Clutter is a problem for 50% of Americans who say they’re overwhelmed with it. Clutter can mean a garage you can’t use for a car, money wasted on a storage space, or a less enjoyable (or even dangerous) living space. Selling cluttered properties or hoarder’s homes can be quite difficult for real estate agents — and pose a number of risks that you should be aware of.
Cluttered House or Hoarder’s Home
Clutter occurs when things aren’t put back in their place or when people have more belongings than their home can hold. While people may be overwhelmed and not know where to start with clearing clutter, they’re usually able to do so with support.
Hoarding is another matter. The American Psychiatric Association says that people with hoarding disorder “excessively save items that others may view as worthless” and have “persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions.” The clutter makes it so that some or all of their living or work space is unusable. The psychological piece makes decluttering a hoarder’s home extremely challenging.
Challenges in Selling Cluttered Properties
Cluttered homes are less attractive for potential buyers. It can be hard to see past the clutter to visualize the potential and imagine the space as their own.
In extreme situations, clutter literally makes it impossible for people to see the property. Floors or walls are hidden by piles of stuff. Rooms may not be accessible. Potential buyers may be concerned about issues they (and their home inspector) can’t see.
Buyers may also be concerned about the cost of removing and disposing of the clutter and potentially dangerous items.
In addition to turning off potential buyers, cluttered properties may hold risks for potential buyers and agents.
Risks of Cluttered Properties
Cluttered properties range from a little messy to downright dangerous. Here are some of the biggest risks and challenges you may encounter when trying to sell a cluttered property:
- Increased risk of injury—With clutter comes an increased risk of people tripping on items that are in walkways. In some hoarder’s homes, piles of stuff can also topple and cause injury.
- Building safety—Excessive clutter can make maintenance impossible and hide structural or other significant damage. Cluttered homes also hold more flammable material should there be a fire. Clutter may block exits or slow passage through the home in case of an emergency.
- Unsafe materials—Cluttered yards or homes may contain sharp objects, chemicals, rubbish, or other items that can cause health risk or injury. Clutter can make hazardous items harder to see or avoid.
- Unsanitary conditions, air quality, and pests—Hoarder’s homes may have rotting food that causes odor and attracts pests. Cockroaches, rats, and flies add to unsanitary conditions, and rodents can damage structures or cause dangerous electrical issues. Cluttered homes are more prone to mildew, fungus, and poor air quality.
How to Reduce Risk and Improve Results When Selling Cluttered Properties
As always, you want to minimize risk, so what can agents do when selling a cluttered property? And how can you get the sale when faced with a difficult property?
1. Start by recommending that sellers declutter. This reduces risks to people who come to see the property and makes the property more appealing to potential buyers. Sellers may choose to sell or give away items or rent a temporary storage space so they can streamline what’s in their home. (And it gives them a head start in packing.)
2. Have a professional company come in to declutter the home. This might involve sorting and removing items, cleaning, and staging the home. How time consuming and expensive this will be is dependent on the level of clutter.
Some people simply need help to get through the process because it is time consuming, or they don’t know where to start. People with hoarding disorder may be resistant, creating more of a challenge. Because excessive clutter or hoarding can create other health risks, hiring people who are used to dealing with this situation is wise.
3. Sell as is. The seller will not do anything to the property to make the sale happen. In some cases, you might even sell a hoarder’s home full of stuff. This may work for people looking for a tear down or planning major renovations.
4. Cash offers only. Hoarder’s homes can make securing a mortgage challenging. Cash offers remove that layer of difficulty.
5. Know your market. Cluttered properties can be cleared out and cleaned up to be highly attractive to potential buyers. If the property is beyond that, know the market for excessively cluttered properties and hoarder’s homes.
Real estate investment companies may see the potential that other buyers don’t, because they’re used to dealing with properties like this. They have their own systems in place to remove garbage, clean up, and deal with issues. Buyers trying to break into a difficult market may also be interested in properties like these. Some will be turned off, but others will see an opportunity. They may have a harder time getting financing, though.
6. Make sure you’re covered. Unhappy buyers lead to a higher risk of lawsuits. When you list cluttered properties, words like “contractor special” or “as is” start to set expectations. While excessively cluttered homes may have hidden damage, as always, sellers must disclose any known issues.
If you are showing a cluttered property, make sure you have a real estate E&O insurance package that specifically includes Open House and Showings coverage. (Most don’t cover injuries to third parties or property damage at open houses or showings.)
CRES can tailor an insurance package for your specific-to-real-estate needs. Plus CRES E&O Insurance + ClaimPrevent® gives you access to pre-claim legal advice from qualified attorneys 7 days a week. Contact the friendly team at CRES at 800-880-2747 for a confidential discussion today.
Selling cluttered properties and hoarder’s homes can be difficult, but there are options—and definitely things you can do to reduce your risk while working on the sale.