Should a Home Be Occupied or Vacant When Home Selling?

Considerations Before Putting Your House Up for Sale

empty home interior without furniture
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Arnt Haug / LOOK-foto LOOK / Getty Images

Home sellers often ask the question: Should they stay or should they go? They can see reasons for selling the home vacant as well as reasons for staying in the home while it is on the market for sale. But they often don't consider all the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Agents like a house they can show at any time.

  • Pressure's off to keep the house clean at all times.

  • No need to leave when the house is being shown.

Cons

  • Vacant houses can be vandalized.

  • Empty homes have little emotional appeal.

  • Staging with temporary furnishing adds to the sale cost.

Benefits of Selling a Home While It Is Vacant

None. OK, I take that back. There are a few:

  • Less inconvenience: For starters, a homeowner is not interrupted at inopportune times to show the home. A seller doesn't have to go out into the yard or walk around the block while buyers are looking at their home.
  • More showings likely: The chances that a real estate agent will show your home are increased. That's because agents often take the path of least resistance. If they have 20 homes to show and five are occupied, they might be tempted to show the vacant homes because it's easier. They don't have to call and make an appointment. They can simply go over and use the lockbox.
  • No pressure to clean: The seller isn't under continual pressure to keep their home in immaculate showing condition and spotless at all times. With small children, this can be almost impossible to do, even if one of the parents does not hold a job outside of the home.

Drawbacks to Moving Out Before Selling a House

The cost incurred to sell a vacant house can be significant:

  • Staging: A seller might have to stage the house and incur an additional expense for home staging. That's because buyers typically cannot envision a space without furniture. An empty room is really just four walls and a ceiling. There is nothing attractive about that.
  • Crime magnet: The home might be vandalized. Vacant homes can attract crime. On top of the damage that can happen when a thug breaks into a vacant house, a seller might end up paying out-of-pocket to make repairs because their homeowner's insurance policy might not insure a vacant home. A separate vacant home insurance policy is expensive.
  • Less appeal: Vacant homes lend less emotional appeal. Buyers who fall head-over-heels in love with a home often will pay more for that home. A vacant house can feel very empty and lonely. It may take longer to sell and fetch a lower selling price. 

More Reasons to Stay in the Home When Selling

Staying generally outweighs leaving. Here's why:

  • The home shows better: Buyers don't have to second-guess whether a bed will fit against a wall or if there's space for a table in the dining room. They can instantly identify the purpose of each room in the home because it's presently being used for that purpose.
  • No theft risk: Thieves are unlikely to break into a home that is occupied. They don't want confrontation. Thieves just want to strip the house and steal your air conditioner and copper plumbing without any physical interaction or objection.
  • Homeowner can deal with emergencies: Especially during winter months, when pipes can suddenly freeze from an unexpected cold front and then burst, a seller who is in residence can immediately manage the crisis. Laundry rooms have been known to flood because the faucet to the washer began to leak after the washer was moved.
  • Utility cost: Sellers typically need to leave the home utilities turned on, whether the home is vacant or occupied. By living in the home while it is shown for sale, a seller does not have to pay duplicate utility bills. Buyer's agents need the utilities on not only for showing, but for a home inspection and an appraisal as well. It's very hard to sell a home without utilities.

The Main Reason to Choose to Sell a Home Vacant

If the seller's home is simply too messy to show while the sellers live there or they are unwilling to keep it in turnkey condition for showing purposes, they should move out before putting the house on the market.

The reasons for messy homes are varied. Some sellers are packrats. They might struggle with a mental health condition and their home reflects that behavior because rooms are stuffed to the gills with boxes, personal belongings, bags of trash, or stacks of newspapers.

It's also possible a seller might have died in the house and the heirs are left to clean it out. It's not unusual to find dead rats or larger decayed animals on the premises of probate homes, and it could smell very bad. That kind of mess has got to go.

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