this in my own post but I wanted to say that THIS post of yours is fantastic.

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