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A Stay at Home Mom's Survival Guide to Showing a House with Small Children

Updated on February 2, 2013

The Guide (Don't forget to read to the end for pictures!)

So you found a good Realtor. Check. You have your house beautifully staged. Check. The house is listed on every site and every Realtor in the area has access to your house at any time with little notice. Check? Wait…what?

But I have three kids under the age of five! Did I mention we are selling the house because it is too small to live in comfortably? And you’re telling me that my phone will ring at any moment and a kind voice from my Realtor’s office will say..”

“Hello! This is so-and-so from ReMax. I have a Realtor (sometimes you get a name, sometimes you don’t) that would like to show your home between (a two hour time frame) today….”

And though you are working on a craft at the dining room table, your son has fifty cars on the living floor, and you never got to those dishes last night, you have a showing. In forty minutes. Ready? Go!

I’m a much better mom than I am a housekeeper and much better at holding down a laptop and couch than…well most things. I don’t mind if my house is a little “lived in”, because it is more stress than it is worth to keep it sparkling. But a house that is show ready is immaculate. Smells good, the counters are clear, and it is not a place anyone would want to live. It’s too clean. In fact at closing, the Realtor and father of five who ended up being the Buyer’s agent told me that he only knew kids lived there because their names were on the bedroom walls. I’m that awesome….either that or I spent five and a half months in constant stress and crazy, and came up with a foolproof…or maybe just me-proof system.

I’ll give it to you in three parts. Because you can’t expect a “lived in” house to go from a disaster to immaculate in forty minutes, kids in the car, on your way to Grandma’s…If you do, you have exceeded my awesome (or foolishness) and you can stop reading this article at any time. Oh, still reading? Good. Here’s my first section.

Before the First Showing:

1. Stage your house.

A realtor that is any good will tell you how or hire (at their own expense) someone who knows how a show home should look. But I’ll give you a tip. If your house feels like home, it is not a showhouse. You should have minimal family photos and your bookshelf should be “pretty” not functional. Your kitchen counters should be clear, and you should have boxes of stuff in your garage that you won’t need for the next six months. Décor should be neutral, so you should not keep that collection of weird fairy figurines out on display. There are a ton of tips on staging. But if you are selling your home for a bigger one, like we did, you have already spent months glued to HGTV and probably know most of them. Your realtor should help with the rest. If they don’t, find one who will.

2. Say Goodbye to your house.

This was automatic for me when the house was staged. My babies’ beautiful faces were not above the fireplace, and my butter dish lived in the breadbox. It wasn’t home, it was where we lived until we sold our house. So no matter how many kids took their first steps across that living room, or how many times you sat in that corner rocking that baby to sleep, you’ve made a decision to change their immediate environment. Say goodbye and move on. Otherwise you could subconsciously sabotage showings. Trust me, you don’t want to do that.

3. Have a place to go.

If it can be accomplished, DO NOT STAY HOME DURING A SHOWING. It’s weird, but people will open closets, sit at your table and imagine their own little ones toddling across that living room. If they like it, they will stay for a while. These things will sell your house. If you are there with your own children, even secluded in one room, the showing will be an awkward five minute walk through and they won’t even notice the tile backsplash and breakfast bar your hubby worked hard to install. Sometimes I did have to stay because of weather, and those potential buyers did not make an offer.

I am blessed to live two miles from my Parents. And whether they were home or a thousand miles away on vacation, their house was the place I went during a showing. If you are not as blessed, just make sure you have a safe place where your kids can be tolerated for a two hour window. Drive to the mall or the library. Call a friend for an impromptu playdate. Chances are, people who know you will know you are selling/showing your home and if you surround yourself with good people, they will help you out, just like you’d forever do for them after going through this.

Now you’re ready to do this! Almost.

The Daily Grind

  1. The mindset

You will have a showing. Or two. Or three today. Yes, this happens. You can also go weeks without one. But no matter what, do not become complacent. Be ready, mentally to drop everything and go at any time. Get prayed up. This is not an easy thing!

2. Be prepared

Do your dishes, keep the playroom close to clean, and make beds when you wake up. If there is dust or grime, clean it when you see it. A major thing to remember that my mom taught me is to wipe down the bathroom with the rag you used to shower, right after you shower. I use a loufa, but hubby uses a rag. Voila, your bathroom is clean. Obviously use cleaner at another time to disinfect, because, ew. Keep a good supply of clean kitchen towels, cleaning rags, paper towels and multi-surface cleaner on hand. And keep the floors vacuumed, as you may not always get to it right before a showing. Yeah, all the stuff your Mom always taught you to do but you probably don’t because your mom doesn’t remember what it is like to have three kids running around destroying the world. The ridiculous effort will be worth it, I promise.

3. Be pretty

You want to sell your house. But you love your kids. Get up early and be showered before breakfast. Dress your kids first thing in the morning. Have their coats, socks and shoes laid out in a specified spot. Trust me. Those few minutes make a difference, and will prevent the screaming fest when you discover that kids have little to no sense of urgency….

4. Know thy showing.

Everything has to have a specific place that it goes. Every decoration and accent pillow and stray chair. It has to be the same every time and your eyes should know without question when something is amiss. You should know the length of your vacuum cord, and find out the way you can plug it in the least amount of times to vacuum more area at a time. Seem crazy? It’s not, trust me.

5. Get three or four empty boxes, put them in the garage, and read the next section

When you get the call.

Most of the time you will have a lot more than 40 minutes notice. The average for me was about two hours. Realtors usually know what it takes to get a house together, and they get paid when a house is in a good enough condition for a client to fall in love with and buy. I’ve had as much as 48 hours notice. But as is true of most of the population, some realtors don’t get it. One day I received a call that so-and-so would like to see the house…now. I looked out front and lo and behold, a dark sedan was at the curb. Before you read the steps to successful showing, know that there are times when it is okay to say no. But don’t do this often. My Realtor used to say there were two things she’d never turn down: George Clooney, and a showing. That being said, here’s what to do when you get the call for a showing in 40 minutes.

  1. Assume you have 30 minutes. The one time you don’t want someone to be punctual, they will be.
  2. Panic. Passionately. For a full 5 seconds. So that the panic isn’t spread over 30 minutes.
  3. Calm down and think. For 15 more seconds. Alright, now lets go.
  4. Turn on your Scentsy. If you don’t have one, get one. Do not use candles or the lovely smell of your kids or last night’s salmon as a substitute. My Realtor when she showed us houses would blow out candles because he has seen bad things happen with unattended candles in show houses. But the house should have a nice seasonal scent. The only substitute for a Scentsy is if you just baked something. And remember not to overwhelm the house with cleaning scent. It will seem “sterile” to a potential buyer. You want it to feel like home to them!
  5. Put the kids’ shoes and coats on and put them in a room. If they have a playroom, great! If not, pick a kid bedroom that has a show or interesting toys.
  6. Kitchens sell houses. In the house we sold, I had a lovely country kitchen with a nice u shape of counters. Start at your sink. If you have dishes and time to do them, great! But we are talking about a 30 minute showing. Get one of those boxes from the garage and put the dishes in it that wont fit in the dishwasher. Pick a direction (think clock) and move in it, cleaning off counters as you go. Don’t dart around the kitchen grabbing things at random. Go in a sequence so that what is done is done. They should be relatively clean already, so a quick wipe-down with a rag or a soapy sponge and then with a dry cloth will get them looking great. A Swiffer wet is great for the floors as a quick wash-down. If the pad isn’t wet enough, spray the floor with water first, but be sure it will dry before the prospective buyers walk on it.
  7. Make sure furniture is where it belongs and that all surfaces and floors are clear in the main living areas. If it seems monumental to do this, another box from the garage will do the trick and you can sort it out later.
  8. Go through the bedrooms, except the one your kids are in. Make beds that got neglected, move things to their spot, get laundry in baskets. Open the shades to let in the most light. Also, all lights in the house should be ON during a showing. If someone has to turn on a light, it interrupts their focus on your lovely home. A good realtor showing the house will turn off your lights for you. During this phase, close the door when you complete a room as a mental checkmark.
  9. Check bathrooms for cleanliness, though they should already be sparkling. There should be no hairs or toothpaste on anything, and towels should be clean and straight. My boys like to not flush toilets…make sure you fix that if need be.
  10. Get your kids in the garage or vehicle if it is safe (This will be for minutes only). I have put them in the van with a Veggie Tales CD. But beware if you are in need of a car battery to not do this…luckily, I had a friend nearby that could come jump me as the realtor showed up.
  11. Put whatever the kids were doing in a box in the garage. If they were in a playroom, remember that a prospective buyer will not care if the trucks are in the truck bin. Just get the toys away. Fast. Remember your babies are in the van at this point.
  12. Vacuum. Fast. You are running out of time. In fact, if the floors are decent, skip this step. Save it for the realtors courteous enough to give you more than 40 minutes notice. Just make sure the house is illuminated and all the previously closed doors are now open.
  13. Put out a bowl of wrapped candy and a note thanking the prospective buyers for coming. In return, you will receive the Realtor’s business card as proof your work was not in vain.
  14. Double check to be sure everything is clean and in its proper unlivably staged and clean position. Make sure you don’t have portable electronics sitting out. I actually bought a computer armoire as a desk when I showed the house to put extra little things in. It looked like a nice furniture piece when I closed the doors and tied the handles discreetly with a ribbon.
  15. Take a deep breath. Take the kids to Grandma’s for as long as you can. I have been at my Mom’s and received two more calls for showings the same day. Easy showings! The house was beautiful and I was away.

This is obviously mainly for stay-at-home Moms while hubby is at work. If you are a working Mom, however, you’ll have to make sure you do that perfect cleanup before you head off to work each day. The same goes for a family day out or even a trip to church or the store. Leave it show ready if at all possible. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be at Walmart and get one of those “now” showings. The best showings happened when my Mom was over (she knew the routine and either helped or took the kids to her house, leaving me her car), or when my husband was off that day. He is a far better housekeeper than me, and detail oriented and would scrub windows and shine sinks. But you can do it without help. We had over 40 showings total. I probably did 2/3 on my own. You will start to think adrenaline junkies spend way too much money on skydiving and other thrills. They could have just had kids and put their house on the market…

You will get feedback from your showings, which I think is neat. Some of it will be silly, some overly critical. But my favorite thing to hear was “Shows Beautifully!” even if they didn’t make an offer. Ironically, we sold our house to someone OVER THE INTERNET with just their Realtor’s video as their showing. Our own Realtor had hired a good enough photographer that even the pictures made the house look great. It may take a while and you have to live your life on the edge, but if your house is a good product and shows well, word gets around. When we went house hunting ourselves, I got to see how much more I cared about perfect showings than MOST of the houses we saw. If you want to sell your house, kids in tow, in a rough market, it will show in your showings. And in that perfect offer that comes your way in God’s time.

Pictures from Our Actual Listing of the Old House

Our Master Bath, which we remodeled before listing.
Our Master Bath, which we remodeled before listing. | Source
The Kids' Old playroom. This day, they were gone for the photographer. But usually, this room was the last vacated for a showing.
The Kids' Old playroom. This day, they were gone for the photographer. But usually, this room was the last vacated for a showing. | Source
Our "Whatever Room". It was a dining room/office/music room. Note the Staged bookshelf. The computer armoire is out of sight to the right of the door.
Our "Whatever Room". It was a dining room/office/music room. Note the Staged bookshelf. The computer armoire is out of sight to the right of the door. | Source
My Old Country Kitchen. See my Scentsy?
My Old Country Kitchen. See my Scentsy? | Source
Our Entry. The First thing a potential buyer would see. I put the bowl of candy on that black table to the left. It was a nice little thing with baskets to hide our shoes!
Our Entry. The First thing a potential buyer would see. I put the bowl of candy on that black table to the left. It was a nice little thing with baskets to hide our shoes! | Source
My Boys' Old Room. Yes, two real human little boys slept in that room the night before these pics were taken...I'm pretty sure stuff was stashed in the closet...
My Boys' Old Room. Yes, two real human little boys slept in that room the night before these pics were taken...I'm pretty sure stuff was stashed in the closet... | Source

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    • joanveronica profile image

      Joan Veronica Robertson 4 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

      Hi there, welcome to Hubpages! This was a good read, you can certainly write! I hope to see you around with more interesting topics. Have a good day!

    • profile image

      Jenna 2 years ago

      I shared your article - I am a Realtor myself and have a couple moms who are listing their houses and they have small children and they are struggling with the same things. Thanks for taking the time to write it all down!!

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