cluttered garage

Did you stage your home to sell but leave the garage full of old tools, dusty bikes and miscellaneous junk? If so, that mess could drive away buyers.

A recent survey of 500 real estate pros found that four out of five think a cluttered garage creates a bad first impression that might make a buyer less likely to put in an offer. The survey was conducted in January by Whirlpool’s Gladiator GarageWorks brand.

“Too many people declutter their home and stuff everything in the garage,” said productivity coach Barb Churchill, a Realtor with Keller Williams Integrity Realty in Minneapolis. “That’s not a good idea.”

If you have two similar houses side by side, the one that’s tidy throughout—including the garage—will sell faster, Churchill said. Clutter won’t reduce the actual value of your home. “An appraiser is not going to look at the garage and deduct for messiness,” she said. But the worth of your home is in the eye of the buyer.

An overflowing garage will affect buyer perception in several ways, Churchill said. For example, the clutter:

  • Might cause homebuyers to think your house is cramped. “A buyer might walk into the house and think, ‘This is really great. My stuff can fit.’ Then they walk out and see you’ve jammed half a house full of stuff in the garage,” Churchill said. “It’s a red flag that said there isn’t enough storage space in this house.”
  • Can make buyers wonder whether hidden problems lurk in your home. “They start to question the quality of the property,” Churchill said. “They might wonder, ‘Have the sellers kept it up in terms of maintenance and care? What else am I going to find?’”
  • Will make the garage itself look smaller. On the flip side, getting a garage organized can make it look bigger than it really is, said Amanda Thomas, owner of Moxie Girl, a Phoenix-based cleaning and organizing company.

clean garage

How to Declutter Your Garage
Given all that, how can you get your garage in tip-top shape to increase your chances of selling sooner? Here are six tips:

1. Tackle the clutter first. Take a weekend to go through everything in your garage and decide what to toss, donate and store—whether that’s in a friend’s garage, a portable storage container or a storage unit. “Get as much out of the garage as possible,” Thomas said. “You want to be able to highlight how big it is.”

2. Put unsightly items out of sight. Make sure that anything you plan to keep that’s rusty, old or dirty goes into storage, said Bill Hanley, regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors. “You have to think about what people are looking at, the same as with the inside of the house,” he said.

3. Get busy cleaning. Tackle the dust, dirt and grime. “Sweep the floors and check the walls—there are usually old spider webs and stuff,” Thomas said.

4. Freshen up the space. Fix up the walls of the garage, and make sure to fill in any holes, Hanley recommended. Then, if you can, spiff up the whole space—floor included—with a fresh coat of paint, he said. If you really want to go all out, you can add an epoxy floor coating, Thomas said.

5. Create zones for storage. It’s a good idea to store similar items near each other—for example, sports gear in one area, gardening items in another, Thomas said. You can use hooks to hang odd-shaped items, such as rakes and hoes, on the wall, said Kevin Hall, co-owner of Clutter No More, a professional organizing company in San Diego. Overhead racks are good for awkwardly shaped items that you don’t use often, he said.

6. Make use of shelves. To organize any miscellaneous items you’re keeping in the garage—and to show buyers how they might store their things—add some shelves. If you want to spend the money, you might go to a home improvement store to buy metal cabinets with doors for an even more streamlined look, Thomas said. If you do use open shelving, though, she recommended storing items in nice plastic tubs that are neatly labeled. “Open shelving is great, but not if it’s full of cluttered, ugly boxes,” she said.

Taking some time to organize your garage should pay off, Hanley said. He noted that about three-fourths of homebuyers choose a place with a garage, and that garages are becoming more popular.

“The garage is actually a focal point for buyers,” Hanley said. “They’re actually seeing it as an extension of their house.”

Allie Johnson