Strategies for Selling a Home Owned By Someone With a Hoarding Disorder

Alex Capozzolo Selling 101 10 Comments

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Alex Capozzolo

By: Alex Capazzolo

Tackling a situation where a home is overly cluttered can be overwhelming, no matter how big or small the job is. Selling a home owned by someone with a potential hoarding disorder is another story. Rest assured, I understand the struggle.  It’s also important to remember that hoarding is a disorder and is incredibly difficult for the sufferer.

Approach these situations with caution and care. Remember that you are not a medical professional or a trusted family member/friend of the person, so you must approach the situation with care. It might be a good idea to ensure that a third party trusted by the seller is on board with the process and to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible.

Once you have consent from the seller and someone else who is aware of the situation, only then should you proceed.

To tackle this kind of project, you’ll need a few strategies. Here’s where to focus.

Clean the Main Rooms if Possible

Selling a home means making it as presentable as possible. According to the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International, less than 15% of people who own home keep it clean enough to meet common market standards when it comes time to sell. If that is the case for such a large amount of real estate, imagine the trouble that a real estate agent may have selling a property that falls under the description of a hoarding situation. Without decluttering and cleaning a home, buyers will be unable to see the value of the actual property no matter how experienced the real estate agent is.

When dealing with a situation that involves several rooms, all of which are cluttered, focus on the main rooms only. Examples of the main room in a house include the living room, the kitchen, the master bedroom, the bathrooms, and other bedrooms. Mindset is also important so that you don’t get overwhelmed. 

  • Be Patient – Be prepared for the house cleaning, organizing and repairs to take more than one day to complete.
  • Stay Focused – This is a big project, which means you might not know where to start. Take it one room at a time to avoid overwhelm.
  • Bring Reinforcements – Having a team of helpers can go a long way toward helping you stay focused and encouraged during the cleanup! 

Before you know it, you’ll start to see the end of the project. Keep moving forward one step at a time and soon enough, you’ll be able to see the best way to present the home’s value to prospective buyers.  

Knocking Out the Cleaning Process

 Below is a step-by-step guide to help you knock out the hoarding cleanup task!

  • Come with the correct supplies. Make sure to bring plenty of trash bags, gloves, a mask, boxes, towels, surface cleaners, floor cleaning tools, and even a dumpster if necessary!
  • Wear protective gear. When a hoarding disorder has lasted more than a few years, it is possible that many areas of the property have been left susceptible to the growth of mold, cat or other animal feces or excessive dust build-up. Make sure you and your team wear long sleeves, face masks and gloves.
  • Use organized piles. Those who suffer from a hoarding disorder can keep everything from furniture to food items to clothes to large objects, like cars. However, there may still be items of value beneath the clutter. You may want to save any antique pieces you find. Sort everything into piles to keep track. Put trash in one pile, and salvageable items in another. Keep items of value in a completely different pile.
  • Finish junk removal. If you have access and are up for it, make sure junk and trash are completely removed from the property. Otherwise, hire a hauling company that specializes in removal. 
  • Perform a deep clean. Once all of the clutter has been removed, it is time to start deep cleaning. Start with dusting all available surfaces, including the baseboards of each room. Then, use surface cleaners to remove grime and old stains. Save the floors for last. If you don’t have the time or resources, hire a reputable cleaning company.
  • Maxmize curb appeal. Even if the hoarding situation was mild enough to be confined to the inside of the building, you will still want to make sure the outside of the property looks as good as the inside! Remove any additional clutter and the dumpster you may have rented and consider investing in yard care services.
  • Invest in any necessary repairs. Buyers won’t be as quick to jump on a house, even after your hoarding cleanup is over if they notice that too many repairs are needed. Make a list of all the damage you see that may have been left behind as a result of the hoarding disorder of the previous resident and consider investing in repairs.

 Consider an Estate Sale

If you notice that many of the items are still useful and/or valuable, you might consider an estate sale. You can hire an estate sale company or if you feel comfortable, manage the process on your own. Either way, an estate sale is a good way to clear out items.

Invest in Professional Photos

Just as you would for any other listing, once the home is cleared of clutter and cleaned up, it’s time for photos. Using professional photos is nearly always the best way to go. According to professional real estate photographer Ben Accinelli, professional photos increase selling the selling potential of any property, even one that has just gone through massive cleanup, by 50%.

Additionally, all but around 2% of people considering buying a house don’t even move on to the process of visiting a property if they haven’t seen professional photos of the place online, first. Therefore, the importance of professional photos cannot be overstated! Because someone will want to have a glimpse of what they may be buying before they go out to the property, professional photos are well worth your investment.

Highlight Any Existing Selling Points

You know what’s trending and important in your area and with your clients, so make sure to highlight any selling points of the home. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

    • Entertainment features – If the property has a pool, fire pit or a fenced-in yard, it can be a great selling point for your property.
    • The kitchen – A kitchen is one of the most common selling points for homes. After the thorough cleanup and some repairs, take stock of the main features (oh look! I beautiful, deep sink!) and play them up.
    • Storage – After spending so much time decluttering the property, you’re well-versed in all of the many storage options in the home. Space in closets and attics is a big selling point for potential purchasers. 

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Remember to come prepared and stay focused during both the organizational and cleaning steps. Consider investing in a team or organizing an estate sale. When the property is finally free of clutter and cleaned up, those interested in buying the house will first benefit from seeing professional photographs and understanding the selling points. Be prepared to celebrate the reclaiming of a property and all the value it may have to offer!


Alex Capazzolo is the co-founder of Brotherly Love Real Estate. He has been investing in real estate for +7 years and owns a small portfolio of 14 units. Alex works full-time as a real estate agent in Southern California and enjoys writing on home improvement, marketing strategies, and other real estate topics.

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Comments 10

  1. Not easy to identify “trash.” Years ago I encountered stacks of newspapers that had cash stuck between the pages of the paper for safekeeping.

  2. This article leaves me confused. Even though it has great pointers, it makes it sound like it’s the responsibility of the realtor to clear up the house. Our team has had to deal with big hoarding situations and always relied on professional haulers or even industrial cleaners to empty and clear up the property. It should not be the realtor with gloves and garbage bag.

  3. Yes, I once sold an extreme hoarder’s house. It had 7 Big Dumpsters of stuff cleaned out of a small cape cod house and a 2 car garage. And there were at least 1 dozen or more lawn tractors and numerous other pieces of machinery or equipment around the yard. It was an estate with relatives that insisted that they be the ones cleaning everything. A couple of younger grandkids took over 2 months to get everything “sorted” out. A buyer finally said “I’ll buy it as is, and I will finish the clean-up. What a fiasco!

  4. Love this article. After selling many homes with clutter issues, the best advice is keeping a straight face and know there is a ending from the beginning. Every effort made will bring great dividends.

  5. It helps to understand their motivation. If they aren’t commitment to the sale they will sabotage every step of the way. I recommend setting clear expectations in writing and creating a calender or written activity checklist. They are chronic procrastinators and will drag the process on. I use reward method for timeliness and milestones met.

  6. The article seems to describe clean up of a hoarder’s estate situation. If the hoarder is still in residence, the most important thing to do is to have a plan to remove the hoarder before clean up and listing the property. They are the problem, they are the impediment to the sale. They often stay at home, and they may not be allowed to do so or to interact with potential buyers. It’s important to have an Executor, a POA or a willing hoarder/home owner with financial resources lined up to pay contractors. A skillful Realtor in a good market may be able to help negotiate for contractors to be paid from the proceeds at closing. Be careful not to become liable for contractor costs yourself, unless you’ve pre-negotiated and have the seller’s directions to escrow in writing to repay you from the proceeds at closing. Past clean ups I’ve worked on have topped $20K for clean up and only the most basic of required repairs to be able to show the property safely. Taking such a listing is not recommended for beginning Realtors. It’s ok to take a pass or to refer it to someone experienced with these issues.

  7. I am a certified Senior Real Estate Specialist. I’ve also worked in senior living facilities and worked in hospice and home care. I know this article’s intention was to be a guide to this overwhelming process, but it is very surface compared to the reality. If the owner of the home has passed away and you are helping the family ready the home for the market, that is one thing. If the owner is still alive and needing to downsize to a smaller home or to assisted living, the process is greatly more complicated. Almost my entire business is serving this population from local referral sources. The most recent one we did took us almost 3 months from the day we met to the day we closed. Horribly overwhelming and emotional for the owner. She ended up in the hospital twice from stress. Representing seniors in these scenario’s are not for the feint of heart. Not everyone can do this and respect the journey the seller is on.

  8. For one thing, no one should refer to the person as a hoarder. That is offense and sounds extremely negative. Find a different term if you must use a term, like “collector” for example. I have a situation I’m walking into today, and there’s no way I’ll use that term, unless a client’s relative uses it first. But I will caution them as well to avoid using it with the resident him or herself.

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