Golden door handle and keyhole on the brown wooden door.

Letting strangers in your house while you're not there can be a difficult part of the home selling process. Protect your belongings and identity by removing valuables and any paperwork that has your personal information on it. (iStockPhoto)

Selling a home is hard. From picking a real estate agent to decluttering to letting strangers in, the process transforms a memory-filled residence into a stripped-down shelter for someone else to personalize. For all the activities associated with it, parting with a home may be just as big of a commitment as buying one. But unlike purchasing, selling involves a level of publicity that might curb privacy and safety.

While not every for-sale sign or online listing attracts nefarious attention, the protection of a home, the belongings inside and the owner’s identity should underpin the time a property spends on the market.

When security is a priority, here's what to consider about some of the most integral aspects of the home selling experience:

  • Home preparation.
  • Home depersonalization.
  • Open houses.
  • Online listings.
  • Relationship with the selling agent.

[See: Types of Roads That Can Have a Big Impact on Home Sales]

Home Preparation

Decluttering is among the first steps homeowners take when selling. Owners clean, remove excess items and stage in order to present a blank-slate home for buyers to customize. But preparing a home for sale is much more than making the space appeal to strangers.

“It's important for people to remember that when you're in the mode of selling a home, it's very different than when you're living in a home,” says Andrew Rhoda, a real estate agent with Compass in Los Angeles. “Sometimes people treat that very casually, but the reality is that you do have to invite strangers into your home. And when you invite strangers into your home, you open yourself up to the risk of your home being burglarized or even someone hurting themselves on the property.”

When it comes to physically protecting a home, installing motion-activated alarm systems, repairing faulty windows and doors and placing lock boxes are common procedures.

In condominium buildings in major cities, trustworthy doormen may negate the need for lock boxes. Meanwhile, in the suburbs, fences as well as hedges might add a layer of both privacy and safety.

During the selling period, homeowners insurance should be a part of the owner’s security plan. Because insurance is often costly, it may easily lose its priority when the home is on the market, especially if it's no longer the primary residence. But any gaps in coverage can translate into hefty out-of-pocket expenses for the seller in the event of a break-in or unforeseen damage.

Home Depersonalization

Along with the home, the owner’s identity might warrant protection. While not every seller needs to hide any association with that particular address, depersonalizing a house should temper prying attention into one’s lifestyle.

“If you don't want people to be nosy about you, you have to take down things that have your name on them,” says Lisa Lippman, a licensed associate real estate broker with Brown Harris Stevens in New York City.

Such items may range from mail and business cards to awards and photographs.

But even if an owner strips down any physical hints of his or her identity from the home, easily searchable public records can still reveal who they are. Such a breach might not solely irk celebrities, Rhoda says. It could negatively impact virtually anyone, from high-profile professionals to average citizens trying to escape abuse.

“One way you can kind of hide your privacy is if you have either bought your (home) through a (limited liability company) or you're able to transfer it into an LLC before you put it on the market,” Lippman says.

A living trust is another option. Still, both an LLC and a trust carry legal and tax implications that demand careful consideration and even guidance from an expert.

Quietly selling a home off the market by utilizing an agent’s network may present yet another alternative when identity protection is paramount. But it may not result in the best deal. Moreover, a recent rule by the National Association of Realtors that clamps down on the so-called "pocket" or "whisper" listings could negate the privacy such offerings have traditionally afforded.

[Read: What’s Dragging Down the Value of Your Home?]

Open Houses

Open houses, or the afternoon or weekend events that invite strangers to a listed home, are an industry staple. Over small talk and hors d’oeuvres, they expose a residence to a slew of potential buyers, at least according to real estate lore. But Bill Gassett, a Massachusetts-based real estate agent with Re/Max Executive Realty, disagrees with the very premise of open houses.

“Open houses are heavily promoted by real estate agents because the benefits from open houses far outweigh towards the agent versus the seller,” he says.

Instead of finding interested, qualified buyers, these occasions are more likely to connect listing agents with future clients, Gassett says. He adds that committed house hunters work with their own representatives to tour a property rather than attend open houses.

Thus, he says, “open houses don’t sell houses” but can be a “magnet for crime.” That's because, while agents tend to collect personal information from anyone who comes in, the setup is not foolproof.

Burglars may use open houses as opportunities to study the layout and jam a door or a window to ease their later entry. Or they may simply smuggle an object out during the event.

“Two years ago, there was an agent in my office who held an open house and they lost over $15,000 worth of jewelry, stolen right out of the bedroom,” Gassett says. “At another circumstance, believe it or not, somebody took a painting right off the wall. It was worth $5,000.”

And, in such dire instances, agents seldom shoulder any responsibility. While contracts may differ from state to state and agency to agency, most agreements with real estate agents shield them from liability in the event of theft.

Robberies during open houses might be further incited by local stipulations that forbid security cameras from recording these events – as well as private home tours, for that matter – without the consent of all parties involved.

Nonetheless, Lippman says that in her 22-year-long career, open houses have never lead to larceny. Thus, it is important for a seller to carefully assess the potential benefits and drawbacks of open houses.

Online Listings

Advertising a home on the local multiple listing service as well as on various online platforms is “a fact of selling real estate,” says Keith Markovitz, a Palm Springs, California-based real estate agent with Compass.

But it could amount to the virtual equivalent of holding an open house, revealing structural weaknesses and identity cues that a thief could exploit.

In today’s digital era, however, keeping a property off the internet is quite a tall, if not impossible, task.

“If you just type somebody's property address into Google, you can get all (types of) information,” Markovitz says.

Aside from official property registries, websites such as Zillow and StreetEasy may hold images, descriptions and details even when a home is not for sale. That is why securing and depersonalizing a property should precede its online promotion.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

Relationship With the Selling Agent

Even if conscious efforts to depersonalize and secure a property should promote safety and privacy, such goals are easier to attain when both the seller and the agent strive for them.

“When I show someone's apartment, I'm always there,” Lippman says. “I'm not letting somebody just wander around.”

Before a home showing, a seller’s real estate representative should screen home shoppers’ prequalifications to purchase, or even urge them to work with a buyer’s agent.

Furthermore, Rhoda says that agents need to avoid scheduling first meetings with potential buyers in listed homes, or giving tours and holding open houses alone at night.

“It's really important for real estate agents to be trained at and just have an awareness of security,” Rhoda says.

Whether it is a multi-million-dollar house or a starter apartment for sale, the security of a home and the privacy of its owner may not always cause concern. After all, a house might rest in a crime-free, gated community; or the seller may operate through a long-established trust. But when personal and property security looms crucial to a seller, a candid discussion with a dependable agent should allay any initial worries into sensible resolutions for protection.


10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. A National Association of Realtors survey published in July found that the average home was on the market for 27 days in June, compared to 2012, when the average time on market was about 11 weeks. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on Aug. 2, 2019: This story was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Take great photos.

Take great photos.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Make your home available.

Make your home available.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home’s storage space look more ample.

Spread the word.

Spread the word.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Your neighbors are often the best salespeople for your home because they love the neighborhood. Make sure they know your home is for sale and are invited to your open house. Also share your listing on social media and ensure your real estate agent does the same. Share the news on neighborhood email lists, Facebook groups and other social media outlets. Collaborate with your real estate agent to promote your home's listing information through multiple accounts. Especially if you or your agent has a decent pool of social media followers, Cohen says, "You can promote properties for nothing."

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Take great photos.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Make your home available.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Spread the word.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, existing home sales, pending home sales, privacy, safety


Dima Williams is a reporter and editor who covers the residential real estate industry with an emphasis on economics, policy as well as luxury. As a managing editor for a national real estate website and magazine, Williams extensively collaborated with top producing agents across the country to develop expert opinion pieces and advice articles. Connect with Williams on LinkedIn.

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